The arrest of three Zimbabwean businessmen last month on espionage charges — regarding allegations that they had sold state secrets to Canada, the United States and Afghanistan — has intensified speculation about a witch-hunt in President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
The accused, Farai Rwodzi and Simba Mangwende, the co-founders of Interfin Merchant Bank and directors of Africom, a Zimbabwe-based telecommunications company, and Oliver Chiku of Global Satellite Systems, face charges of contravening a section of the Postal and Telecommunications Act that “makes it an offence for one to illegally possess, control or work for a radio station”.
The state alleges that the trio “installed satellite communication equipment” and connected it to the “Africom main network system without the authority or knowledge of Africom management and the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe”.
It also alleges that the trio, who were known to have had business ties with late army general Solomon Mujuru, used the equipment to intercept classified government and military information, which they then apparently sold to foreign governments.
The crackdown on Mujuru’s allies comes ahead of a party congress scheduled for next month in Bulawayo, where Mugabe (87) is certain to be endorsed as the party’s candidate for next year’s election. Mujuru’s allies want Mugabe to quit and appoint a successor, a move fiercely resisted by party hardliners.
If found guilty, the businessmen face up to 25 years in jail, although they were each granted $2 000 bail last week. A court date has been set for November 15.
The Africom espionage saga is a shift from the tradition in Zanu-PF of accusing opposition figures of collusion with Western governments, as, in this case, its own members are involved.
In 2002 Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was accused of plotting the “elimination” of Mugabe by Israeli national Ari Ben-Menashe, whose Canadian-based firm Dickens and Madison was working covertly with Zimbabwean intelligence.
Senior Zanu-PF officials said that the latest espionage case should be seen in the light of Zanu-PF’s infighting. “It is all about politics and Mugabe’s succession battles. [Defence Minister] Emmerson Mnangagwa and his faction, which controls the state security machinery, are trying to test the political strength and resolve of the Mujuru faction, headed by Vice-President Joice Mujuru since the death of her husband,” said a senior Zanu-PF official.