columnBy Herbert Moyo
UPON assuming office at Independence in 1980, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe faced a daunting task of winning over an international community apprehensive that his socialist rhetoric would be translated into nationalisation of land and other key economic resources held by minority white Zimbabweans and other foreign interests.
Mugabe did not let the euphoria of Independence go to his head, but instead choose the pragmatic route, and soon won over sceptics with a highly-publicised policy of national reconciliation. He allowed capitalist enterprises to co-exist with his socialist style five-year economic development plans.
A leadership code requiring party officials to declare their assets and desist from engaging in private business to prevent corruption was the cherry on top.
When growing corruption reared its head in 1988 in the form of the high-profile Willowvale Scandal in which senior government ministers used their status to acquire motor vehicles at knock-down prices before re-selling them for substantial profits, Mugabe did not spare the rod.
The likes of Enos Nkala, Callistus Ndlovu, Frederick Shava, Dzingai Mutumbuka and Maurice Nyagumbo were forced to resign. Such was the stigma attached to corruption that the shamed Nyagumbo allegedly committed suicide after his dismissal.
Mugabe's profile subsequently rose as he became the darling of the international community, winning acclaim as attested to by the Africa Prize for Leadership he won in 1987, the same year he assumed the powerful executive presidency.
However, things began to unravel in the 1990s as politicians looted a VIP housing scheme in 1995, claimed massive disability pay-outs from the War Victims' Compensation Fund in 1997 before being exposed as multiple-farm owners after the controversial fast-track land reform that started in 2000, among other cases.
This was exacerbated by Mugabe and his party Zanu PF's populist and ruinous economic policies and an increasingly dictatorial state which has not only impoverished the country but condemned it to pariah status, ranked 163rd out of 176 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index for 2012.
Corruption has become so deeply entrenched in Zanu PF that even provincial party officials from Manicaland, including chairperson Mike Madiro and four colleagues, allegedly solicited US$750 000 from diamond mining companies in Chiadzwa, purportedly for party activities including preparations for the party's annual conference in Gweru last December, only to convert the funds to their own use.
Initially at a loss as to the next course of action, the police, accused of bias towards Zanu PF, sought advice from the party on how to deal with the issue since embezzlement involved party officials.
Instead of throwing it back to the police for investigation, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, acting president, referred the matter to the party's disciplinary section.
An irate Mugabe withdrew the issue from the politburo agenda last week saying it should be investigated by the police as it was a purely criminal matter, lending credence to the public belief the police are partisan.
Politburo insiders said Mugabe, battling to salvage his damaged legacy and keen to be seen as taking a tough stance against corruption, argued that the matter was a clear case of "theft and corruption". As a party he said "we should not tolerate corruption".
Although Mugabe can be commended for putting his foot down while inadvertently exposing the police, the question many Zimbabweans are asking is when does corruption become a crime in Zimbabwe? Does it only become corruption when Mugabe says so?
Despite his rhetoric, Mugabe's record in dealing with corruption suggests his handling of the Madiro saga smacks more of double standards and selective justice being meted out to lower ranking party officials, while party bigwigs are left scot-free.
Mugabe's failure or tardiness in dealing with bigwigs implicated in corruption has also been exposed in his continued inaction following former South African president Thabo Mbeki's disclosure of kickback demands by Zanu PF ministers. Mugabe requested and was given evidence that his ministers demanded US$10 million in bribes from ANC-linked business people who wanted to invest in Zimbabwe.
An expectant nation held its collective breath waiting to see corrupt ministers consumed by the fire and brimstone Mugabe promised at the party's conference in December.
So far no-one has been sacked or suspended, let alone openly investigated, giving credence to assertions party heavyweights literally get away with anything as long as they are loyal to Mugabe. Mugabe also failed to act after being informed by Core Mining director Lovemore Kurotwi that Mines minister Obert Mpofu had allegedly demanded a US$10 million bribe last year to facilitate a mining venture.
This was despite High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu saying Mpofu's name was being "dragged through the mud".
"The allegations might also be true, said Bhunu, adding, "I am inclined to call the minister and the minister should come and clear his name."
Habakkuk Trust chief executive officer Dumisani Nkomo said the latest attempts to deal with Madiro and his accomplices smack of a whitewash given Mugabe's long history of failing to deal with high level corruption.
"There have been a few isolated cases in the past like Willowgate where ministers were forced to resign but generally the net has always caught the small fish whilst the big fish swam their way out," said Nkomo.
Zimbabwe now has some super-rich ministers and party officials who have never had any other job except their modest-paying government portfolios, which begs the question: how did they acquire their vast wealth?
Even Tourism minister Walter Mzembi (Zanu PF) called for the re-introduction of his party's leadership code of the 1980s requiring party officials to declare their assets and prohibiting them from engaging in capitalist accumulation of wealth.
Analysts say even if they do not steal, there is a general lack of transparency which makes it easy for ministers to influence entities in the sectors they steward for self-enrichment.
Parastatals minister Gorden Moyo revealed some ministers were double-dipping by claiming money and other resources from parastatals under their watch despite being given the same benefits by treasury.
Despite Moyo's revelations, nothing has been done and political analyst Godwin Phiri says even if Mugabe is serious he cannot take action against these bigwigs because the rise of a strong opposition in the form of the MDCs means his party would be weakened without some of these corrupt ministers. There is also the issue of high-stakes election anticipated later this year.
"He cannot deal with modern-day corrupt ministers because he needs them in his fight for supremacy with the MDCs just like he has been forced to allow back into the party those who attempted a palace coup against him in Tsholotsho in 2004 because he realises they have the capacity to win back seats for Zanu PF," Phiri said.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute executive director Pedzisayi Ruhanya says "Mugabe must do the fishing in the biggest ponds of the political structure including his cabinet" to rid the country of corruption.