Zimbabwe, Iran and uranium: a story made in sanctions-busting heaven

via Daily Maverick – Zimbabwe, Iran and uranium: a story made in sanctions-busting heaven

Simon Allison

A recent report that Zimbabwe was in bed with Iran to supply the Islamic Republic with uranium (you know, the stuff used in nukes) has been furiously denied by Zimbabwe’s government. And yet, the story just makes so much sense that SIMON ALLISON can’t help but suspect there’s something to it.

Just when you thought the stories emerging from Zimbabwe couldn’t get any more sordid, along comes a tale of sanctions-busting, nuclear technology and the Islamic Republic of Iran which, even if not true, sounds like it should be.

The story, according to The Times of London which broke it, is that sometime last year a memorandum of understanding was signed between Zimbabwe and Iran in which Zimbabwe promised to sell its not inconsiderable potential uranium stockpile to Iran. Because both countries are under economic sanctions – Zimbabwe for human rights abuses and Iran for allegedly trying to build a nuclear bomb – knowledge of this memorandum was kept to a tiny handful of people at the very top of Zimbabwe’s government. The uranium would, of course, aid Iran in developing its nuclear program, which it insists is for energy purposes only; the cash would keep Zanu-PF in power and its leaders living in the style to which they have become accustomed.

Unsurprisingly, Zimbabwe’s newly reinstalled Zanu-PF government has dismissed the story as scurrilous rumour-mongering, and launched a manhunt for Jerome Starkey and Jan Raath, the two journalists who reported it from Harare (along with colleagues Michael Evans and Hugh Tomlinson in London).

“That is a blatant lie. Whoever is saying that is being malicious. We have never issued any licence to any Iranian company. We do not have any uranium mine at the moment,” said Prince Mupazviriho, secretary for mines and mining development.

Mupazviriho is right on at least one count: Zimbabwe does not yet have a functioning uranium mine, although it does have proven deposits of around 45,000 tonnes of the stuff at Kanyemba near the border with Zambia and Mozambique.

The rest could confidently be dismissed as bog-standard Zanu-PF bluster were it not echoed by a certain Gift Chimanikire, outgoing deputy minister for mines and mine development and the supposed source of the story in The Times. “I never said such a silly thing. We are exploring and not mining. He [Jerome Starkey] thought of selling his paper by being untruthful. I tried to call him after hearing about the article, but his phone is not reachable. It is a speculative and dangerous story … that journalist was very notorious.”

There are two ways to interpret Chimanikire’s denial of the comments attributed to him. The first is that he is on the level and the journalists in question really did manufacture the evidence. The second is that he is furiously backtracking, trying to avoid potentially serious repercussions. (Edward Snowden has taught us even in the United States whistle-blowers feel the need to leave the country for their own safety. How much more dangerous is it to be blow the lid on a secret operation in Zimbabwe? Especially when Chimanikire belongs, as he does, to the recently vanquished opposition MDC-T).

Given what we know, which is not much, option two seems the more likely.

For a start, this is not the first time Iran and Zimbabwe have been connected on the issue of uranium. In 2011, a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency said that a deal had already been reached in which Iran received exclusive access to Zimbabwe’s uranium in return for fuel.

Then there’s the question of the journalists themselves. Just how likely would it be that Starkey and Raath, the two reporters in Harare, would simply make things up? They are both seasoned pros working for one of the most respected publications in the world (even if it is owned by Rupert Murdoch), and the quotes in the article from Chimanikire are very specific and leave little room for misunderstanding. If Chimanikire is right, the journalists didn’t merely draw the wrong conclusion or present his comments out of context – they simply manufactured them from thin air. This strains credibility, especially coming as it does from a person with a vested (although understandable) interest in distancing himself from potentially dangerous revelations.

Finally, and most compellingly, the story has a ring of truth simply because the connection between Zimbabwe and Iran seems so obvious. The two governments have both defined themselves in opposition to western states and ideologies and have found themselves suffering economically as a result. Zimbabwe has uranium, but no one to sell to. Iran wants uranium, but isn’t allowed to buy it from anyone. Working together for mutual benefit against a common enemy is a no-brainer, and a win-win for both governments.

Even if no deal has yet been reached, and no memorandum of understanding signed, surely it is simply a matter of time before some agreement on uranium happens between Zimbabwe and Iran.


  • comment-avatar
    vukani madoda 11 years ago

    I made a comment about uranium in your paper recently and as I expected this story is not dying any time soon and the truth should really come out:if ever there was something that will inevitably cause jitters and send the corrupt leaders wetting their pants ,it must be the uranium story-there is no smoke without fire.Apart from uranium Zimbabwe is otherwise quite irrelavant to the West contrary to what the rank and file have been made to believe by the Zanu led regime.As such the illegimate election and rigging would not cause the so called West any sleepless nights. Uranium alters the equation and becomes a game changer and Obert Mpofu should not be heard again making the statement attributed to him recently ‘as a sovereign state we are free to sell our minerals to anyone’ because he knows very well now-the top hawk would have told him by now,that this is a very sensitive issue and the West would waste no time in kicking them out of the power they have seized through rigging.Zimbabwe will simply not be allowed to sell uranium to Iran-period ;never mind what Obert Mpofu says.If they did the host country of NIKUV,Israel is more likely to stop them on their tracks long before the US or the much hated British do.Even if the journalist concerned are apprehanded,the worst that could happen to them will be to expel them as keeping them would merely perpetuate the attention around the matter which the illegimate Zanu regime would not want.The only reason they are after the journalists is to find out how much they know and who has given them the information and the one person likely to get into trouble would be Chimanikire.Bring it on-keep talking uranium-this will give you the freedom that your vote failed to deliver.

  • comment-avatar
    Makotsi 11 years ago

    As a daydreamer it is your right to dream. However reality will still remain,ZANU PF is the ruling party in Zimbabwe for the next 5 years.

  • comment-avatar
    vukani madoda 11 years ago

    Yes I agree there is a good chance they will remain the looting party for the next 5 years and only a few Zimbos will reap the fruits of the so called indigenisation promises-the majority will be back eating bark and hides as they did in before 2008 before the GNU: the banking system will be in chaos and the proceeds from the mines going direct into the pockets of the well connected fat cats-that is a fact! In the end of the day no one really cares who is running the country-you could have a pack of dogs doing it as long as the people they serve have food on the table: if the dogs are not getting it right get them out and put someone else to do the job something ZAnu refuses to do.Zanu wants to have it their way-do a bad job and remain in power-as I said keep taliking about selling uranium to Iran and that will be the end of the tyrany

  • comment-avatar
    Karanda Karikoga 11 years ago

    Zimbabwe as a country, we have our own sovereign to govern ourselves and do what ever we like. We are blessed nation with natural resources including Uranium. We can sell Uranium to who ever we want and nobody should stop us or interfere in our business.

    We won the Presidential and Parliamentary elections with a resounding victory and this victory is for the people of Zimbabwe sending a clear message to our detractors that Zimbabwe will not be a colony again. This also re-enforces our aspirations that we wanted our dear President to go into retirement peacefully, honourably and victoriously and shame our enemies who thought if we lost, they would be awaiting our security leaders and our President to take them Hague a tool for re-colonization. In Zimbabwe, we will not accept what happened in Libya to Colonel and in Iraq to Saddam.

    Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is a Zimbabwean like President Mugabe and leave our problems to our indigenous Political leaders and You people of western origins should by now have accepted and came to reality that Rhodesia is gone and stop dreaming and if you cant stop dreaming we are taking everything away from you and deport you to where you came from so if you want to stay in Zimbabwe you should accept reality and live in Zimbabwe like Zimbabweans and other foreigners with British Passports but can never be called English.

    Sort out the racism in your countries and how you still enslave foreigners in your countries. You stole our resources and dictated the pace and now you cant steal and get our resources as in your countries you don’t have resources and you relied on manipulating your former colonies and maintaining influence by installing puppets in these countries so that you can continue your evil ways.

    You did not like the outcome of the elections in Egypt, Kenya and You will never like elections in Zimbabwe. We will win elections in Zimbabwe whether by fair participation or by rigging elections in order to preserve our hard won independence.

    • comment-avatar

      uranium nice one , wish they could send more sanctions on this mother

  • comment-avatar

    There is uranium in the ground, but no mine. It takes a long time for a mine to move from concept to mineral output; typically 10 years or more. But the principle of two rogue states doing deals against international sanctions is quite compelling.

  • comment-avatar
    The Black Aristocrat 11 years ago

    Sovereign country or not, if Israel find evidence that Mugabe’s Military Dictatorship has or is in the process of supplying Uranium ore to Iran, they will have signed their own death warrants!

  • comment-avatar
    Joseph 11 years ago

    Weapons of mass destructions in Iraq,Bin laden in Afghanistan etc people are to believe all that yet the real issue is oil,Now Zimbabwe is accused of facilitang the production of attomic bombs in iran yet the real issue is minerals, USA and Britain needs a share by all means. What next? Dear God please serve zimbabwe from the Western demon!