7 June 2019

Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa Now Mirror of Mugabe's Patronage System

Photo: Xinhua
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and former president Robert Mugabe (file photo).

President Emmerson Mnangagwa's recent appointments of High Court Judge Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo to lead the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) and Gerald Mlotshwa to the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) is deeply steeped in nepotism, and mirrors the patronage system his predecessor Robert Mugabe created during his 37-year rule which left the country entangled in a web of corruption.

Matanda-Moyo, who was appointed to lead Zacc last week, is the wife of Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister, Retired Major-General Sibusiso Moyo.

Moyo, then a Brigadier-General, was the face of the military coup that propelled Mnangagwa to power in 2017 following Mugabe's ouster.

Mlotshwa, a distinguished lawyer, is the president's son-in-law.

The controversial appointments, though not peculiar to Zimbabwe, have sparked a furore as they are seen to be patronage based, given that the beneficiaries are part of Mnangagwa's inner circle.

Mugabe, who also had the penchant to appoint close relatives and cronies to positions of influence, also attracted a fierce backlash from critics, who pointed out that the former president was creating a private fiefdom.

Though the appointments of Mlotshwa and Matanda-Moyo have received high praise in some quarters based on merit, skills, and demonstrable competence by the duo, their close association to Mnangagwa has raised eyebrows.

Critics suggest that the president is turning back the hands of time to the era of Mugabeism, where relatives and associates of politically connected persons were appointed to influential positions.

In 2016 Mugabe's son-in-law, Simba Chikore, was appointed Air Zimbabwe chief excutive during which time he also ended up heading the controversial private airline Zimbabwe Airways. ZimAirways was set up from funds diverted from the national flag carrier that has since been placed under administration after decades of mismanagement and corruption.

Chikore, whose aviation experience and credentials were exposed by the Zimbabwe Independent as fraudulent , is married to Mugabe's daughter Bona.

Chikore's appointment was met with fierce criticism, with some people condemning Mugabe's governance. Following Chikore's appointment, former MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu expressed fear that the state was being privatised by the political elite, with the Mugabes dominating high office.

"This is an extremely sad development. It proves that the state has been privatised. It is now being controlled by a Mugabe dynasty," Gutu bemoaned.

Mugabe also appointed his nephew Patrick Zhuwao as Indigenisation minister, close family relations Walter Chidhakwa as Mines minister, associates Ignatius Chombo as Home Affairs minister and Edna Madzongwe as Senate president.

Mugabe was also related to former Zesa CEO Sydney Gata, former Zimbabwe National Road Authority board chair Albert Mugabe and former deputy Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Innocent Matibiri.

He also had many other relatives in the establishment. His wife, Grace, also had relatives in the system.

Mugabe also had close relatives in the diplomatic service among them Zimbabwe's former ambassador to India Maxwell Ranga, while many others served in the state security services.

In 2017, Bona was also appointed member to the Censorship board and the Empower Bank which was run by the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (Nieb), triggering a storm of patronage, nepotism and cronyism.

Yet, it is the latest appointment of Matanda-Moyo and Mlotshwa to the commanding heights of public life that has reignited debate around Mnangagwa's ethical conduct in his discharge of duty as the president. It is worth noting that Mnangagwa pledged to have a clean break with the past after the coup that propelled him to power almost two years ago.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza, though expressing high confidence on the capability of Mlotshwa and Matanda-Moyo, noted that the controversial appointments would spark fresh debate around favouritism, cronyism and conflict of interest.

There are fears that Matanda-Moyo may not discharge her duties effectively given her proximity to power and the role her husband played in Mnangagwa's controversial ascendency.

"Some members of the public might see the appointment of Gerald Mlotshwa as the SRC chairperson and Loice Matanda-Moyo as the new Zacc chairperson as nepotism," Mandaza said.

"But some might see it as if they were awarded on merit. However, the fact that a sitting minister's wife is the new Zacc chairperson does raise a few eyebrows."

Mnangagwa's patronage system has parallels elsewhere, including in the United States and Venezuela, but analysts say that cannot be a justification for cronyism.

Social commentator Maxwell Saungweme criticised the elevation of Matanda-Moyo and Mlotshwa to such influential positions, highlighting that such appointments debunked Mnangagwa's promise to rid Zimbabwe of corruption and nepotism.

"This is pure nepotism and evisceration of the independence from independent commissions. It is another typical case of striking similarities between Mugabe and Mnangagwa making the hullabaloo about new dispensation vacuous.

"You do not expect anything independent from partisan and captured commissions that must be independent but are set to fail because of biased appointments," Saungweme pointed out.

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