ANDREW KUNAMBURA/ TINASHE KAIRIZA
THE dramatic arrest and subsequent prosecution of suspended Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) president Henrietta Rushwaya (pictured) has lifted the lid on the cutthroat gold trafficking underworld dominated by two major syndicates with strong connections in Zanu PF, government and security establishments.
Rushwaya was arrested at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Wednesday last week where she was found with a 6kg gold contraband destined for Dubai.
Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent over the past week revealed that the syndicates, run by four main gold buyers, have roped in powerful politicians and senior government officials. The buyers have established deep roots in all four state policing units responsible for minerals and precious stones, namely the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), which they have exploited to siphon gold and other precious minerals outside the country for personal benefit.
Official sources told the Independent that although this practice has been going on for many years, the smuggling rackets have particularly scaled up their monkeyshines in the past two years. This is even reflected by dwindling deliveries to Fidelity Printers — an RBZ subsidiary which is the sole legal gold buyer in the country.
Sources further said Rushwaya’s case, which has already seen six more people arrested — including intelligence and police officers as well as a Pakistani tycoon Ali Mahommed arrested — has also opened a new frontier for Zanu PF factional bickering after President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s wife Auxilia was named by an intelligence officer, Gift Karanda, as being the co-owner of the gold along with his son Collins.
Auxilia, however, responded to the allegation by denying the ownership of the ingots and distanced her son from any wrongdoing.
As reported by the Independent in the past two years, there is a simmering power struggle between President Mnangagwa, who is also Zanu PF’s president and first secretary, and his highly ambitious deputy Constantino Chiwenga, since the two strongmen conspired to overthrow the late former president Robert Mugabe in a military coup in November 2017.
Chiwenga is widely seen as leader of a faction in Zanu PF and is reportedly itching to take over from the 78-year-old incumbent, who is planning to seek a second term in 2023.
Zanu PF has roundly endorsed Mnangagwa as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 election.
Since the November 2017 coup, Mnangagwa’s camp has been working to emasculate Chiwenga’s power base by trimming his influence in the military and other state departments. Mnangagwa has been making sweeping changes in the military and reassigning those perceived to be loyal to the Vice-President.
However, the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, who orchestrated the coup, remains influential in the military and in Zanu PF.
Tension between the two has escalated dramatically over the past few months amid intense jostling for positions during the ongoing restructuring exercises, particularly the upcoming District Co-ordinating Committee (DCC) elections.
Chiwenga is also Health minister.
Sources this week said the implication of Auxilia and her son was a carefully calculated revenge move by Chiwenga’s camp after the former military man was besmirched last month when his deputy at the ministry John Mangwiro was accused of corruptly influencing the awarding of a Covid-19 supplies tender worth US$5,6 million.
Chiwenga and Mangwiro are close allies as they both hail from Mashonaland East and Mangwiro is the vice-president’s personal doctor.
“The idea is to soil each other as much as possible to affect their standing and depreciate their suitability for office. It’s a complex mind game at play,” an intelligence source said this week.
“Remember Chiwenga was linked to the Mangwiro corruption allegations and they just had to find a way of tainting each other. The truth is that people from both camps are deeply involved in the smuggling not only of gold, but other minerals like diamonds through these cartels run mainly by foreign dealers but this time around, one camp smelt blood and acted swiftly and smartly.
“From the information we have, she was sold out by a member of the cartel from the security establishment who tipped the MI and by the time she arrived at the airport, everything was known and they had an easy catch.”
Rushwaya was arrested by military intelligence officers after police officers manning the airport refused to do so out of fear, especially following the switching off of CCTV cameras, which indicated there was a pre-planned move involving powerful people to clear her path.
Another source said Rushwaya unsuccessfully tried to bribe the Military Intelligence officers in order to be released.
“She even attempted to pay US$5 000 to four MI officers who arrested her after other tricks failed”
A senior Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) official also told the Independent this week that gold smuggling is currently at its peak after it accelerated in 2018. Figures supplied by the official also indicate a sharp decline in gold deliveries to Fidelity over the past two years.
“The biggest problem is that of syndicates involving top government officials and those in the security establishment,” the official said.
“There are four policing units which are supposed to ensure compliance, what are they doing? Why are they not investigating and arresting people.”
According to the official, there has been a nine-tonne decline in gold deliveries to Fidelity since 2018.
“In 2018, Zimbabwe was receiving 34 tonnes deliveries and now the Chamber of Mines is projecting production levels of 25 tonnes. The production levels should be higher than 34 tonnes because of higher market prices,” the official said
The source further indicated that the country was most likely producing more than 34 tonnes, but delivering much less.
“The rest of it is being smuggled out of Zimbabwe. He said in 2018 the price was US$45 000 per kg and now it is fetching up to US$60 000 per kg and not less than US$55 000 per kg. This means there is no way production would be going down as is happening,” the source added.
“Gold is currently earning the country around US$80 million monthly and as such, smuggling is a lost opportunity for Zimbabwe to increase our reserves. The biggest problem is that our biggest licensed buyers are foreign. There are not more than 20 buyers and of these, five are foreign and are the biggest.”
Another source in the mining sector suggested that the government cancels with immediate effect the licences of the buyers to plug the leakages.
“The problem is that of enforcement of compliance. What the government needs to do is to cancel the licences of the all buyers and capacitate Fidelity with cash to buy directly from the miners. They need to give Fidelity between US$10 million and US$15 million a week to buy the gold directly from the small scale and artisanal miners, just like what the Grain Marketing Board does with maize,” he said..
“Those units that are supposed to police and enforce compliance of the laws of the land should be more vigilant, otherwise the country will continue to lose billions to smuggling. There has to be political will to stop the smuggling. Revenue from gold can help get the country out of this economic mess.”
Efforts to get comments from RBZ governor John Mangudya were fruitless.