Zimbabwe Corruption Drive Highlights Mugabe Succession Race

Zimbabwe’s state-controlled newspapers have exposed alleged fraud and inflated salaries at government companies, stoking speculation of ruling party infighting over who will succeed 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe.

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp., the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp., the Premier Service Medical Aid Society and Air Zimbabwe have been the target of reports in the Harare-based Herald and Bulawayo-based Chronicle newspapers. Privately-owned Newsday said Feb. 11 that Deputy President Joice Mujuru, 58, warned ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front members to “beware” of corruption scandals being exposed to “destroy the country.”

Mugabe, who turns 90 on Feb. 21, won re-election in a disputed July 31 election, extending his 33 years in power. Mujuru is legally first in line to succeed him, while Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, 67, who’s head of the joint operations command, can draw on support from military officials. Both have been in Mugabe’s cabinet since he took power in 1980.

“The corruption isn’t new. It was always there, but this is a succession issue,” said Dumisana Nkomo, a director at Habbakuk Trust, a Bulawayo-based organization that promotes democracy. “Primarily it’s about control and succession. The timing follows the Mujuru faction’s win in provincial party elections so Mnangagwa’s faction needs to regain its foothold.”

In provincial party elections last November, Mujuru’s faction won control of eight of the country’s 10 provinces, party secretary Simon Khaya Moyo said Dec. 2.

‘No Discord’

“There is no discord,” Mnangagwa said in a Feb. 17 phone interview. “Everyone in the party agrees that people found indulging in corruption will face the wrath of of the law.”

Mujuru didn’t return calls made to her mobile phone.

“The emergence of the various corruption scandals appears to be linked to faction fighting within ZANU-PF, although the subsequent spin is trying to present this as part of a reinvigorated anti-corruption campaign,” Mike Davies, a political analyst at Cape Town-based Kigoda Consulting, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Rival factions will be keen to secure influence” over state institutions.

The Bulawayo-based Chronicle reported on Jan. 24 that state medical aid society chairman Cuthbert Dube was being paid $230,000 a month, while ZBC Chief Executive Officer Happison Muchechetere earned $40,000 a month.

Both men were suspended when the salaries were reported. Neither answered calls to their mobile phones. Two former chief executive officers of the national airline have also been arrested on fraud charges and denied bail.

‘Appropriate Action’

Charamba, who confirmed the ZBC report in a telephone interview, said “severe shortcomings” needed investigation. Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said on Feb. 14 that there is no “succession battle” within the ruling party.

“Succession in Zanu-PF is dealt with by the country’s constitution, which we are sworn to follow,” he said in a telephone interview from Harare. “As a responsible party we will take appropriate action wherever the need is found.”

Zimbabwe, whose economy contracted by 40 percent between 2000 and 2008 according to the International Monetary Fund, was ranked 157th out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s 2013 corruption index. The gauge measures perceptions of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.

“There is a concern that 2014 political and economic stability is going to be dominated by fighting over the Mugabe succession,” Gwinyayi Dzinesa, a Zimbabwe analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said in an interview. “We are going to see the succession battle intensifying.”

The crackdown against corruption has struck a chord with ordinary Zimbabweans.

“While we’re struggling to live day to day on the farms, we hear that in town parastatal bosses are earning millions of dollars a year, literally millions.” Felix Bvuti, 58, a subsistence corn farmer in the northern town of Mvurwi said in a Feb. 14 interview. “It is embarrassing and humiliating.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.