Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe has steadfastly refused to appear before a Parliamentary committee trying to interrogate him over his claim that $15 billion of diamond revenue went missing, and there is little that Parliament can do about it beyond the shouting.
After his no-show on Monday, the Mines and Energy portfolio committee chaired by Norton MP Temba Mliswa wrote a ‘final letter’ to warn the 94-year-old of the legal consequences of his continued defiance, specifically that he risks facing contempt of court charges if he ignores the committee’s invitation again.
The committee wants to quiz Mugabe over his 2016 claim that Zimbabwe had been deprived of at least $15 billion in diamond earnings by mining companies, including joint ventures between Chinese companies and the army, police and intelligence services whose operations were shielded from public scrutiny.
Members of security agencies have appeared before the committee but their responses have raised more questions than answers and they seemed to have licence to operate carte blanche.
Mugabe expelled the companies from the Marange gem fields in February 2016 and replaced them with a state-owned diamond company.
Mugabe told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) in an interview which aired on March 5, 2016:
“We have not received much from the diamond industry at all. Not much by way of earnings. I don’t think we have exceeded $2 billion or so and yet we think that well over 15 or more billion dollars have been earned in that area. So where have our carats been going? The gems? You see, there has been quite a lot of secrecy in handling them and we have been blinded ourselves. That means our people who we expected to be our eyes and ears have not been able to see or hear what was going on and lots of swindling, smuggling has taken place and the companies that have been mining have virtually, I want to say, robbed us of our wealth. That is why we have decided that this area should be a monopoly area and only the State should be able to do the mining in that area.”
Mugabe’s statement ostensibly covered the period between 2009, when government chased away the over 20 000 illegal miners from the Marange fields using the army and took effective control of the area, to 2015, the full year preceding his statements.
Did Zimbabwe really lose $15 billion of diamond revenue as Mugabe alleged then? This report by Zimfact debunks the myth:
During that period, Zimbabwe’s cumulative gross rough diamond sales amounted to $2 432 041 507.87, according to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme’s rough diamond production and sales statistics, the report reads. Production, over that period, was nearly 50 million carats.
Also, on February 23 this year, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) deputy general manager Masimba Chandavengerwa told the same Mliswa-led parliamentary committee that the parastatal had sold 51 million carats of diamonds in the 11 years to 2017 valued at $2.4 billion.
The gems were being sold cheaply because buyers felt that the dealing with the parastatal was risky as it was under United States sanctions, he added.
While the figures might appear similar, the MMCZ figures cover a period of 11 years while the KPCS figures are for six years.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Martin Rushwaya argued before the same committee that Mugabe’s claims of the country losing $15 billion to diamond theft were ‘mischievous’ and may have been made by officials seeking to justify the closure of diamond mines in the Chiadzwa fields and the consolidation of operations under the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company.
Zimbabwe’s history of dealing in diamonds has at best been murky and some officials are not keen to discuss the details of what went on for fear of antagonising the establishment.
Former Mines Secretary, Francis Gundyanga, told the Mliswa committee that his life would be under threat from ‘dark forces’ if he discloses what he knows about the goings on in the Marange diamond fields.
Going by that statement, there are definitely funds missing from all the diamond dealings, but how much?
What does Mugabe know about the missing funds and does he actually want to disclose what he knows?
Or are the same forces putting the fear of God into Gudyanga also at play in Mugabe’s case, or it is just his arrogance?
Reuters News Agency, quoting a ruling ZANU-PF party official, reported last week that it was unlikely Mugabe would appear before the Mliswa-led committee because of opposition by influential politicians.
“They are saying they do not want their old man to be embarrassed especially by the opposition members of parliament. It will not happen,” said the official.
Mliswa said in a statement on Monday that Mugabe “is not being persecuted. It is only a matter of us hearing from him whatever he has to say”.
Ibbo Mandaza, an academic and political commentator, says what Mugabe has to say nowadays poses a threat to the establishment. In March this year, Mugabe gave his first television interview since his ouster and accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa of betrayal and assuming the presidency illegally.
“They (authorities) fear that he will spill the beans on what they were doing, even though in my view he is also culpable but clearly the issue is that they (Mnangagwa and Chiwenga) are preventing him from going to Parliament as they have much more to fear. It’s possible that there would now be pressure on the portfolio committee to call (the hearing) off,” Mandaza said.
Mugabe is known for having a slippery tongue. While addressing service chiefs and the new leadership of the veterans of the war of liberation in 2014, he let slip that the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won 73 percent of the vote in the disputed 2008 election, against the official 47 percent, before panicked aides corrected him.
Mugabe won the 2013 elections that many local and foreign observers said was marred by violence and vote-rigging.
“It is clear that on this occasion Mugabe wants to (speak in Parliament) because recently whenever he has been given an opportunity to speak, he speaks out against Mnangagwa and his cohorts, and he would want to use the occasion to do precisely that,” said Mandaza, suggesting that Mugabe was under house arrest.
On Sunday, the privately owned The Standard newspaper reported that Mugabe had last week told visiting Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang Nguema that the government of Mnangagwa was spying on him, sabotaging his businesses and harassing his employees.
A senior ZANU-PF member told The Source: “I do not think that it serves anyone’s interests that Mugabe be allowed to speak in a public forum. He could throw many people under the bus and make it very uncomfortable for many in government today, especially with elections so close.”
Alex Magaisa, a lecturer of law and political analyst, says Parliament has already exposed itself when it failed to deal with Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu after he arrogantly refused to answer the committee’s questions and later refused to attend the hearings.
“If it failed in Obert Mpofu’s case, I can’t see how it can make headway regarding Mugabe who is even more stubborn,” he told The Source.
As Magaisa points out, Mugabe always had disdain for Parliament, which is why he created an Executive Presidency which is not answerable to Parliament.
“He might even turn this into a case of a witch-hunt, namely that the new administration is harassing him. This way he will gain sympathy from his friends and make the new administration look bad even though legally, like any other citizen, he must account to Parliament,” says Magaisa.
The theory that Mugabe is being prevented from testifying before Parliament by officials who do not want to be exposed is hard to prove, he adds.
“He (Mugabe) could easily make representations to Parliament that he wants to attend but is being prevented. I just think the man can’t be bothered and it serves the current administration well because they wouldn’t want him to expose them anyway.”
By Alfonce Mbizwo for The Source