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Zimbabwean Cartels should be stopped now

By Margaret Chinowaita

Kuda Tagwirei-Zimbabwe's Business tycoon

Maverick Citizen, a prominent South African online publication, issued the screaming report of Zimbabwe’s endemic corruption that has a trail right up to the highest public office – the presidency.

This is not a new story, nothing startling, except the depth of research and the timing of the publication under the so-called new dispensation that came via a coup that toppled long-serving President Robert Mugabe in November 2017.

The coup was ostensibly done under the pretext of draining the swamp of corruption, to deal with the criminal elements that were surrounding the late autocratic Mugabe. However, three and half years down the line – Zimbabwe is right in the shackles of cartels with links to the new regime.

The Maverick Citizen on President Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “This has gone on for decades as epitomised by naming of President Mnangagwa as a beneficiary of the proceeds of illegal gold trading in a 2003 court case in which a Zimbabwean gold miner, Mark Burden was on trial.”

It further elaborated on Mnangagwa’s role in gold smuggling saying, “The head of the Zimbabwe Miner’s Federation, Henrietta Rushwaya is currently on trial for attempting to smuggle gold belonging to Pakistani businessman Ali Muhamad. It has been alleged that Rushwaya, the First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa and one of the President’s sons, Collins Mnangagwa are part of “an elite trafficking cartel” that smuggles gold out of Zimbabwe.”

The Maverick Citizen in its report – Cartel Dynamics in Zimbabwe – highlighted the cartels that are bleeding Zimbabwe revenue earnings through under-invoicing, smuggling and over-inflating tender prices.

Presidential advisor and business mogul Kudakwashe Tagwirei, Rudland brothers Simon and Hamish, shady investor Billy Rautenbach and the late tobacco baron John Bredenkamp are mentioned in the report.

Tagwirei has become pervasive in the Zimbabwe economy. He is everywhere – the fuel sector, banking and more recently mining and Command Agriculture financing. Tagwirei is buying State-owned mines and making a tidy profit from the asset stripping.

“In mid-2020, as gold prices reached 25-year highs, the ZMDC shareholding in Sabi Gold Mine was reportedly in the process of transfer to Landela Mining Ventures, a subsidiary of Sotic International, both of which are allegedly owned by Kudakwashe Tagwirei, a businessman and advisor to President Mnangagwa, widely regarded as a key benefactor of ZANU-PF. Mnangagwa himself has said that Tagwirei is a relative – “my nephew”. Landela was also said to have signed agreements to buy ZMDC’s equity in three other gold mines,” the report noted.

It further noted that Tagwirei made profit from buying buses for Zupco: “This abuse by politically exposed persons (PEPs) has been compounded by collusion between PEPs and the private sector. A total of 162 buses have been bought by Landela Investments at an alleged price of US$58,900 each and sold to SOE CMED (Pvt) Ltd at US$212,962 each on a hire-purchase agreement.”

Rudland brothers are big players in the transport sector and have been mentioned as significant players in tobacco smuggling between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Mentioned within the same line of tobacco smuggling is the late Bredenkamp. This is interesting in the context that Zimbabwe is the largest producer of tobacco in Africa and at the same time South Africa is the biggest tobacco market on the continent.

Fuel cartels

The fuel sector in Zimbabwe is controlled by two major players Sakunda Holding and Green Fuels. These two companies are operated by Tagwirei and Rautenbach, respectively.

The report highlighted: “Another cartel in the fuel industry is the ethanol cartel. Fuel is mandatorily blended with ethanol in Zimbabwe in the ratio of 80 per cent petrol to 20 per cent ethanol. Green Fuel is a joint venture company between the state-owned Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and companies linked to Zimbabwean businessman, Billy Rautenbach, who was heavily involved with ZANU-PF during the DRC war.

“Currently, ethanol is produced by Green Fuel at an estimated cost of US$0.45 per litre, but is sold to NOIC and fuel companies at US$1.10 per litre, generating significant economic rents.”

On the other hand, Tagwirei now controls the Beira-Feruka-Msasa pipeline through Sotic. “Sotic entered into a US$1.2 billion prepayment agreement with NOIC. Under the agreement, Sotic advanced a loan of US$1.2 billion to NOIC payable over 10 years at an interest rate of 6 per cent per annum. In return, SOTIC was allocated a pipeline capacity of 130 million litres of fuel per month for 10 years – Zimbabwe’s fuel consumption was measured at 165 million litres per month in 2019. This agreement establishes a monopoly position for Sotic over the pipeline and assures it of access to foreign currency from RBZ for 10 years,” the report revealed.

The report also noted ZINARA was one of the centres where corruption was taking place both in the first and so-called second republic. “Under both Mugabe and Mnangagwa, the Presidency has been deeply enmeshed in the corruption that takes place at ZINARA, the majority of which involves inflated state contracts.”

The report’s findings and conclusion cannot be disputed; “This study shows that cartels are deeply entrenched in many parts of Zimbabwean life. It is therefore vital to break the hold of the cartels over the state and its economy if Zimbabwe is to move into a more economically stable future.”

This is something that Zimbabwe stakeholders have to grapple with. First, it may be important to give a synopsis of the cost of corruption and cartels on the social lives of citizens.

Unfortunately, the Cartels put themselves above the ordinary Zimbabwean. It is uncouth that hospitals are below capacity, operating without infrastructure and medication. Children are walking long distances to school in Rural Zimbabwe when money that is being pillaged by Cartels can be channelled towards improving the education sector.

As a Zimbabwean, I grew up hearing that my country, is the most beautiful, with platinum fields, but I often wondered where the money disappeared to. During dire times of disasters such as HIV and AIDS, Cholera, Cyclone Idai and hunger, Zimbabweans survive on donations with minimum support from Government.

Deliberate missteps by public officials in policymaking led to a rise in inflation from 2018 to 2020, and have significantly reduced the value of public funding for health.

Per capita public funding for health fell from US$24.18 in 2018 to an estimated US$3.98 in 2020. Zimbabwe has fallen even further behind the SADC average, which is US$106.88 per capita and fallen short of the WHO recommendation of US$86 per capita.

The outcomes are serious, particularly for the most impoverished Zimbabweans. Infants die before they turn five years old, while one in every two hundred women dies while giving birth. A fifth of births take place with no skilled health professional present. It was recently reported that of eight babies delivered on one shift at Parirenyatwa Hospital, only one survived.

The 2019 Global Corruption Barometer found that 46 per cent of Zimbabweans feel powerless to address corruption. Zimbabweans do not trust many of the key institutions in the country. They do not trust in the money issued by the Central Bank, or the electoral process that bestows power on their leaders. They also do not trust their leaders to serve the interests of citizens, and there is no trust in the courts, the military or the police to serve them well.

Three in five Zimbabweans believe officials who commit crimes go unpunished and a third believe the President ignores the country’s laws. The church was singled out to be inefficient in helping ease corruption of such magnitude, to stop cartels in a country where people are dying in hospitals and the residential areas for sheer poverty and depression. Zimbabweans are so out of sorts economically and socially that some commit suicide. The church maintains a ‘hear no evil, speak no evil’ mantra that is criminal because Cartels are plundering billions meant for service delivery, creation of employment, food and shelter that brings peace and dignity to ordinary Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe has enough structures to deal with all these problems. It has a parliament that can hold the executive accountable, Special Anti-Corruption Unit on the Office of the President and Cabinet and the constitutional Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.

Parliament has however proven ineffective for a variety of reasons that include incompetence of Members of Parliament, the whipping system and two-thirds majority enjoyed by Zanu PF in the legislature.

On the other hand, both SACU and ZAAC are not independent financially and in decision making subsequently making them mere scarecrows instead of corruption busting entities. It remains important that the judiciary should also play an active role in the fight against corruption.

It, therefore, becomes imperative that the civil society should lobby the government for far-reaching structural reforms, adequate funding of corrupt busting institutions and passing of deterrent sentences to those convicted of corruption both in private and public sectors.

This is a fight for now, a fight that cannot be left any other day or subcontracted to outsiders. A new Zimbabwe is possible but it needs a new breed of citizens that can demand accountability from their public officers and even dare change them if they fail to meet expectations without fear in a free, fair and credible election.


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