Robert Mugabe is set to appear before a Zimbabwean parliamentary committee to answer questions relating to alleged looting at the Marange diamond fields.
This will be the first time that Mugabe will be forced to account for his actions while in charge of the country. The former president ruled the country for nearly four decades before being forced from office in November last year. His replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has pledged to crack down on corruption.
Temba Mliswa, the chairperson of Zimbabwe’s parliamentary committee on mines and mining development, confirmed that they were preparing a summons for Mugabe.
“He is not being prosecuted. We are just going to get oral evidence from him on the time he was President. It’s very legal, it’s above board. He is not being arrested. He will give oral evidence pertaining to the area of diamonds mining he presided over, that is in order,” Mliswa told the Mail & Guardian.
Zimbabwe’s vast diamond wealth has been largely squandered through mismanagement and corruption. Even Mugabe himself once admitted that some $15-billion in diamond revenue remains unaccounted for.
Political analyst and Tshwane University of Technology lecturer Ricky Mukonza said that the prospect of Mugabe being interrogated by members of parliament represents a decisive break with the past. “The summoning of Mugabe before the parliamentary committee is unprecedented as he has been used to running a government that does not account to the people. Top government officials, including Mugabe have largely operated on the basis of impunity.”
Mukonza added: “On Mugabe’s part, it will now dawn that he no longer has power and can now be brought before committees and even the courts to answer on his conduct when he was still in power. For the new government, this maybe a way of demonstrating that Mnangagwa’s era is a break from the past. It seems to suggest that there is willingness to embrace tenets of good governance such as accountability and transparency.”
The parliamentary mines committee has been very active in recent months, summoning some of Zimbabwe’s most powerful figures to account for the missing diamond billions. Home affairs minister Obert Mpofu, former state security minister Didymus Mutasa, former police minister Ignatius Chombo and others have already appeared before the committee.
On Monday this week, former mines secretary Francis Gudyanga appeared before the committee and said his life was under threat from “dark forces” if he discloses what he knows about diamond-related corruption.
Testimony from top security officials has confirmed long-standing reports that security agencies such as the Central Intelligence Organisation and the Zimbabwe Republic Police at times used diamond mining to fund their operations. The Zimbabwe Defence Forces, which has previously been implicated in serious human rights abuses at the Marange diamond fields, including the killing of civilians, did not turn up to a scheduled parliamentary hearing on Monday.
Robert Mugabe’s direct links to Marange are thought to run through Robert Mhlanga, a Zimbabwean businessman and close associate of the former president who is also the chairperson of Mbada Diamonds, which which used to own a concession at Marange. Mhlanga is Mugabe’s former personal pilot and is alleged to operate as a proxy for the Mugabe family.
The Mail & Guardian reported in 2012 that Mhlanga had been on a R185-million property-buying spree in South Africa, acquiring prime real estate on the Durban north coast and in Sandton, Johannesburg.
His property dealings raised eyebrows because he appeared to be content to pay up to six times the going rate for the properties. The M&G also reported that he was at the centre of an opaque network of companies based in South Africa, Mauritius, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands.
Since his ouster, the former president has largely kept out of the private eye, staying at his official Blue Roof residence in Harare. In December the new administration approved a retirement package which included the residence, private air travel, a fleet of vehicles, and a staff of at least 20 people.