Minister speaks out on seizure of Kingdom Meikles

HOT SEAT: Violet Gonda speaks to co-Home Affairs Minister Giles Mutsekwa who recently authorised the seizure of one of the country’s largest companies, Kingdom Meikles, for allegedly externalising foreign currency.

Mutsekwa admits he made a serious blunder by only listening to CEO Nigel Chanakira, when he co-authorised the specification order. The minister discloses that there are plans to reverse the seizure order, after company Chairman John Moxon agreed to pay back the externalized funds. Mutsekwa also talks about the challenges he is facing to bring back law and order in the country, and the difficulties of working with a ‘police force that is combative and is offended if Zanu-PF is offended.’

Violet Gonda: Using a controversial anti-corruption law a recently published government gazette effectively seized the assets of one of the country’s largest companies, Kingdom Meikles, which is listed on stock exchanges in both Harare and London. The group of companies comprising Kingdom Meikles, Tanganda Tea, Thomas Meikles Centre and Murlis Investments were all listed as ‘specified,’ allowing the government to place them under administration. The Home Affairs Ministers Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa authorised the seizure. Mr Mutsekwa is my guest on the programme Hot Seat and I asked him first to explain his thinking in helping the government take over control of the companies.

Giles Mutsekwa: Firstly, let me say Violet that in my opinion it is a very sad development in that I do appreciate the repercussions where this big company, which is on the stock market, is specified. But I think it is also important for our nationals to understand that a serious crime has been committed where extensive sums of money have been externalised from Zimbabwe by the gentleman known as Mr John Moxon. And unfortunately this has been an issue that has been longstanding and was actually under investigation even before I joined the ministry.

However, I want to state, and state emphatically, that it is not the intention of this minister whatsoever to aid and abet ulterior motives of other political parties in what I would have termed a noble cause. I have since had various visits from people concerned who have come to me and who have explained to me the other side of the story. Apparently what has been taking place is that we have been listening to only one person who is an aggrieved character and we took it for granted, being a Christian, everybody thought he was up to his word. But however as I am saying, ever since the gazetting of that instrument the other side has also approached me and we have held various high level meetings and I now understand that it was not all that I was being told by the first side that is correct and I appreciate the issue much better.

Gonda: What do you really appreciate? Who is this person that had given you the one side? You had said he is a Christian, can you explain to our listeners who you are talking about and what does it really say when you make such a huge decision like this based on the reports of just one group and not actually investigating or seeking the response from the other aggrieved side?

Mutsekwa: You see apparently the second person or the second character is not resident in Zimbabwe and it was not easy to make contact with him, therefore it was everybody’s assumption that because he is outside of Zimbabwe it was his intention to stay outside of Zimbabwe and therefore evading these issues that are being investigated. But as to who is this first character I was referring to and I termed him a Christian, I think it is only proper at the moment that we treat names aside but however it is suffice for you to understand that this wrangle is between two major characters and that is John Moxon and Nigel Chanakira. I think I need not be clearer than that. I’m sure that if anybody reads from between the lines they would know whom I’m referring to. But suffice to say those are the major characters at play and as I said it was unfortunate that the other player (Moxon) is stationed outside the country. However what has since happened is that he has sent his emissaries to myself to explain the situation, but most importantly, his willingness to ensure that whatever the country has been deprived of is going to be reimbursed as soon as possible. So I’m happy as the minister that everything is on course and I am advised if people concerned take certain procedures so we rectify the issue.

Gonda: What exactly are you saying? Are you saying now that you have heard from the other player this means that the decision to specify this company may now be reversed?

Mutsekwa: Well I’m saying precisely that, precisely that.  And as I said, the happiest news from the second player is that he recognises how serious the issue is. He also recognises that he is indebted to Zimbabwe and during my discussions with his emissaries there was an indication, a genuine indication that whatever Zimbabwe was prejudiced of would be made good.

Gonda: How much money was actually externalised?

Mutsekwa: It was to the tune of US$21 million.

Gonda: Couldn’t you just slap the company with a fine as a confidence building measure because there has been such an outcry about this kind of action and many people feel that this sends the wrong signals to potential investors?

Mutsekwa: Well as I said to you earlier on Violet, I do appreciate, I appreciate the bad impression that will be sent across the whole world about this particular issue. It will never be my intention to discourage potential investors for Zimbabwe and that is why I am in this inclusive government anyway.

Gonda: Who did you consult when you made this decision?

Mutsekwa: Look Violet a ministry is composed of so many people within the bureaucracy but that’s besides the point and various people, who were worth consulting, were consulted before that decision was taken.

Gonda: But your party has issued a statement criticising this move, in fact condemning what they described as a grab of Meikles assets and even your minister in the Economic Planning and Investment Promotion ministry Elton Mangoma said that there was a lack of consultation across the various ministries and he said that the decision to specify the companies was rash and done without consultation making his job difficult and basically he said he was still awaiting a full briefing on the matter before he could issue a substantive comment. What can you say about that?

Mutsekwa: Well look Violet, minister Mangoma runs a ministry just as I run a ministry and there’s definitely no reason why I should make him my reference point. But all I’m saying is, that a decision was taken after several consultations, I appreciate the position if my party is not happy with my decision, I do appreciate that but you must also accept the fact that on a day-to-day issue a minister is appointed to run a ministry and you don’t have to run backwards and forwards consulting your party. But I do appreciate, and as I said earlier on, it is true and I’ve also realised it after consultation that maybe something else could have been done and done smarter and I am saying that I am putting everything in place.

Gonda: Is the reason why you are now entertaining the idea of reversing this drastic decision as a result of the reaction, the negative reaction you have received from your own party because even a statement that was issued by the party said that you have more pressing issues to attend to than seizing the assets of private companies. So were you put under pressure from your party to reverse this decision?

Mutsekwa: Look Violet, my personal, my personal attitude is that if you want to make a good leader you listen to everybody and unless you are capable of listening then you are no different from the dictatorship that Zimbabweans have experienced from Zanu-PF. And all I’m saying is that I have some representations to me, my party included but that is not the only area where these representations came from. What is very important in this particular issue is that the people affected themselves have also realised the gravity of this issue and have said – they put on the table what arrangements they are going to make to ensure that this money is going to be brought back into the fiscus and I’m happy with that. But all I’m saying is pressure must be brought to bear to any leader, and any leader worth his salt is supposed to listen to pressure, that’s what democracy is all about.

Gonda: But Mr Mutsekwa, I come back to the same issue about the comment that was made by one of your colleagues Mr Mangoma that this was a rash decision. The Meikles group of company…

Mutsekwa: I’m not privy to the comment that was made by one of my colleagues.

Gonda: But I’ve just explained it to you that he said that this was a rash decision. Do you not think that thorough investigations should be followed before you make such decisions?

Mutsekwa: Yes but Violet, I think I have said it times without number that necessary investigations and consultations were made and I said to you in the first instance that the only blunder which I think I made was that I did not listen to the second player because he is stationed outside of Zimbabwe. That’s all I’m saying to you.

Gonda: But still, that admission there, didn’t that worry you before you made that decision?

Mutsekwa: No as I said to you Violet, this other person was not in contact with Zimbabwe and therefore had been stationed outside and was not willing at that particular time to be in touch with Zimbabwe, so I’m not so sure what else we could have done. But I think what is most important is that the affected person also realises that he had to exchange notes and he was the first person, after the publication of that instrument, to get in touch with me and I appreciate that now we realise that it is important for people to talk over issues.

Gonda: One of your colleagues, Ghandi Mudzingwa has accused you of failing to address the issues of the rule of law, the issues of unwarranted arrests; doesn’t this worry you that some of your colleagues or some of your own members now see you as someone who is parroting the Zanu-PF line?

Mutsekwa: Firstly let me respond to the first issue about my colleague Ghandi Mudzingwa. You would want to realise that when he made that statement he was in jail, he was under detention. I also want to reveal to you and to the listeners that the same Ghandi Mudzingwa has since apologised for that reckless statement. He has apologised and you can get in touch with him, he has personally apologised to me. So that’s the first issue.

But on the other issue Violet, let me give you a brief history of how this ministry functions. You would appreciate Violet that the ministry of Home Affairs actually was a contentious issue during our discussions before we formed the inclusive government. And you’ll also recall that the Ministry of Home Affairs is completely different from all these other ministries, completely different indeed. Firstly by its nature and by its hugeness;

Secondly that it is a ministry that I actually went into when it had all its complete structures in place – there was a minister already, there was an entire bureaucracy which was in existence. But more to that, is that this entire bureaucracy and the minister survived the 2008 period because they were then deemed to be loyal to Zanu-PF. So I inherited an entire bureaucracy with its minister who is Zanu-PF who could have made choices of whether they want to refer to me any issue for decision making or not because they already have their structures in place. You understand that, Violet?

So for me to be able to operate under such circumstances I had to use lots of tact, and I’m sure I’m best qualified to do that and that is why I got that appointment. But the other issue also is there is no way that you can compare the Ministry of Home Affairs with any other ministry because the difference is – all other MDC ministers assumed ministries which would also have the same bureaucracies but at least there was one person in charge of that ministry. It is not the same. If I had not been very strategic I would not even be able to control and run this ministry by now.

I am also very alive Violet, to the fact that our reason of joining this inclusive government or rather agreeing to be part and parcel of this inclusive government is because we are looking ahead to where Zimbabwe shall have a free and fair election and for that to happen, people who are in sensitive ministries like myself have got to do more than just shouting and talking and I’m doing precisely that.

I have managed to get people in the bureaucracy who were completely wild and un-cooperating now on my side, and I think to me that is a plus. And if we are strategising because we want to go for elections there is more that I’ve got to do as a minister running a security ministry rather than just going on top of the mountain and shout.

Gonda: But still, some would say that these are just words and doesn’t actually reflect what is going on the ground. Since your appointment, what have you done that shows that there have been some changes especially in terms of the rule of law?

Mutsekwa: But Violet I’m telling you and I’ve just said to you that I inherited a structure that was 100 percent Zanu-PF because it was designed to be so before the 2008 elections and I am sure it is very vital that you appreciate that. Now because of that the first thing anybody could have done strategically is to ensure that you convert the thinking and actions of the bureaucracy itself, that’s not easy. You would want to remember that everybody including the entire bureaucracy in that ministry is purely Zanu-PF because that is how it was tailored to be during the 2008 elections. So my first task would be, and that was, to ensure that first and foremost I convert the thinking of the people who operate in the ministry itself. And you want to remember that before I joined the ministry, everybody from the minister whom I found there to the ground floor was all Zanu-PF and the first task naturally is to ensure that you convert the thinking of these people; I have successfully managed to do that.

As to the issue of the rule of law, look Violet, these are the same apparatus I have.  We have not recruited anybody new, we have not recruited new policemen, we have not recruited a new police commissioner, we have not recruited any of even the middle rank so I am operating with the same apparatus that were designed to ensure that there is oppression and suppression in Zimbabwe and that has got to be understood.

Gonda: So in terms of disturbances on farms what are you doing about that? Yes granted you are facing major challenges but disturbances are continuing, people are still getting beaten and arrested, farms are still getting burnt. What are you doing as minister?

Mutsekwa: You see the first task and which I think has been successfully completed is to convert the thinking of the police force in this country so that they accept and admit that what they were doing before is wrong. To overcome that hurdle is no mini task. That has been accomplished by myself and I think I’m moving in the correct direction. Thereafter it is easier to give instructions. But as to what specifically we are doing is that we have condemned, I have actually summoned the senior police officers and asked them to reverse whatever is taking place at the moment.

But as I said, you are talking about commanding a police force close to 40 000 people and in six months time Violet nobody can tell me, nobody not even Jesus Christ could tell me that he would have converted the thinking of these people to be thinking the modern way. So we have a police force that is still combative, a police force that is offended if Zanu-PF is offended. We have got that police force still but what we are doing naturally now is to make sure that we recruit and as we are recruiting we are making sure that the police force is diluted and I am very very confident, Violet, that the step that I am taking, come the next elections, then people will know what Mutsekwa’s been doing in this ministry.

Gonda: But Mr Mutsekwa you keep saying that you have converted the thinking of those in the police force and I keep saying that this is not the reality on the ground because even if you look…

Mutsekwa: Now look here, Violet, there are 40 000 policemen in this country…

Gonda: But Mr Mutsekwa can I finish …

Mutsekwa: So I am saying…

Gonda: Mr Mutsekwa, just hold on a minute, just last week the police violently blocked a ZCTU demonstration, where are they getting these instructions? You are supposed to be in a power, sharing government now, and you yourself have said that demonstrations are now allowed in Zimbabwe but they are not allowed in Zimbabwe because the civil society is still not allowed to demonstrate freely in the country. Last week they violently blocked a ZCTU demonstration in Harare.

Mutsekwa: Yah, you see what you need to appreciate Violet is that I am not responsible as minister for the day-to-day operations of the police force. I’m sure it’s paramount for people to appreciate that fact. That is not a ministerial job to do that.  The police force in this country and elsewhere have got a constitutional right to design their day-to-day programmes of operations without necessarily referring to the minister. I am there for policy and I have said that demonstrations shall be allowed in Zimbabwe. You are talking about an incident that occurred last week, I picked it up and what I’ve done is I’ve summoned those concerned, I have actually told people who were barred from demonstrating to make another effort and I’ll make sure that demonstration goes through.

Gonda: And what about the issue that journalists are still getting arrested while doing their job?

Mutsekwa: I am not responsible for the day-to-day operations of the police force, besides the constitution of Zimbabwe allows the police commissioner to report to me, to report to the President and also can get instructions from the attorney general, that is the constitutional mandate the police commissioner has been given in Zimbabwe. So it all depends on where that directive is coming from and I wish people could understand the operations of the police force or any other force in the world.

Gonda: Your own party says it wants to see perpetrators of violence brought to book, it wants to see a professional police force that enforces the rule of law without fear or favour and that they want to see a corrupt-free police force which professionally discharges its duties and it says these are the issues that must grab the attention of the (Home Affairs) ministers rather than the unbridled pursuit of private property. What can you say about that?

Mutsekwa: Violet even my own party appreciates that our intentions when we joined this government or rather when we formed this government, our intentions as the Movement for Democratic Change have not been fulfilled because there have been violations to what we see as perfect. So yes I totally agree. It is not my party that is saying that, it is me who is saying that to my party – that I want a professionalised police force, that I want a well paid police force, that I want a police force that is non-partisan, it is me who is saying that and I am striving to get to there. And surely in six months time nobody would have expected that to happen given the financial constraint that we in government got.

Gonda: What have you done as the Home Affairs minister, to ensure that politically motivated criminals have been arrested?

Mutsekwa: There is a lot that is taking place already in the police force. There is completely a lot that you would probably have noticed if you were following events – that since I have joined that ministry there have been public meetings and sessions that are being conducted by the police and they are busy explaining their charter to the people so that the people know what the police force should be doing and what they should not be doing. That is the first thing and to me that is tremendous progress but besides I am also saying that there have been meetings, and high-level meetings with the command element of the police so that they accept this need to change. I am saying and I will say it again that 30 years of oppressive operation cannot be taken out just by six months and people simply have got to understand that. But I am also saying that I lead a security ministry and my plans and tactics are not supposed to be reviewed over the air as we are doing now.

Gonda: But Mr Mutsekwa, my question was what have you done as Home Affairs minister to ensure that the perpetrators of violence have been brought to book? Your own party keeps saying that there’s this selective application of the rule of law and that it’s only MDC people like legislators who keep getting arrested and yet there are scores of Zanu-PF people who have murdered opposition supporters and have never been arrested. What are you doing about this as Home Affairs minister?

Mutsekwa: Violet, I am not the Justice Minister.

Gonda: But you are in control, you are in charge of the police force…

Mutsekwa: All people who have perpetrated violence in Zimbabwe have been accounted for and when I say all, I could be exaggerating but I can tell you, 75 percent of people who perpetrated violence in Zimbabwe have been accounted for and that’s where the police force ends. The rest is with the Justice Ministry. So it is up to them, if they give them bail conditions, it is up to them. But for anybody to say, to ask me a question yekuti (about) – what have you done to ensure that perpetrators of violence are brought to book, I say everything has been done and they have been brought to book.

Gonda: Like who? Can you give an example of some perpetrators of violence, especially from Zanu-PF, who have been brought to book? Is Joseph Mwale, has Joseph Mwale been arrested? I don’t understand when you say that 75 percent of the perpetrators have been brought to book. Can you explain to our listeners what you mean by that?

Mutsekwa: You know Violet that question is very unfair. There are a lot of things that happened in Zimbabwe that are both brutal and unconstitutional and most of those have completely nothing to do with law and order. They are still outstanding and I can give you several examples, the fulfilment of the GPA itself has been a critical issue here in Zimbabwe and to just isolate a police force or a ministry for is completely unfair. There are a lot of things that have not been fulfilled which have got nothing to do with law and order but unfortunately we are saying some of us have got long-term plans of how we must achieve the support and eventually take over the reins of this country. So in short what I’m saying is that people plan differently, there are some who are very good at short sprints, there are some who are long distance runners but I can tell you that it depends on the ministry that you are heading.

And I must say I need to get one cabinet minister from the Movement for Democratic Change who will stand up and say that all his ambitions have been fulfilled since we formed this government and you will find none.

Gonda: Let’s move on to other issues. Private radio stations have been under attack from Zanu-PF and lately from the military, the army commander, Lieutenant General Philip Sibanda recently warned his soldiers to guard against foreign based radio stations who he accuses of being at war with the State. Now as a former military person yourself and since you meet with the Joint Operations Command or JOC, how do you view these threats?

Mutsekwa: Violet, firstly that is not under my ministry but you have raised a very interesting question and its especially where army generals are commenting on political issues. I’m against that. I raised that issue in our weekly meetings in JOC. I am against that, I don’t like the army; I don’t like civil servants participating in political issues. So, yes those statements have been made. They are careless statements, they are unfortunate and they undermine the spirit of the inclusive government.

But let me tell you one thing we have my ministry and the ministry of Information headed by Honourable Shamu and we are making various consultations of what we must do about foreign journalists like yourself because I think our end dream is that everybody must come and operate from within Zimbabwe. And let me tell you one thing we have done a research, and before we did the research everybody used to believe that foreign journalists like yourself and various many others are not operating in Zimbabwe because of my ministry.

It has been established that my ministry has got completely nothing to do with that today and even before. It was the Ministry of Information and we have put that challenge squarely on their shoulders and I’m happy to tell you that we have asked the minister to confirm that something positive is being worked on. We want everybody to operate from this country, we want everybody to come back, and we want everybody to participate in the reconstruction of this country but more so to get alternative voices.

Gonda: We hope to get the Minister of Information Mr Webster Shamu on this programme some time, but before we go, do you have a final word?

Mutsekwa: Thank you, Violet, yes, I have a final word and the final word Violet is, that changing the mindset of the security forces, the police included, in Zimbabwe is a process, it is not an event and therefore it needs a very tactical approach and I’m best trained for that. The other thing is because I am heading a security ministry I shall not be going on top of mountains every day to pronounce each and every step that I am taking. But the most important thing also Violet is that I want to assure Zimbabweans, especially those that have been affected by the gazetting of this specification, that everything possible is being done to ensure that things are normalised and again, that it is not the intention of me as the minister, neither is it the intention of my party, the Movement for Democratic Change to discourage investment in Zimbabwe.

Gonda: So how long is it going to take to finalise this situation – I mean to reverse the seizure order?

Mutsekwa: Well I can tell you as I said before the process is already ongoing, it has started with consultations between those affected and myself and I have advised them of the correct procedures to take and thereafter it depends on the speed that they apply themselves. I think most of it would rather remain between myself and the affected people but I think it is suffice to say that moves are being taken.

Gonda: Right, and finally Mr Mutsekwa how do you respond to people who say that it appears that you may have quietly crossed the floor and become part of Zanu-PF indirectly?

Mutsekwa: Look Violet these things happen once you are in leadership, you are in the spotlight, and democratically I think people are entitled to their own views. But let me assure you one thing, that number one, I am the founder member of the Movement for Democratic Change, number two, I was under incarceration when most people decided that they will run away from this country. I stayed put in this country, went through all trials and tribulations, I was jailed, I was everything, I was tortured. I will be the last person and I will repeat I will be the last person ever to associate myself with Zanu-PF. In fact it is also prudent for me to mention that within the Movement for Democratic Change I am the only senior official who has never been, throughout my entire life, been a member of Zanu-PF, I can’t start now.

Gonda: OK, thank you very much Mr Giles Mutsekwa for talking to us on the programme Hot Seat.

Mutsekwa: It is a pleasure.

Feedback can be sent to violet@swradioafrica.com