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Zim: The politics of ‘salary-gate’

Ongoing media exposures of the massive salaries drawn by parastatal bosses may have been welcomed by the public, but expectations that the government would act on corruption are fast fading – instead, the matter has fizzled out and become part of Zanu-PF's divisive battle on who will succeed President Robert Mugabe.

Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who leads one of the two factions in Zanu-PF that are battling to take over after Mugabe, this week suggested that the exposures that have become known as "salary-gate" could be the work of detractors bent on destroying the party from within.

Zimbabweans vented their anger on social media, leading the opposition to call for her to resign.

Officials aligned to Mujuru's camp who spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week said that, although she may have struck a raw nerve, her assertion that the exposés were politically motivated were widely shared.

"Ever since Jonathan Moyo was appointed as a media minister, there has been a concentrated attack on our camp, especially by the public media. It's not a once-off event; the attack has been consistent. Look at the spirited efforts to soil the image of Gideon Gono [the former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor] and the attack on our camp during the provincial elections last year," said a Zanu-PF politburo member.

"The attacks were so severe that we discussed the issue in the politburo last year. When you look at the ongoing exposures, it's clear there is a factional dimension that cannot be ignored."

Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
"Take the exposure of the salaries at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) as an example. Ask yourself who the minister of information during the inclusive government era was, and you will get your answer. Similarly, on the Air Zimbabwe exposé, ask yourself who was the minister and you will get your answer," the source said.

The former information minister is Webster Shamu and transport was headed by Nicholas Goche.

Shamu is also the party's political commissar and was a member of the national electorate directorate, which chose candidates for last year's parliamentary elections.

He is a strong Mujuru ally and was pivotal in ensuring the faction won the provincial elections, which will be crucial in deciding Zanu-PF's leaders at the elective congress later this year.

ZBC fell under Shamu's ministry. It was recently reported that its chief executive officer Happison Muchechetere was earning $44 500 a month, and senior managers – among them retired brigadier general Elliot Kasu, general manager of news Tazzen Mandizvidza and general manager of radio services, Allan Chiweshe – were each taking home $26 875 every month. ZBC is in financial doldrums and has failed to pay lower-level staff salaries for about six months.

Air Zimbabwe executives Politburo member Nicholas Goche, a key Mujuru ally, was the minister of transport and infrastructural development when Air Zimbabwe executives allegedly dabbled in corrupt activities including a $11-million insurance scam, which resulted in the national airliner failing to meet its national mandate.

New Transport Minister Obert Mpofu dissolved the Air Zimbabwe board on Tuesday.

Public Service Medical Aid Society
The most shocking revelation was that the Public Service Medical Aid Society was paying its chief executive officer Cuthbert Dube up to half a million dollars a month in salary and benefits, at a time when the institution was heavily in debt and failing to pay service providers.

Another Zanu-PF insider confirmed that Dube is a Mujuru sympathiser.

"You can see that the leaks are very strategic. Why haven't they leaked how much Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation or what executives of diamond mining companies are earning, for example. There is certainly an ulterior motive to these exposures," said the politburo member.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo told the M&G the party had not yet taken a position on the revelations but defended Mujuru's stance, insisting she had been misunderstood.

Gumbo himself is said to belong to Mujuru's camp and helped her to co-ordinate the Midlands province in the provincial polls, which she won. Midlands is also Mujuru's rival Mnangagwa's home province.

Gumbo said the Zanu-PF politburo would meet soon to discuss the issue but he did not give a date.

"The vice-president is a mature person and some of us understood that she was not condoning corruption. She was in fact speaking against it but said we must be careful about how we handle it. She is saying we must not be quick to judge people before we really know what is going on," Gumbo said.

Another senior Zanu-PF official said most officials were clear the salary schedules were being leaked to the media by senior Zanu-PF officials but they were not clear what the purpose was.

"Some people thought it was meant to divert the people's attention from the economic meltdown, but if that was the case it has come back to haunt us because most parastatals are run by our people.

The boards are also full of people with a military background, so if that was the case then it was a double-edged sword," said the official.

"What is clear though is that in Zanu-PF everything is viewed with suspicion because of factionalism, so naturally people are skeptical. Mujuru, though, has shot herself in the foot by her reaction. People are angry and have been calling for the government to curb corruption, to no avail, and for her to condemn the media was a huge mistake."

Anger and little action
Mujuru's statements and government's failure to take legal action on the culprits other than dissolving some boards and firing some chief executive officers has reinforced the view that the looting was sanctioned by senior government officials.

On Thursday the police arrested Air Zimbabwe's company secretary for allegedly defrauding the airline.

Former education minister David Coltart said that during his tenure he knew and approved salaries of senior officers in public institutions under his ministry so there was no way ministers could not have known what was going on on their watch.

Coltart questioned how some ministers had allowed parastatal bosses under their ministries to take home such salaries considering the state of the Zimbabwean economy.

Former minister of state enterprises and parastatals Gorden Moyo last week said President Robert Mugabe and the Zanu-PF government knew about the salaries bosses of public institutions were getting.

Moyo said he had tried to address the issue during the inclusive government era, but did not receive support from Zanu-PF ministers, whom he said were taking part in the looting.

Moyo alleged that there was evidence that parastatals bosses were bribing ministers with top-of-the- range vehicles such as Mercedes Benz and Toyota Landcruisers as well as fuel and airtime over and above their official government allocations.

He said parastatals boards have become "retirement homes" for board members, most of them with a military background. Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said the ongoing exposures were definitely political.

"It's political. It could be factional wars between the Mujuru and the Mnangagwa camp. It could also be Zanu-PF trying to occupy the space that the opposition used to occupy, by giving the impression that it is keen to expose and fight corruption," he said.

"But this has destroyed Mujuru. Everyone respected her until she spoke on the issue. She may have genuine fears that her faction was being targeted, but she should have kept quiet. She has emerged the biggest loser."

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