Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s heart, soul and style will always remain military, mostly because he joined the war of liberation as what the guys in the west naively call a child soldier, and worked in the barracks for the majority of his life to date.
This is a useful bit to carry in mind when you are trying to understand him. You see, when you are socialised into the military as a teenager and you work with guns for such a long time, there is a certain form of discipline and personality you inevitably acquire and keep. The most notable thing is how these military chaps maintain a certain level of mystery and opaqueness around themselves. They are not an open book, so to speak.
So, if you were to be asked if the VP is corrupt or not, you need to give it a longish think because you are peeping at him from the other side of the veil most of the time.
Here is the thing. During the DRC war between 1998 and 2003, Chiwenga was already a senior soldier. He was senior during the war against colonialism too. But, unless I missed something, he never featured in the looting schemes in that country.
They formed Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (Osleg) that then worked with a DRC elitist outfit to loot the timber and other strategic minerals under the guise of the war. His junior, the late Sibusiso Moyo, was the director of Osleg. According to a UN special report, the mastermind of the looting was Chiwenga’s current boss, President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Chiwenga is out of the picture.
Then, after the war in the DRC and over the years up to when he took over from Vitalis Zvinavashe as CDF, hardly anything linked Chiwenga to the corruption that was becoming synonymous with the political, military and business elites in Zimbabwe.
Contrast him with his current boss in government who started being publicly and privately associated with corruption from long back. Contrast him with some of his key colleagues in the security sector like former police boss, Augustine Chihuri, during whose long tenure the law enforcement agency became one of the most corrupt cartels since Jesus Christ beat up those goons who had turned the temple into a gambling den.
There is, therefore, that temptation to say Chiwenga is a relatively clean guy when you compare him with his compeers. But is he that clean?
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The advantage with wearing a veil of mystery is that you keep people guessing. And, sometimes, you actually succeed hiding some important things from prying eyes and ears.
But we are no longer living in that era when people announced funerals by beating drums or beer parties by shouting “ngome!” from the top of a tall tree. Information now travels fast and there are institutions that will always tell on you against your will.
So, let’s see how Chiwenga has been/is performing as regards corruption.
The VP, like the president, is fully aware of how bad the problem of corruption is. He hasn’t been talking too loudly about it, but he has made his pronouncements on this malignance here and there, depending on the occasion. For instance, when he dissolved the PSMAS board recently, he condemned the rampant corruption at the public medical scheme. In June, he also expressed his concern regarding widespread corruption when he addressed the Institute of Corporate Directors. In the past, he has bemoaned low levels of compliance in procurement.
Problem is, when you hear these madala rap others for being corrupt, you may say, hey, we found the right leaders now.
Let’s start with the diamonds. How clean is the VP in that regard? In the Marange heydays, Anjin was one of the key miners in the diamond fields. Anjin was a joint venture between a Chinese multinational, Anhui, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the army through Matt Bronze. Chiwenga was, at that time, the commander of the Defence Forces. And Anjin was among the numerous miners that were, in 2016, evicted from the Marange fields for massive looting.
What does that say on the VP? Granted, we never heard or got any public report that directly linked Chiwenga to the looting. It’s not the same thing with other guys who are now synonymous with the plunder of the diamonds.
But then, have a look. There is this thing we call vicarious liability. You get blamed for what another person or thing did because of your peculiar relationship with that person or thing. The army had a stake in Anjin and Chiwenga was the boss. If an entity on which you have authority and responsibility errs, you are considered to have erred as well, at least indirectly.
So, to be honest, there is no way in which you will say, heh, Anjin stole diamonds and didn’t remit taxes as expected but, heh, leave Chiwenga out of it because he was not responsible for that. That becomes a severe contradiction in terms.
The VP took over the Health ministry from Obadiah Moyo in 2020 when the latter was accused of Covid-19 related graft. But the VP-cum-minister has dismally failed to curb graft in that ministry’s jurisdiction. Nurses, doctors and general hands are still taking bribes like an athlete would steroids. They are stealing anything from pain killers to in-patients’ cabbage-and-dovi meals. There have been several scandals in Covid-19 procurements and what not. There is no solution to the rot at PSMAS. Not yet. The list is as long as the Nile.
Hell hath no fury like a woman injured. Typically, when you start doing quarrels with your wife, she will take you to the cleaners complete with a whole heap of dirty laundry. That’s what happened between Chiwenga and his ex-wife, Marry, when they took each other to court.
In one High Court application, Marry claimed that Chiwenga had received some funny gifts from Kuda Tagwirei. These included state-of the art vehicles. Chiwenga, in his response, actually acknowledged that, in at least one case, he received a gift from Tagwirei, who is in Zimbabwean voluminous almanacs for alleged corruption.
The admission on the part of the VP puts him on a slippery slope. It’s not clear why Tagwirei felt encumbered to give the VP gifts. So, you see, there is now a thin line between a gift and a bribe. Tagwirei was running the controversial command agriculture programme from where he and his colleagues are said to have siphoned fat millions by, among other things, inflating prices of inputs.
And, on the other hand, Chiwenga had, in one way or another, influence on how the command farming scheme was being run. He must, therefore, have seen that he was getting compromised by accepting at least one gift from Tagwirei. The best thing was for him to decline the gift(s).
Talk about “sexually transmitted corruption”. Under two months after Mugabe was forced out of office—courtesy of the benevolence of the army—Chiwenga’s then wife, Marry, was mysteriously awarded a multi-million dollar travel consultancy by the Office of the President and Cabinet.
We never got to know how the tender was awarded and if things followed the book. The court of public opinion is harsh and unforgiving. Here is the wife of a VP getting a tender under unclear circumstances, to provide services for the presidency and related offices.
Even if the bidding was super competitive, the perception would always remain that the tendering was fixed. People end up thinking that the VP had a hand in the awarding of the job to Marry, and you can’t fault them for that. So, it was always imprudent for the VP to let things go that way. If Marry was corrupt without the VP, he became corrupt by association.
Then, still on Marry, there is the issue of the court cases. Marry was charged with externalisation of funds, attempted murder and falsification of documents relating to her marriage to Chiwenga. All these charges arose after Chiwenga and Marry fell out. The VP was the alleged victim of the alleged murder attempt and forgery. That makes him not only an interested party, but a central figure in the litigations.
During the trials, which are still work in progress, a number of horrid things happened. Marry was invariably denied access to medical attention outside the country to the extent that she ended up having an arm amputated. Drama aside, it was not pleasant to see Marry appearing in court in such a sick state.
Chiwenga refused her access to their children and it’s been long months since Marry last saw them, according to court records.
Let’s be frank here. The courts must be allowed to do their job. At the surface, this is what you see happening. In that case, therefore, the VP can easily say he was not interfering with the justice system and everything that was happening was happening on the judgments and prudence of the courts.
But there is a widespread perception out there that the judiciary was/is compromised and manipulated in the case of Marry. Even if the VP was hands-off, do you honestly think that the judiciary would proceed against the interests of Number 2?
But then, there are certain things that the VP could have done to avoid this thinking that he is having an overbearing presence in the prosecution of Marry.
Considering the vulnerable situation in which Marry was/is, the VP could have chosen to be wiser and withdraw the cases that he could withdraw, or just ensure that there was closure.
In any case, Chiwenga has not made things good for himself by barring Marry from seeing her children for so long. This can easily be seen as inhumane and vindictive abuse of office. Even if Marry was a convicted murderer, she still has the right to access her children. Worse still that she is not one. There is no evidence brought forward so far to show that she is a grievously hostile parent or guardian who must not have access to her children.
*Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org