In jurisdictions around the world, crime doesn’t rot and one committed right inside a Harare police station last year would still be fresh.
That about sums up the legal circumstances of Zimbabwe’s former Second Vice President, Phelekezela Mphoko, who might possibly appear as the second defendant in court documents relating to quite unusual criminal charges. While the grapevine says that Mphoko has been granted asylum in Botswana after his fall from grace following the dramatic events of the past two weeks, official word is that no such thing has happened. It would seem that while he dug his heels in over a week, extracting concessions from his captors, former President Robert Mugabe negotiated full immunity from prosecution for only himself and his family. The latter include his two wayward sons whose orgies of unrelenting dick-tatorship on a harem of cologned young female models in the Sodom-and-Gomorrah pockets of Harare and Sandton became tabloid fodder – and a source of great consternation for both parents. While this dick-tatorship may continue in some form or fashion, the circumstances will be wholly different in a new Zimbabwe.
Mphoko and others don’t have immunity and have to look out for themselves. Botswana has been mentioned as a possible destination and if he does indeed end up here, there could be some complications farther down the road. A Zimbabwean publication called News Dayquotes a source as saying, “We know he [Mphoko] fears arrest because he is wanted for obstruction of justice and corruption.” The former VP was a senior figure in the defeated Generation 40 faction in ZANU-PF party which was headed by former First Lady, Grace Mugabe, and had an extensive patronage network which has been fingered in corrupt dealings. The triumphant Lacoste faction, which is headed by Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would be interested in the role that Mphoko played in a deal involving a Botswana company that Mugabe himself ended up nixing on grounds that it “smacked of corruption.” The deal involved giving the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority a P3 billion loan and paying the loan back with an interest of P700 million.
The obstruction-of-justice charge relates to an incident last year during which Mphoko unlawfully released two Lacoste financiers, Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), Acting Chief Executive Officer, Engineer Juma and non-executive director, Davison Norupiri, from police custody. The men had been arrested for allegedly defrauding ZINARA of P13 million.
According to Newsday, “The VP personally came to the police station and ordered us to release the two. He actually said: ‘I am the VP of the country and I want you to let my boys go’. There was nothing anyone could do and he actually asked for his name to be indicated as having been responsible for their release in the detention book.”
Another version has him throwing a temper tantrum and taking off his jacket to use his hands more effectively. On inspecting the book, the reporter found that Juma and Norupiri were booked in and released on the same day.
“Under the column ‘how disposed of . . . by whom authorised’, the book indicated ‘VP Mphoko’ in both cases,” the paper says.
That sounds like just the sort of thing Mphoko would do. A short-fused man with a military background, he essentialises the if-you-want-something-done-right-do-it-yourself ethos. Years ago, when Midweek Sun published a tongue-in-cheek story about the Mahalapye Chief’s Representative Kgosi Tshipe Tshipe, having given 22 Zimbabweans a “Christmas present” totaling 66 strokes of the cane, he took it literally. Rather than contact the editor to get clarification or complain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mphoko got in his official car (a black Mercedes Benz) and had the driver chauffeur him 190 kilometres away to the Mahalapye kgotla where he confront the kgosi.
These are early days yet and nobody knows how Lacoste pans to deal with Generation 40 leaders. Already there is grave concern among human rights activists that Mnangagwa and his army generals are secretly carrying out a purge that has taken the form of arrests and indefinite detention. If the purge continues, Zimbabwe may want to prosecute Generation 40 leaders and seek to have those outside the country extradited. Even between friendly states, extradition involving high-profile figures can strain bilateral relations.