The escalating political strife raging within the government over the indigenisation programme reflects renewed clashes over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe in his party, it has emerged.
This comes after recent attempts by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) to raid the offices of three Cabinet ministers over shady empowerment deals.
Zanu-PF insiders told the Mail & Guardian this week that the conflict over indigenisation was a result of political hostilities between factions within Zanu-PF that have their preferred candidate to succeed the 89-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.
Long perceived by analysts as passive and ineffective in dealing with corruption, the commission, formed in August 2011, recently launched a blitz against three government ministers: Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Mines Minister Obert Mpofu and Transport and Infrastructure Minister Nicholas Goche.
But the commission's latest crackdown on graft has intensified claims of it being used to settle political scores within the faction-riddled Zanu-PF.
Zanu-PF insiders said the commission was being used for "a political witch-hunt", pointing out that it had turned a blind eye to corruption allegations in the past.
Commentators said the commission's failure to promptly investigate corruption and fraud claims against members of Parliament in the alleged abuse of $50 000 in constituency development funds last year raised eyebrows.
The ministers and other senior government and Zanu-PF officials have now unleashed a fierce backlash against commission officials, with its chief executive, Ngonidzashe Gumbo, now in jail over allegations of corruption.
As part of that crackdown, four senior staffers in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office have been arrested for allegedly conniving to probe ministers and top government officials.
"This ongoing fight over indigenisation basically is about money, power and influence. Zanu-PF and government officials are fighting for the indigenisation spoils, but the issue is also about an internal struggle over power, control and influence," a senior Zanu-PF politburo member told the M&G.
"If you look closely, the rival camps clashing over this issue have succession ambitions."
Over the past month, Kasukuwere and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono have been at each other's throats over the empowerment programme.
Kasukuwere is pushing for an equity-based approach that would enable locals to grab, through forced share sales, 51% of foreign-owned companies.
This is line with the government's controversial 51% to 49% policy in favour of local investors.
However, Gono is arguing that a "one-size-fits-all" policy will not work, mainly in relation to the banking sector, which he said had its own systemic peculiarities and sensitivities.
This has put him on a collision with Kasukuwere, who sits in the Zanu-PF politburo and, according to party insiders, has presidential ambitions.
Kasukuwere, called "Obama" after United States President Barack Obama by his Zanu-PF allies, is also alleged to be fighting for the control of Mashonaland Central province, which he sees as a springboard for his power drive with vice-president Joice Mujuru, who is widely seen as Mugabe's most likely successor. Mujuru is said to support Gono in the battle with Kasukuwere.
Insiders said the youthful minister, who has an intelligence background, was now leading a budding faction within Zanu PF, mainly supported by his allies, influential politburo member and party strategist Jonathan Moyo and key members of the youth league.
Moyo, not a stranger to Zanu-PF succession fights after his 2004 failed bid to propel Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to the position of vice-president ahead of Mujuru, calls this young group "Generation 40" and has of late publicly thrown his weight behind its leader, Kasukuwere, in their fight against Gono.
Moyo has insinuated that there are senior officials behind Gono in remarks widely seen as a reference to Mujuru, further indicating that there is an intense succession row behind the scenes.
Battle over Mashonaland
Insiders said the conflict over indigenisation had now assumed a succession character because Mujuru was helping Gono in her own interest, "combating and containing Kasukuwere who is giving her problems in Mashonaland Central and destabilising her planned rise to the presidency".
Kasukuwere, the sources said, used to support the Mujuru faction in Zanu-PF before the death of the vice-president's husband, retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, widely regarded as the Zanu-PF kingmaker, although their relations had started to deteriorate prior to his mysterious death in an arson attack two years ago.
"Kasukuwere has been subverting her in Mashonaland Central province and this was shown largely during the controversial Zanu-PF district co-ordinating committee (DCC) elections last year," the source said.
During the DCC elections, Mujuru's faction lost to Kasukuwere's camp in the province. Nationally, Mujuru's group was also thrashed by its main rival faction led by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
This led to Mujuru complaining bitterly in one charged politburo meeting last year in which she lashed out at Kasukuwere and Mnangagwa after her defeat.
Using her political clout in the party, Mujuru, supported by former military commanders and intelligence operatives working with Zanu-PF's national commissariat department, forced the dissolution of the DCC structures to cancel her defeat and allow her to regain lost ground.
"Kasukuwere has invited the wrath of Mujuru because he has a dream of succeeding Mugabe one day and has of late not been co-operating with her," another senior Zanu-PF official said.
"His new-found influence through the indigenisation programme has put him in direct confrontation with the vice-president who is backing Gono to ensure his downfall."
Gono, who himself was once considered a potential presidential hopeful, has met Mugabe and Mujuru over his war with Kasukuwere. As a result, Mugabe has shown public sympathy for Gono.
Last month, Mugabe said Kasukuwere had made some mistakes during the implementation of the indigenisation programme.
Sources said Mugabe was likely to intervene when he feared the succession battle could wreck his re-election prospects.
Gono, who was in Egypt on Reserve Bank business, was not available on his mobile phone.
Speaking on behalf of Kasukuwere, Zanu-PF's deputy director in the information department, Psychology Maziwisa, said he will "not tolerate" ZACC's engagement in "extrajudicial" activities "meant to tarnish a positive programme".
He said Kasukuwere has a "mandate from the president that will be carried out without fear or favour" and wont be "derailed by people who are in clear pursuit of partisan and detrimental political interests".
He said "it is nonsense" being peddled by his enemies that he is allegedly using indigenisation to settle political scores.
He was evasive when asked of his presidential ambitions or his bid to control Mashonaland Central. Rashweat Mukundu, the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said, "The goings-on at the ZACC is a reflection of factional and succession politics in Zanu-PF spilling over on to the public arena."
Under law, the commission is mandated to investigate and expose cases of corruption in the public and private sectors; to combat corruption, theft, misappropriation, abuse of power and other improper conduct in the public and private sectors; and to promote honesty, financial discipline and transparency in the public and private sectors.
The commission can also receive and consider complaints from the public and take action it considers appropriate.
Denford Chirindo, the commission's chairperson, denied that it was being used as a pawn to settle political scores in Zanu-PF.
"There has been insinuation that the investigation of the ZACC has been dictated by political and/or party-political motivations that seek to denigrate or derail the indigenisation programme or to give advantage to political elements of a particular persuasion."
Chirindo said the diversity of the commission made "a political or sectoral agenda difficult to pursue". – Additional reporting by Ray Ndlovu
Who is cracking down on corruption?
Appointed in August 2011 by President Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission comprises nine commissioners and a secretariat, which carries out day-to-day activities.
The commission is chaired by Denford Chirindo, a former employee of the ministries of defence and justice, legal and parliamentary affairs. Chirindo also worked at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe as a senior logistics administrator. Teresa Pearl Mugadza is the deputy chairperson of the commission and a policy consultant. She has worked for the non-governmental organisations Women in Politics Support Network and the Musasa Project.
Other commissioners include:
• Goodwill Shana, who is the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, an inter-denominational Christian organisation, and the senior pastor and founder of Word of Life International Church;
• Emmanuel Chimwanda, a former police assistant commissioner;
• Shepherd Gwasira, a senior assistant commissioner of the police;
• Elita Sakupwanya, a former chief of mission and a ministerial counsellor in the ministry of foreign affairs; and
• Lakayana Duve, a former principal director in the department of policy implementation in the office of the president and Cabinet.
On swearing in the new commissioners in September 2011, Mugabe said he had selected individuals held in high regard by society and who would be fearless in their crackdown on corruption in Zimbabwe. – Ray Ndlovu