Exclusive: Kuwaza’s role in Grace-Gonogate scandal suspicious

AN article that appeared in the South African newspaper, The Sunday Times, of September 19, 2010, and focused on ongoing boardroom squabbles at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) ended on an ominously prophetic note.

The newspaper’s reporters, Stanley Gama and Zoli Mangena, quoted an unidentified RBZ board member as having warned that if what the reporters referred to as the war of attrition between the central bank’s governor and chairman, Gideon Gono, and deputy chairman, Charles Kuwaza, was not stopped immediately it was likely to "explode soon".

The situation at the bank did explode a month later, on Sunday October 24, and this happened on the front page of the same Sunday Times newspaper. The sensational story of an alleged love affair between Gono and the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, spread like a bush fire to every corner of the world except Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean edition of the South African newspaper was published without a whiff of award-winning British investigative journalist Jon Swain’s sensational scoop.

The question on the lips of many journalists in the newsrooms of Zimbabwe, who by all appearances had clearly been scooped by a visiting foreign correspondent in their own backyard was: "Is this a true story?"

It is not clear whether Swain did visit Zimbabwe as claimed by him. Swain claimed in the story that he had spoken to various sources within the secretive Central Intelligence Organisation, as well as at the central bank before he did something which many Zimbabweans find difficult to imagine.

He claims he drove out to the Mugabe’s Gushungo Dairy Farm just outside the capital city.

Swain alleges he spoke to farm workers who actually furnished him with details of what transpired in the farm-house during the visits of Gono and the First Lady at least twice a month.

It now appears that Swain, an enterprising reporter with a string of international awards for excellence in journalism to his credit and who was portrayed by Julian Sands in the 1984 Oscar-winning film, The Killing Fields, may have been fed and in turn caused The Sunday Times to publish allegations that he possibly might not be able to substantiate if he was called upon to do so while defending a case of defamation, possibly with malicious intent.

An entry on Swain in Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia says Swain was born in London and after an unhappy education at Blundell’s School, from which he was expelled, he ran away to join the French Foreign Legion.

"French journalist Denis Robert, who unveiled the Clearstream Affair wrote in his book, Clearstream Penquete. that he believes Swain was working in 2005 for Hakluyt & Company Limited, a private intelligence firm based in London with close links to MI6," the entry continues.

MI6 is Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). It provides the British Government with a global covert capability to promote and defend the national security and economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

Back in Harare facts are now emerging that what was intended to be an earth-shattering scoop published in the London and Johannesburg editions of The Sunday Times may not have been anything more than the latest episode in the ongoing battle, pitting the embattled governor of the RBZ against his ebullient but belligerent deputy chairman, Kuwaza.

It appears the newspaper did not expend to the First Lady and to the governor of the Reserve Bank the opportunity to defend themselves against its allegations, as required by the tenets of ethical and professional journalism.

I had a long chat with Kuwaza on Tuesday last week. I put it to him that fingers were being pointed at him as the likely source or at least one of the sources who furnished Swain with the sensational information around which he crafted his article. It was being suggested that the article was allegedly Kuwaza’s latest punch on the body of Gono, the man he has allegedly been trying to dislodge from the central bank since Kuwaza’s appointment there in May, 2010.

Kuwaza told me there were many Zimbabweans who would make better candidates for the post of governor of the central bank. During the interview Kuwaza’s responses were liberally spiced with the words "ignorant" or "illiterate" in reference to Gono.

In a letter addressed to Finance Minister Tendai Biti on August 27, 2010, Gono accused Kuwaza of leaking information about the RBZ to the media. Insiders say Biti is closely linked to Kuwaza and was instrumental in securing his appointment to the position of RBZ deputy chairman. Kuwaza told me that his only association with Biti was that they are both prominent chess players.

Kuwaza says he has was accused during his tenure as permanent secretary for the Ministry of Finance of being a supporter of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC. Biti is the secretary general of the MDC. After his appointment as Finance Minister in the government of national unity Biti spearheaded a campaign to have Gono removed from the central bank. He did not succeed.

As the war between Gono and Kuwaza escalated, Biti appointed Kuwaza chairman of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) in September, 2010.

"I write to sadly bring your attention to the fact that I have repeatedly encountered serious operational differences with Mr. C. Kuwaza, the deputy chairman of the RBZ board, which if not expeditiously resolved, will compromise the smooth functioning of the board and, in turn, the central bank," Gono said in the letter.

"As governor and chairman of the board I have for the past three months forestalled and held back writing you this letter in the hope that Mr Kuwaza was going to mend his ways, but things are spinning out of control."

Gono said in the letter that Kuwaza was destabilising operations of the bank through "abrasive, abusive and unprofessional language" during management meetings. He also accused his deputy of leaking information to the press.

Gono said unless Biti intervened, there would be chaos at the central bank. The letter was copied to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the chief secretary to the president and cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda.

On Tuesday Kuwaza denied he was in any way related to Swain, saying he had never communicated with the reporter. Asked for his opinion of the Sunday Times article, Kuwaza characterised it as "facts, half truths and absolute lies, all meshed together to make their story."

Kuwaza then made a startling revelation. He said the police had arrested him on Sunday, September 19, 2010. He described the arrest as "Gono’s hatchet job". Asked if he had possibly passed information about Gono on to Swain in bitter retaliation, Kuwaza made another astounding disclosure.

"The Sunday Times story was probably a hatchet job by my sympathisers, who were angry with Gono for causing my arrest," he said.

Kuwaza refused to reveal the identity of his sympathisers, although he subsequently admitted on Friday that they were politicians. He, however, insisted that they were Zanu-PF officials, saying "Gono created many enemies in Zanu-PF".

I spoke to Gono on Wednesday. He denied that he had anything to do with Kuwaza’s arrest on charges of corruption at the State Procurement Board, where he is chairman.

"The first time I knew that Kuwaza had been arrested was when he raised the issue at the very beginning of a subsequent board meeting," Gono said. "This item was not on the agenda of the meeting but I allowed him to raise it."

On October 4, 2010, The Sunday Times reported that the boardroom fight between the governor and the deputy chairman had intensified, amid revelations that Gono had uncovered a plot by his bitter rival to oust him from his position.

The newspaper reported that it had in its possession documents that showed that Reserve Bank and state security agents had been monitoring Kuwaza for several months and had now reached the conclusion he wanted to get rid of Gono.

The document detailed incidents which, according to Gono and the agents, showed that Kuwaza, who also chairs the RBZ audit and oversight committee, was working with unnamed senior ministers to remove Gono from office. In the same October 4 article The Sunday Times reported that internal memos had been "flying back and forth between Gono, Kuwaza and Finance Minister Tendai Biti. According to the documents seen by the Sunday Times, Biti is supporting Kuwaza."

On Tuesday Kuwaza made yet another astonishing disclosure.

He said the latest Sunday Times article, which exposed allegations of infidelity involving Gono and the First Lady could be part of a grand strategy to influence the outcome of general elections said to be scheduled for 2011 against President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

He said he had been informed that the editors at The Sunday Times had a dossier of incriminating information and photographs of Gono and Grace Mugabe. He said the newspaper’s strategy was to disclose the information during court proceedings, should the governor or the First Lady sue for defamation.

I asked if it was not a more effective strategy to simply publish the information at hand, instead of pursuing the circuitous route through the law courts, as suggested by Kuwaza.

"I don’t know," he said, "but I understand that their strategy is to cause the case to drag on up to the elections."

Asked in what circumstances he, the deputy chairman of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, became privy to what appear to be highly confidential details of alleged strategies to be employed by The Sunday Times to influence the outcome of Zimbabwe’s forthcoming general elections, Kuwaza did not explain.

Kuwaza has accused Gono of corruption and of attempting to use security service chiefs to muzzle him. He has also alleged in the past that he has evidence to show that Gono "misappropriated seigniorage or printed money" between 2004 and 2008. Seigniorage is the profit made from printing money.

But in a letter to The Sunday Times dated September 20, 2010, Kuwaza denied that he had ever accused anybody of "looting as I have no such evidence".

Meanwhile, Gono said on Wednesday that he was not planning to institute legal proceedings for defamation against The Sunday Times, "even if there is no house worth calling a house at Gushungo Dairy Farm; that is a house that would fit the characterization and use described by him (Swain) in the article".

Gono said exposure of Swain’s article as false would be sufficient punishment for him and his editors.

I met Kuwaza for the second time on Friday to seek clarification on some of the issues he had raised. Kuwaza gave a new spin to the Gono-Mugabe saga.

"I was told that soon after our meeting on Tuesday that it is, in fact, Gono himself who planted that information on Swain," said Kuwaza.

"Gono was informed by his security people that the President was very angry with him; that he could even be killed. To pre-empt that happening Gono broke the story himself in The Sunday Times."