5 Other People Ruining Zimbabwe

It's not just Robert Mugabe's fault the country is such a mess. (Just mostly.)

Joseph Mwenda/AFP/GettyImages
Joseph Mwenda/AFP/GettyImages

When Robert Mugabe turned 88 in February, he celebrated with five massive cakes, a soccer tournament dubbed the “Bob 88 Super Cup,” and a beauty pageant. “The day will come when I will become sick,” Mugabe told Radio Zimbabwe, according to AFP. “As of now I am fit as a fiddle.”

Fortified with Botox, vitamin shots and black hair dye, Mugabe still seems pretty feisty, last week running down civilians with his motorcade and taking a bloated entourage to the United Nations sustainable development conference in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is limping along, its economy broken and its government barely functioning. But while Mugabe continues to get all the international attention, he can’t be held solely responsible for Zimbabwe’s ongoing turmoil. Here’s a list of five people who also deserve a bit of the blame.

1) Emmerson Mnangagwa

Known as “Ngwena,” or “The Crocodile,” for his reputed brutality, Mnangagwa is Zimbabwe’s defense minister and the current favorite to succeed Mugabe. A veteran of the guerrilla war against the British, Mnangagwa went on to head the secret police in the 1980s, and he is thought to have orchestrated the slaughter of about 20,000 ethnically Ndebele civilians by a North Korean-trained army unit in the 1980s. Sokwanele, an activist group, called him “perhaps the one figure in Zimbabwe to inspire greater terror than President Mugabe.”

More recently, Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s chief election officer during the violent 2008 runoff vote, when thugs from the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), waged a bloody intimidation campaign against opposition supporters. The Sunday Telegraph reported in April on a secret pact: Mugabe allegedly told Mnangagwa he would anoint him his successor — as long as he ensured Mugabe’s victory in the second round of voting. Mnangagwa dismissed this as mere noise intended to stir up interparty conflict. But according to Zimbabwe political analysts, “The Crocodile” is fighting hard in Zanu-PF’s continuing power struggles.

Mnangagwa is also heavily involved in the construction of a military college near the capital, Harare, dubbed the Robert Mugabe National School of Intelligence, the Zimbabwean newspaper reported last year. Built by a Chinese construction company, the college has been financed with a $98 million Chinese loan, funded by a diamond deal with Chinese firm Anjin Investments. Mnangagwa recently admitted to Zimbabwean military involvement in the diamond trade, telling a university audience in Gweru that the Army struck deals with Chinese and Russian diamond firms to counter Western sanctions.

Joseph Mwenda/AFP/GettyImages

2. Saviour Kasukuwere

As indigenization and empowerment minister, Kasukuwere presides over the notorious 2010 law that forces foreign-owned companies to cede 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans. This indigenization program has made Kasukuwere, 41, the youngest Zanu-PF minister, “a rising political star,” according to South Africa’s Times newspaper. He has vowed to intensify the program, claiming it will give Mugabe a boost in the upcoming election.

Kasukuwere, who in April confusingly claimed to Zimbabwe’s Newsday that he is the “Hitler of our time,” has been doing his best to terrify already nervous foreign investors. He announced that the government had unilaterally seized a controlling stake in an unspecified number of mines and threatened to take over another, owned by South Africa’s Impala Platinum, without offering any compensation. Kasukuwere said he is seeking justice for his people and a restoration of rights to national resources. “If that is Hitler, let me be a Hitler tenfold,” he told Newsday.


3. Morgan Tsvangirai

Many Zimbabweans credit Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader turned coalition partner to Mugabe, for helping bring relative peace and stability to the country. But his critics say the country’s stability has nothing to do with Tsvangirai, pointing instead to Zimbabwe’s adoption of the American dollar and an increase in foreign aid. Ministries in their joint government barely function, and few of the reforms agreed to under the power-sharing deal have been implemented. In a leaked diplomatic cable, U.S. Amb. Charles Ray said in late 2009 that the party Tsvangirai leads, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lacked strategic vision.  

Tsvangirai recently got engaged to the daughter of a high-ranking Zanu-PF official, and while there’s no accounting for love, it is an odd choice given the continuing turmoil between Mugabe’s party and Tsvangirai’s MDC. His late wife, Susan, who died in a car crash less than a month after Tsvangirai became prime minister, in 2009, was hailed as “a mother of the nation.” Zimbabweans are left wondering why Tsvangirai is marrying into the Zanu-PF, the party that has brutalized thousands of MDC supporters.


4. Obert Mpofu

The mining minister Mpofu has a tight grip on the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), the company that controls the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe — home to an estimated 25 percent of the world’s diamonds. But little of the country’s diamond revenue has found its way into state coffers, amid allegations of widespread smuggling and plunder of Marange’s riches.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said he only received $122 million in diamond revenues last year, money desperately needed to fund government projects, despite the country producing $334 million worth of gems. Mpofu, who calls himself Mugabe’s “ever obedient son” and also has close ties to Beijing, has been struggling to explain why he is suddenly a very wealthy man.


5. Jacob Zuma

South African President Zuma is supposed to be facilitating talks on Zimbabwe’s political crisis. After the disastrous 2008 elections, regional bloc known as the Southern African Development Community appointed Zuma as facilitator of dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC. Zimbabweans hoped Zuma would succeed in pushing for Mugabe to be held accountable.

But Zuma has been widely criticized for his utter lack of progress. “Revolutions have been conceived and executed and elections held, or due to be held in Tunisia and Egypt while Mr. Zuma is still trying to organize one election,” the Zimbabwean said in April. “Mr. Zuma should also understand that there is a cost in human lives being lost in Zimbabwe while this procrastination over agreed reforms is going on.”

Zuma, overdue to return to Harare to meet with leaders in the unity government, seems preoccupied with political maneuvering at home ahead of a crucial African National Congress conference later this year. A spokeswoman for the South African mediation team said Zuma isn’t there to “babysit” the process. Zuma has called for patience, but with elections nearing, political violence mounting, and the country going broke, time is running out.

Robert Mugabe, however, seems to be going strong.


Erin Conway-Smith is GlobalPost's South Africa correspondent. <p> &nbsp; </p>