Obert Mpofu, the Zimbabwean mines and mining development minister, is well known internationally for his resistance to the Western ban on Marange diamonds. Back home, he is better known as a wealthy businessperson, property baron, safari operator, diamond magnate and, now, political banker.
In the light of Zanu-PF’s succession battle, political observers see Mpofu as an emerging, wily politician who is likely to use his wealth to influence the outcome of the race that has pitted Deputy President Joyce Mujuru against Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa for more than a decade.
In the past, financiers have generally played a covert role in strengthening their grip on the party, such as the late army general Solomon Mujuru, who used his wealth to put his wife in a strong position.
Mpofu secretly lobbied to become the country’s second vice-president after the death of Joseph Msika in 2009, but his efforts were blocked by party bigwigs who whipped him into line and warned him to respect his seniors.
Information leaked by WikiLeaks revealed in 2010 that Mpofu had begun to address Mugabe as “father” and signed letters to him as “your ever-obedient son”.
How to take care of the people
Enos Nkala, a Zanu-PF founding father, said this week that Mpofu’s wealth would see him win resoundingly in the upcoming elections in the Umguza and Nyamandlovu constituencies in Matabeleland North, despite deep-rooted anger with the party in the province.
“He [Mpofu] will be the only one from Zanu-PF that will win from here [Matabeleland], because he has the money and knows how to take care of the people,” Nkala said.
A lavish weekend-long party held in January to celebrate his 66th birthday was estimated to have cost more than R750000. There was free food, meat and beer and some of Zimbabwe’s top entertainers attended.
But Mpofu’s very public show of wealth has unsettled members of the Movement for Democratic Change in the three-year-old unity government. Among them is Tendai Biti, the MDC-linked finance minister, who believes government ministers’ open display of wealth undermines his efforts to cut back on government expenditure and ignores his repeated appeals for tightening belts in response to Zimbabwe’s slumping economic growth.
At a diamond stakeholder meeting last month, Biti said: “There is no doubt that a small coterie of individuals is benefiting from Zimbabwe diamonds. Some of us who are benefiting are not afraid to flaunt our monies; we are buying all kinds of assets.
A mining licence
“I am a government minister and I am earning $800. How do I buy some of the assets that we are buying? People are now buying private jets because of our diamonds.”
There has been widespread speculation that Mpofu is lining his pockets with the proceeds from Marange, although he has denied any wrongdoing. He says he has been involved in the diamond business since independence in 1980.
Lovemore Kurotwi, an official from Canadile Miners, has alleged that Mpofu solicited a $10-million bribe for a mining licence. It has landed Mpofu in a $2-billion court case involving the former diamond mining company, which had operations in Marange.
Obert Gutu, the deputy minister of justice and legal affairs, has also questioned the source of Mpofu’s wealth and asked how he could buy the struggling Zimbabwe Allied Banking Group for $22-million. “How a government minister in a struggling economy like Zimbabwe can raise $22-million and buy a whole bank surely boggles the mind … Am I missing something here? Whither the diamonds of Marange?”
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said: “Mpofu is one the few Zanu-PF politicians who, over the years, have kept their seats through winning elections outright and for that he can’t be brushed aside. He has steadily been positioning himself, improving his academic credentials, and in a significant way has outmanoeuvred his political rivals in the process.”
Mpofu recently graduated with a PhD in policy studies from the Zimbabwe Open University. He refused to give comment for this article.