Where loyalty meets fiefdom

2014-12-08 10:00

If you ever wanted proof of the fickleness of political loyalties, then the stories of James Makamba and Joice Mujuru are it.

Makamba, a prominent Zimbabwean businessman and a former power broker in Zanu-PF, was hounded out of his country about 10 years ago in one of the worst abuses of state power imaginable.

But before you feel sorry for him, note that while he was in the inner circles of Zanu-PF, he enjoyed the comforts that came with being a Chef, as the party’s top dogs are known.

While President Robert Mugabe’s government played havoc with democracy, brutalised opponents and eroded human rights, Makamba was among those who did nothing.

Who could blame him? He made mountains of money under Mugabe. So much so that he found it easy to spend weeks in the presidential suites of Joburg’s hotels and enjoyed the luxuries when he was on trips abroad. Much of the money he made went back to financing the political party of his choice and thus the Mugabe regime.

Then things changed in 2004. Rumours started circulating that he was sleeping with Mugabe’s wife, Grace, with whom he was involved in various businesses and charities.

Mugabe set the Central Intelligence Organisation and other security forces on Makamba. When they found how much money he had in offshore accounts, he was accused of “externalising foreign currency”.

In a period in which the Zimbabwean economy was in free fall and the nation was desperate for hard currency, this was a very serious crime, with many businessmen being locked up. Looking at Grace Mugabe’s pictures, this lowly newspaperman believes a more appropriate charge for Makamba would have been bad taste.

Anyway, in Makamba’s case, the grounds for arrest were very flimsy as he had earned the money through his foreign business dealings and had decided to keep the money outside Zimbabwe. But this did not deter the security agencies from raiding his properties and seizing whatever they believed was evidence.

Zimbabwe’s creative rumour mill had it that Mugabe took part in the raid on the residence. While security officers were looking for documents, he was rummaging through the closets searching for lingerie that Grace might have been keeping there for her trysts with Makamba.

He was thrown into prison and denied bail.

When the period for keeping a suspect without trial expired, they extended it. When this expired, they just kept pushing it further. He was denied bail 13 times by loyalist magistrates.

Once, he was rearrested within hours of a magistrate setting him free because police said he was about to flee the country. For seven months, his lawyers tried everything at their disposal to get the state to obey the law, but Mugabe was adamant that the man had to be punished.

A new law colloquially called the Presidential Powers Amendment Act was rammed through Parliament to enable the state to keep Makamba in jail. Also known as the Makamba Law, it gave the state the power to override the court’s bail decisions in cases involving very serious crimes into which the category of foreign exchange violations falls.

Makamba was eventually freed when the law was successfully struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Stumped by the ruling, police sought to rearrest Makamba, but he fled the country and hid in the UK before settling in Johannesburg. He was then classified as a “specified person”, meaning he would be prosecuted if he set foot in Zimbabwe.

And all his misfortunes arose because he was suspected of sleeping with Grace Mugabe.

Makamba’s friend and political ally Joice Mujuru is suffering the same fate, albeit for political reasons. Mujuru and her late husband, Solomon, found themselves on the wrong side of Zimbabwe’s succession equation.

In a country where there are virtually no lines between party and state, the couple found themselves at the mercy of the brutal Zanu-PF machinery. Solomon died in a mysterious fire on his farm in 2011 in a case that is widely believed to have been a well-planned assassination.

His wife should count herself lucky because she has been subjected to a vicious character assassination. Since Grace Mugabe entered the succession race, Mujuru – who was a strong contender to replace Robert Mugabe – has been vilified by his family and party heavyweights, who wanted her out of the way.

But her luck might run out as the vilification has escalated to criminal accusations. Among others, she has been accused of stealing diamonds and plotting to kill Mugabe. An arrest cannot be far off.

The common denominator between these two individuals is that they were happy to go along with Mugabe’s wrongdoing – just so long as they were not in harm’s way. Not only did they look on while Mugabe was dismantling the rule of law. As senior party members, they participated in it. Then the Frankenstein turned on them.

It is a pattern the loyal and disciplined cadres of South Africa’s governing party would do well to observe as they seek to undermine the rule of law and weaken our democracy ... in the service of one corruptible man.

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