It pays to be Robert Mugabe's bootlicker

Zimbabwe's Ignatius Chombo is an inspiration to government ministers and public servants everywhere. His example to them is: on your measly government salary, one day you too can divorce your wife and send her on her way with a bus, a few dozen of Harare's best addresses, a Mercedes-Benz, eight trucks, a block of flats, 10 or so companies and the odd farm.

A divorce hearing in Zimbabwe’s High Court has caused Chombo, a Zimbabwean local government minister, some embarrassment. One of President Robert Mugabe’s closest allies — who hails from Mugabe’s home district — the former college lecturer has been a fixture in Zimbabwean politics for about 15 years.

Mugabe has remained silent on what the divorce action is throwing up, but Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has compared Chombo to a greedy baboon trying to grab every cob from a farmer’s maize field.

Chombo denies he owns all the assets that his estranged wife, Marian, was reported by the state daily Herald to be after. The paper listed nearly 100 properties, 15 cars, trucks, safari camps and 10 companies.

Through his lawyers, he claimed he "didn’t own 90%" of the properties listed by the Herald, which quoted court papers submitted by his wife.

As local government minister, Chombo oversees Zimbabwe’s local councils, notorious for corruption in the allocation of municipal land.

But he insists that his properties — ranging from township hovels to suburban apartments and a cluster of 30 stands in Harare’s wealthy Borrowdale and Glen Lorne areas — have nothing to do with the many years he has spent in charge of the portfolio.

Lawyers and admirers at Chombo’s defence

Chombo’s lawyers, indignant on behalf of their avowedly virtuous and public-spirited client, have been breathing fire at the Herald. He knows nothing about what his wife is on about, they insist. "It paints a picture of a corrupt individual who amassed all the properties using his position since he has been a government minister for the better part of his working career."

In fact, some of it was owned by his twentysomething son, his lawyers said. And some of the 15 vehicles — among which the Herald reported were four Land Cruisers and three Mercedes-Benz -— are listed as "parliament or government vehicles," they said.

The Chombo scandal has provided a glimpse of how profitable it is to be a Mugabe ally and why those who defend his rule do so with passion.

Some see the Chombo case as a test of how Mugabe will react to corruption among his senior officials. But it’s not as if the minister was defying the ageing president by grabbing control of the land and the economy.

Chombo does have his supporters. This week, a writer signing himself "Bigboy" told the Herald to leave Chombo alone. "While others were busy selling their assets to buy foreign currency … there are many who were buying properties and creating real value for their families," he wrote. Truly, an inspiration. –This article was first publish in the M&G