HARARE – Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been accused of using an anti-corruption crusade to dismantle the opposition, and create a one-party state.
President Mnangagwa, who succeeded long time ruler Robert Mugabe following a military coup three years ago, says fighting corruption and reviving the moribund economy will be the main preoccupation during his first term.
Critics, however, say while the fight against corruption should be prioritised, it has been politicised by the new administration.
While Zimbabwe has an independent anti-corruption commission, after assuming office President Mnangagwa created a special unit to fight graft that is housed in his office.
The Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu) headed by Tabani Mpofu has been described as the president’s personal tool to fight opponents.
“Sacu is run by Tabani Mpofu not to fight corruption, but to criminalise opponents of his uncle, (President) Mnangagwa,” said exiled former minister Prof Jonathan Moyo.
Prof Moyo is one of a host of loyalists of the late Mugabe scattered across Africa, whom President Mnangagwa says he wants extradited back home to face corruption charges.
The exiled politicians insist the Harare administration is cooking up the corruption charges to settle political scores that culminated in the 2007 coup. Of late Sacu has been turning its guns on main opposition MDC Alliance councillors in urban centres it accuses of corruption. The MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa argues the arrests are part of a broader strategy to weaken it.
While the ruling Zanu PF controls central government, MDC Alliance is in charge of 28 out of 32 urban local authorities. The arrest of Harare mayor Jacob Mafume on Monday on abuse of office charges has raised the ire of the MDC Alliance.
“We condemn continued persecution of Mr Mafume,” the party said.
“This is a clear attempt by the system to hamstring his work at the council and entrench central government interference in the running of Harare.
“He is being punished for being a member of the MDC Alliance.”
A day later Mr Mafume’s deputy was arrested by the semi-independent Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission on allegations that he illegally sold stands in his ward.
The new Harare mayor only assumed office in September after his predecessor Herbert Gomba, also from the MDC Alliance, was arrested on abuse of office charges.
Mr Mafume was first arrested on November 25 on allegations of having allocated land to his sister and a colleague.
He was denied bail for two weeks until he was freed by a High Court judge, who ruled that the lower courts had abused their powers in detaining the mayor for that period.
“The sabre-rattling Zanu regime is arresting our councillors in order to cow them into submission,” the MDC Alliance said. “The regime wants total control of local authorities, but that will be resisted.”
Nick Mangwana, the government spokesperson, insisted the fight against corruption was non-partisan.
“There is no messing around with corruption,” President Mangwana said.
“The president said there are no sacred cows and there is none.”
President Mnangagwa has dismissed two Cabinet ministers since coming into power after they were embroiled in corruption scandals.
Observers, however, say the authorities have shown little interest to prosecute their cases and recover looted funds. President Mnangagwa’s own family has been implicated in various corruption scandals, including alleged smuggling of gold.
Journalists who unearthed the scandals implicating the president’s family have been hounded by the government.
Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist, was arrested twice this year after he tweeted about the alleged involvement of President Mnangagwa’s sons in a $60 million scandal involving the procurement of equipment to fight Covid-19.
The MDC Alliance early this year also accused President Mnangagwa of using state institutions to create a one party state.
This was after an opposition leader, who lost the 2018 parliamentary elections, got a nod from the courts to take over MDC Alliance legislators and councillors to settle a leadership dispute.
United Nations experts also accused the Zimbabwean government of using the cover of Covid-19 to close the democratic space.