6 January 2018

Zimbabwe: Two Zimbabwe Ex-Ministers Face Corruption Charges

Photo: The Herald
Walter Mzembi.

Zimbabwe's former foreign minister and ex-energy minister have been released on bail after being charged with corruption. They are the latest to face charges following the arrests of a number of Mugabe cabinet ministers.

Two former ministers who served under ex-president Robert Mugabe have been charged with corruption, their lawyers said on Saturday.

Former foreign minister Walter Mzembi and ex-energy minister Samuel Undenge appeared in court following their arrest on Friday.

Prosecutors accuse Undenge of issuing a $12,650 contract without due tender to a company that did not carry out the work, according to a charge sheet seen by news agency Reuters.

Several ministers from Mugabe's government have been arrested in the past two months since a military coup forced the 93-year-old veteran leader to step down and end his 37-year reign in November.

Former finance minister Ignatious Chombo, ex-mines minister Walter Chidhakwa and ex-sports minister Makhosini Hlongwane are also facing corruption charges.

The military intervention

Led by General Constantino Chiwenga , Zimbabwe's military placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest early Wednesday. It also surrounded government offices and the parliament and took control of the state broadcaster. An army spokesman said it was "not a military takeover," but an attempt to bring "justice" to Mugabe's aides who were "causing social and economic suffering."

Grace Mugabe's ambition for power

The army reportedly also placed President Mugabe's wife, Grace , under house arrest. The First Lady had been positioning herself to succeed her husband before the intervention. She angered military leaders in early November after calling for the dismissal of former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. President Mugabe fired Mnangagwa shortly thereafter.

The 'Crocodile'

Emmerson Mnangagwa, often referred to by his nickname "the Crocodile," had been seen as President Mugabe's likely successor before he was ousted as vice president. Mnangagwa is a veteran of the country's independence struggle in the 1970s and popular with the military. Some have speculated that the 75-year-old may return from his self-imposed exile in South Africa to replace Mugabe as President.

Zimbabwe's economic woes

Zimbabwe's economy has collapsed under President Mugabe's rule. Extreme hyperinflation destroyed the Zimbabwe dollar in the late 2000s. The economy is half the size it was in 2000 and the country has struggled to service its $7 billion in international debt. Once a "bread basket," government land reforms have ruined the agricultural sector and left millions facing food shortages.

Political discontent

The country's economic breakdown had shaken President Mugabe's grip on power once before. A disputed and violent 2008 presidential vote almost resulted in the election of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured). The outcome forced Mugabe into a power-sharing agreement with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The pact ended in 2013, but political opposition to Mugabe remained.

Zimbabwe's colonial past

President Mugabe's initial popularity stemmed from his involvement in the fight against white-minority rule in Zimbabwe in the 1960s and 1970s. Mugabe became prime minister in 1980 after the last white-minority government gave up power. Many of his political peers, including General Constantino Chiwenga and Emmerson Mnangagwa, were also involved in the struggle.

"We are going to make an application for an exception to the charge because the charges that my client is facing are ridiculous," Job Sikhala, Mzembi's lawyer, told reporters outside the court.

Undenge's lawyer Alex Muchadehama described the case against his client as a "circus."

When the military took over in November last year, army general SB Moyo insisted that it was not a coup and said they were "only targeting criminals around [Mugabe]."

Mzembi and Undenge were released on bail on Saturday and ordered to report to police once a week and hand over their passports. Mzembi was granted $400 bail while Undenge was given $300 bail.

Chombo is also on bail after being charged in November with trying to defraud the central bank over a decade ago. Chombo denies wrongdoing.

law/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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