HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa told members of his ruling ZANU-PF party on Friday they would have to start fixing the economy if they wanted a chance of winning next year’s vote.
Mnangagwa spoke at a party congress that drew a line under the rule of ousted veteran leader Robert Mugabe by formally expelling his wife Grace and her allies from the organisation and by endorsing Mnangagwa as party chief and candidate.
“We will only win at the ballot box if we can show signs that we are reviving our economy and at the same time we will only be able to make economic gains if we can secure re-election,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in the latter half of Mugabe’s rule, especially after violent and chaotic seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms.
The southern African nation could hold elections as early as March, Mnangagwa said this week, which would be just five months after the de facto military coup which ended Mugabe’s 37-year reign.
“Democracy bids that as a political party, ZANU-PF must always compete for office through pitting itself against opposition parties in elections which must be credible, free, fair and transparent,” Mnangagwa, 75, told the congress in downtown Harare.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said late last month that financial support for the new government to stabilise its currency system and help it clear World Bank and African Development Bank arrears depended on “democratic progress”.
In a sign of the military further consolidating its political power, Mnangagwa made three generals members of the party’s Russian-styled executive Politburo, the supreme decision-making organ of ZANU-PF.
Major General Engelbert Rugeje was appointed political commissar, a job focused on revamping party structures and preparing for elections.
Mnangagwa said he would name two deputies in a few days. Defence Forces Commander General Constantino Chiwenga is a strong contender for one of the vice presidency slots as a reward for spearheading the de facto coup that ended Mugabe’s rule.
Mnangagwa, whose sacking as vice-president set off the chain of events that led to Mugabe’s removal, said the ZANU-PF congress should define a new trajectory – which he did not spell out – and put behind it the victimisation of members seen in the past.
Mnangagwa on Thursday said he has a list of companies and individuals who externalised money and assets during former president Robert Mugabe’s era. He warned he will not hesitate to expose those who will not heed his three-month amnesty which ends at the end of February next year.
“I have a list of who took money out. I did not give the moratorium without knowledge. In March, when the moratorium ends, I will name and shame those who do not respond,” Mnangagwa told Zanu PF Central committee members in Harare ahead of the party’s extraordinary congress.
However, it remains to be seen whether Mnangagwa has the spine to tackle all senior officials who have been implicated in shady activities in the past or is only hunting down his political opponents.
One of Mnangagwa’s economic advisors Ashok Chakravarti, said a fortnight ago US$5 billion could have been siphoned out of the country since dollarisation in 2009.
Mnangagwa also vowed to fight corruption.
“The corrupt tendencies from the past will not and cannot be allowed to continue. We must deal with graft in all spheres of life and public service,” Mnangagwa said.
“Julius Mwalimu Nyerere once said that the widespread corruption in high places breeds poverty. We cannot thus in all clear conscience ever condone or ignore corruption as it has the deleterious effect on our nation and impoverishes our people. It is time that we, as a party, pledge to fight this evil and join forces with like-minded Zimbabweans until it is completely eradicated from our society.”
A few days after being sworn in, following Mugabe’s resignation, Mnangagwa announced a three-month amnesty window for the return of funds illegally stashed abroad by individuals and companies. In a statement, Mnangagwa said, upon the expiry of the amnesty, government will arrest and prosecute those who would have failed to comply.
“Those affected are thus encouraged to take advantage of the three-month moratorium to return the illegally externalised funds and assets in order to avoid the pain and ignominy of being visited by the long arm of the law,” Mnangagwa said.
Speaking at the Special Policy Dialogue Forum on the quest for political and economic reform in Zimbabwe, Chakravarti said there is need to look into the externalisation of funds from the country. “There is need for an inquiry into what has been happening in the last few years,” Chakravarti said.
“So many resources have gone out of the country. It cannot just be swept under the carpet. It has to be looked at carefully and addressed.”
An official in the financial sector said: “The stock exchange-listed companies siphoned the money as management fees paid to their offshore accounts via official means.”
“In most cases the amounts were so big and suspicious such that they would force foreign central banks to notify the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) of payments in case the money was laundered. So the RBZ has a record of all the transactions and the actual amounts that were deposited in offshore accounts. Between US$3 billion and US$5 billion is reported to be in offshore accounts and the RBZ has been advised to approach the individual companies so that the money is returned before the law takes its course.”
The official also said several mining companies eternalised money under the pretext of buying equipment abroad. The money was taken out with the RBZ’s approval, but the equipment was never delivered. The companies failed to provide the bills of lading to the RBZ upon request.
Mnangagwa is under pressure to deliver, especially on the economy, which is in the grip of severe foreign currency shortages that have seen banks failing to give cash to customers.