By Tafi Mhaka
Just eight weeks after Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga assumed office, Marry Mubaiwa was awarded a multi-million dollar contract to provide travel services to the Office of the President and Cabinet. Besides the overwhelming conflict of interest it raised, the contract was awarded to a company that wasn’t even registered with the State Procurement Board.
Three months later, the extremely resourceful Mubaiwa was back in the news. The Zimbabwe Independent on April 13 2018 reported that Mubaiwa had ‘grabbed’ the state-owned 300-hectare Arda Seeds farm along the Domboshava Road.
Apart from displaying a blatant abuse of Chiwenga’s position, for personal gain, grabbing the farm, as reported then, contradicted President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s avowed drive to guarantee property rights, attract foreign direct investment and resuscitate Zimbabwe’s ailing economy.
Fast-forward to December 2019, Mubaiwa is back in the news. Today, she stands accused of attempted murder, fraud, externalizing more than US$1 million dollars in foreign currency and money laundering.
While the inhumane nature and questionable timing of her arrest by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has raised suspicions over a possible abuse of power by her estranged, powerful husband, Mubaiwa deserves no small measure of public sympathy or support for her scheming actions.
She might have learnt much from the irreparably damaging mistakes former First Lady Grace Mugabe made in public life, but obviously hasn’t. Mrs Mugabe epitomises the most outstanding abuse of public office authority witnessed in Zimbabwe’s post-independence history.
From terrorising small-scale farmers in Mazowe to feuding with a Lebanese businessman over a US$1.35 million diamond ring to buying upscale properties in Johannesburg and Dubai, Mrs Mugabe’s public scandals and bottomless financial clout dented our moral compass, depleted our collective pocket and belied Zimbabwe’s humble financial status.
Yet, it didn’t stop with ‘Amai’s’ unbecoming conduct. Following Mr Robert Mugabe’s abrupt removal from State House, Mubaiwa didn’t waste time grabbing her substantial share of the ‘new dispensation’s’ financial spoils. Still, following her arrest, many Zimbabweans want to disregard Mubaiwa’s destructive and ostensibly unlawful financial dealings.
Many want to side with her, and won’t admit how broken our society is. Many Zimbabweans, it must be said, don’t realise that a wholesale change in attitude is required to cleanse our nation of the illiberal forces running amok in Zimbabwe. And we can’t create pretty exceptions to that unfortunate reality.
Mubaiwa, when it suited her perfectly well, benefited handsomely from a premeditated misrepresentation of the rule of law. And it’s not just Mubaiwa who has profited from Zanu-PF’s comprehensive patronage network to the tune of millions of dollars; family members and friends of cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, permanent secretaries and Zanu-PF officials have not only helped milk Zimbabwe’s coffers dry of valuable foreign currency reserves, grabbed farms and secured flawed, rigged or problematic government contracts; they have helped establish a unacceptably high prevalence of widespread impunity and corruption as a respectable approach to life and business in Zimbabwe.
Amid the repeatedly depressing spectre of fallow, underused and neglected farms, the botched up land reform exercise confirms this. So do the multimillion vehicles and properties bought in South Africa by Mrs Mugabe and Mubaiwa in entirely unclear circumstances.
Lest we forget that every dubious, uncontested or inflated contract handed to a Zanu-PF cadre or affiliate, like Wicknell Chivayo, as well as every suspect foreign currency transaction, affects the actual delivery of basic services in underdeveloped, underfunded and dilapidated hospitals, schools and communities.
When Mnangagwa and Chiwenga refuse to enact extensive reforms or hold free and fair elections, when authorities outlaw peaceful demonstrations and stifle dissent, when they refuse to hold open, constructive dialogue with Nelson Chamisa’s MDC Alliance, they do so to ensure that their wives and children don’t have to suffer the distressing indignity of going hungry at night, failing to pay school fees or dying from curable diseases.
They do so to protect dubious financial dealings and to avoid having to live like 90% of Zimbabweans do every day. It’s a shame that Mubaiwa chose to become a part of this despicable structure. At a time when Zanu-PF’s extended misrule is responsible for a collapsed health system, a struggling economy and an uncertain future, no amount of wailing revisionism, heartfelt empathy or wrangling about a subversion of the rule of law can redeem Mubaiwa’s standing.
To be sure, the rule of law went AWOL just after independence in 1980. And just before the presidential run-off in 2008. And just after the July 30 2018 elections. And just after the January 14 2019 fuel demonstrations. Ask the folks in Matabeleland. Ask the comrades at ZAPU. Ask the youths in Chitungwiza. Ask the folks whose relatives died on August 1 2018 and January 14 2019. Ask Sheffra Dzamara about her husband’s ‘arrest’.
Itai Dzamara didn’t have the luxury of being arrested in an imposing mansion in Borrowdale Brooke. He didn’t have a chance to appear before a learned judge for a publicly declared offence, or to apply for bail. And Dzamara certainly didn’t return home to his wife and children in Glen View after a violently grotesque abduction.
Let’s remember that Mubaiwa is battling the predictable consequences of her personal decisions, her misplaced greed; and her financial affairs must face the vigorous test of legal analysis. Let’s remember that she’s battling the very system that she used to the disadvantage of millions of deprived Zimbabweans.
Indeed, she is an exorbitant distraction, a wildly popular sideshow that progressive Zimbabweans can ill-afford to entertain for a multiplicity of valid reasons. We must remain focused on fighting the debilitating instances of graft perpetrated by Mubaiwa’s ilk and defeating the forces enabling and furthering Zanu-PF’s authoritarian rule.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka