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18 march 2014

Two recent developments, which involved players in Zimbabwe’s diamond mining industry and President Robert Mugabe left many a people gap mouthed in awe.

Firstly, Mugabe made an embarrassing volte-face last February regarding accusations of a $6 million diamond bribe he leveled against former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa last year.

He told the state broadcaster, ZBC in an interview aired on the eve of his 90th birthday that the Ghanaian investors who wanted to dig for diamonds in Marange, lied about the bribe and had not brought any capital.

“I was persuaded to allow Ghanaians after claims that they had the capacity to mine. One of them was said to be the owner of a bank,” said Mugabe in both English and the vernacular Shona.

“They lied to us. You see, liars. In the meantime they did not bring any money at all. Even that which we said was taken by Masimirembwa. No! They had given the story that they had brought some money. Was it $5 million or $6 million?

“They were busy here smuggling gold and selling it and they had an arrangement with a South African group and that is why one of the two was arrested.

“The other one pleaded innocent and said he was ignorant. He was not related to the one that was arrested. They lied to us…

“Now we discover they did not bring anything, we discover that he does not own a bank he claimed he had.”

Although Mugabe appeared to put the blame solely on the Ghanaians, there is no doubt that there were his own people who (mis)informed him on this bribe allegations.

A whole president would have not just take what the Ghanaians said hook-line-and sinker without verifying with either the mines minister or the intelligence.

This statement he made at the time clearly shows that the Zimbabwean president was also informed about Masimirembwa’s ‘brown-envelope seeking behavior’ by his officials.

“Masimirembwa was asked to reveal the crime that the Ghanaians had committed. He froze. Tell us, what crime did he commit? He remained frozen. Tell us? He was still frozen. Ha-a come on, we can’t have that in our country. That naked corruption, no,” Mugabe said last September.

Masimirembwa was allegedly with the then mines minister Obert Mpofu and the police chief Augustine Chihuri when these questions were asked.

Another embarrassment

Hardly three weeks after Mugabe made the u-turn on Masimirembwa, reports in Zimbabwe’s media also showed that the nonagenarian president was taken for a ride by his own minister last year.

Mugabe was made to believe that five diamond firms operating in Marange had contributed $50 million as part of the empowerment programme to the Marange Zimunya communities.

He even presented a dummy cheque of $50 million to the villagers.

However, the diamond companies - Mbada Diamonds, DMC, Jinan, Anjin and Marange Resources – recently told a parliamentary committee that they never made the $50 million pledge.

The firms said they did not pledge $10 million each as alleged by officials.

Some of them said they had only pledged $1,5 million each while others professed complete ignorance of the existence of the trust.

The state-owned Herald newspaper reports that former Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (which was led by Masimirembwa at the time) had instructed some of the mining companies to delay disbursement of the money.

“When we made that pledge ($1.5 million), we were made to believe that we could make payments over time. Minister Kasukuwere gave indications that we could do so over a period of five years," said Anjin borad member Munyaradzi Machacha.

Asked by one parliamentarian if they had misled President Mugabe and presented a falsified cheque, Machacha said: "He (Kasukuwere) knew that there was no money at all. It was just a dummy cheque."

DMC board chairperson, Brigadier-General (Retired) Ezekiel Zabanyana also said ZMDC never gave them a nod to donate toward the trust.

"This is where we lacked the strategic plan or some means to ensure this was implemented. We did approach ZMDC and as our boss they said let's leave that," he said.

Mbada Diamonds board chairperson Robert Mhlanga shockingly said they were never part of the trust but donated $200 000 out of "courtesy".

"I would like to initially highlight that Mbada Diamonds has contributed $200 000. However, Mbada Diamonds has never made a pledge to the share scheme. There was no formal communication soliciting for a pledge from Mbada Diamonds. Not even informal. We have not been contacted to make a pledge as a company," he said.

One of the privately-owned newspapers in Zimbabwe, The Daily News penned an editorial, which stated that the presentation of a dummy cheque by an unsuspecting Mugabe reminded “all and sundry about the shoddy manner” in which the empowerment law has been implemented.

“This is, by extension, an indictment on Mugabe who has had to take blows for the blunders and inefficiencies of his cronies in the Zanu PF government,” reads the editorial.

“…so we ask: how many times should Mugabe be misled and eventually take action?”

I couldn’t agree more with the daily.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished