Graft gaffe unlikely to fell Mujuru

It sounded like the heartbroken sobs of a lovestruck admirer who found out the person she had a crush on was not a knight in shining armour after all.

Vice-president Joice Mujuru was supposed to be "the kinder, gentler face of Zanu-PF", as one report described her last year. So when she made a speech that appeared to condone corruption, there was the sound of many hearts breaking.

At a meeting of Zanu-PF's women's league, she suggested that the media's frenzied coverage of corruption was nothing more than a campaign fed by shadowy Zanu-PF characters out to destroy the party.

Facing the subsequent outrage her remarks generated, she and her handlers went into spin mode. The old "quoted out of context" excuse was wheeled out. But she had dug herself into a hole and, with her denial, she kept digging herself further into it.

Now Zimbabweans who had led themselves to believe she was the moderate face of Zanu-PF have been weeping like jilted lovers.

Precious Shumba, whose Harare Residents Trust has campaigned against the corruption of Zanu-PF-backed bureaucrats running the capital, reflected a widely held sentiment:"I always thought she was reasonable," he said. "Now I realise that she is also lost."

"The vice-president has gravely misread the national mood," the state-owned Chronicle said in an editorial. In a rare direct rebuke of a Zanu-PF leader, the paper dared Mujuru to declare her stance on corruption lest she "further undermines her own standing as a national leader".

Yet Mujuru's remarks may not have been politically fatal. Politicians are gaffe-prone, but their supporters can be forgiving.

"Mujuru's comments are no different from the many foot-in-mouth statements of [Movement for Democratic Change leader] Morgan Tsvangirai. For as long as there are people who remain convinced that ‘Morgan is More', no matter what he does or says, there will also be many who believe that Joice is the only option for renewed leadership in her party," said author and commentator Petina Gappah.

Zanu-PF itself, and Mujuru allies in particular, were quick to try to mend the damage. On Tuesday, the party issued a statement, which read in part: "Zanu-PF has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption and this policy position has most assiduously been pronounced at party level by President Robert Mugabe, Vice-president Amai Joice Mujuru and national chairman Comrade Simon Khaya Moyo."

Zanu-PF "commended the office of the president" for the public revelation of high-level scandals and denied that Mujuru wanted to muzzle the press.

"We would also like to thank the media … for their concerted efforts in bringing this shameful situation to public light".

'Decisive measures'
Zanu-PF would "take decisive measures" and those involved in corrupt activities "must and will face the full wrath of the law".

Mujuru has long been viewed by foreign diplomats as a more acceptable successor to Mugabe than her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In 2009, a series of diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks revealed how the United States and other Western nations viewed Mujuru as a moderate.

In one 2009 cable, then US ambassador Charles Ray said, although Mujuru was "inculcated with Zanu-PF ideology", her family business interests meant she "understood that a friendlier and more ­stable business environment requires political change".

Mujuru's star rose in 2004 after Mugabe eased her into her current position by sacking six provincial party chairpersons who had backed Mnangagwa.

But wary of the ambitions of both leaders, Mugabe has played the two against each other, dangling succession in front of Mujuru while still keeping Mnangagwa close.

Broad grassroots appeal
Mujuru has broad grassroots appeal and has won admiration for her determination to rise to the top. She arrived in government as an almost illiterate 25-year-old in 1980, but finished high school and earned a degree while serving.  

Many believe that she is less tainted by the corruption than her rivals, although in 2009, a European company claimed Mujuru's daughter had offered to sell over three-and-a-half tonnes of gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo on her mother's behalf. This was denied by the Mujurus.

In 2006, Dande Capital, a company headed by her close ally, David Butau, was one of two companies that won mining deals worth $1.3-billion from Chinese state-linked firms, after an official visit by Mujuru. Part of the deals included the mining of chrome from concessions in Mujuru's home area.

A previous Mujuru supporter spoke for many this week when he tweeted: "It's a lie. There are no moderates in Zanu-PF".

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