Tendai Biti: show us the ill-gotten wealth, Mugabe

There would be no point in prosecuting the 93-year-old former president of Zimbabwe, says opposition stalwart Tendai Biti — but the country is owed an audit, and return, of any ill-gotten gains

26 November 2017 - 00:02 By OLEBOGENG MOLATLHWA

For years Tendai Biti, along with Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was the face of the resistance against Robert Mugabe's autocratic rule in Zimbabwe.
For his political activism he was arrested several times by the Mugabe regime.
But as Mugabe - who had ruled Zimbabwe since it became an independent republic in 1980 - stepped down this week following a peaceful military coup, Biti was not among those Zimbabweans calling for revenge against one of the continent's most notorious despots.Mugabe was old news, he told me as we discussed the future of Zimbabwe at the offices of the Duma Nokwe Group of Advocates in Sandton on Thursday.
"We cannot let the past continue holding the future, and Mugabe is in the past. We are speaking of him in the past tense. He is the former president of Zimbabwe.
"He's a naughty old man but he must not be harmed.
"He must be given right of free passage. If he wants to go to Dubai, let him go to Dubai. I suspect that he needs a sabbatical. The things that have happened in the last two months is shock treatment. He needs a holiday," Biti said, referring to the military coup and the subsequent decision by the ruling Zanu-PF to oust its founding leader from office.
For Biti, it would simply be a waste of time for Zimbabwe to prosecute Mugabe for any of the crimes he may have committed over the past 37 years in office.
"I don't have a problem with a deal that keeps his personal safety. I would also be against a deal that says 'let's prosecute him'. We know that he has committed crimes against Zimbabwe [but] why prosecute a 93-year-old man?"
However, Biti insists, there needs to be an investigation into the assets of Mugabe and his wife Grace.
Any ill-gotten wealth that was unearthed must be returned immediately to the people of Zimbabwe, he said.But even when that probe was conducted, Biti cautioned, the Mugabes should not be crippled financially.
"There must be an investigation into their assets. [As finance minister between 2009 and 2013] I used to pay him $100 and then increased it to $2,000 and then I increased his salary to $4,000 ... So if he has assets that are inconsistent with his income, they belong to the Zimbabwean people.
"That is straightforward but we mustn't take his house. He has a right to stay. The house with the blue roof in Borrowdale [a suburb of Harare], they shouldn't take it away - but the 15 farms and the large bank account, surely that's wrong?"
Biti's conciliatory attitude towards Mugabe has more to do with a desire to move on to more pressing national issues than any new-found respect for the fallen Zimbabwean president.
He is eager for the country to use the opportunity to start afresh as a truly democratic nation.
His People's Democratic Party as well as other opposition parties - including Tsvangirai's MDC, from which Biti broke away a few years ago - have laid a set of demands before Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF.
They want a road map to democracy drafted with the help of, and endorsed by, regional and international bodies including the Southern African Development Community, the AU and the UN.
"We think that it should also be an inclusive process involving the opposition and the ruling party - if not the army itself - and it must embark on a certain programmatic agenda," said Biti.
Top of the road map's agenda should be the rebuilding of Zimbabwe's battered economy.
Debt is sitting at 120% of GDP, wages consume 97% of total state expenditure and "too much regulation as well as import and price controls" had rendered the country uncompetitive, said Biti, who served as finance minister following the formation of a multiparty government in 2008.
Biti wants the controversial Indigenisation Empowerment Act, which requires foreign companies to hand over 51% control of their businesses to Zimbabweans, repealed.The former finance minister calls the law a foreign direct investment killer and wants it replaced with "a more balanced approach".
"Zimbabwe is so uncompetitive. So we have to deal with the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe, which includes the repeal of the notorious Indigenisation Empowerment Act. We have to repeal that.
"You can't just say everyone investing in Zimbabwe must give up 51% of their company," said Biti.
"It's not just about shares, although that aspect must be acknowledged. We must come up with a new act that is more scientific in its aims. Look at issues of corporate social responsibility as well as localisation, where big companies partner up with local firms in the areas they invest in."
More reforms had been demanded, Biti said, including "revisiting the powers we have given to the president in chapter 5 of the constitution".
What about land? Mugabe and Zanu-PF have for years told the electorate that voting for the opposition would see the land returned to the hands of the white minority at the expense of the black majority.
Is that what the opposition is planning, should it win the next elections, which are scheduled for mid-2018?
Biti answers emphatically: "No."
He elaborates: "Zimbabwe took back its land. All that is necessary is to ensure that this issue is democratised and run in terms of the constitution.
"Part of the democratisation means that every Zimbabwean must benefit from the land reform programme. It also means that everyone who owns land must have a title deed ..."Land is dead capital right now. It has lost value and that is regrettable. We need to root out the multiple-farm owners like Robert Mugabe, who owns 15 farms."
Biti confidently declares that land will not be an issue in the 2018 election because "we now have a constitution that says it [land reform] is irreversible".
As Mnangagwa was inaugurated on Friday, many Zimbabweans in the diaspora would have wondered how different their country, and indeed their lives, would have been had Mugabe accepted defeat to the MDC in the 2008 elections.
Biti co-founded the MDC in 1999 with former unionist Tsvangirai, but they fell out after the elections in July 2013.
Tsvangirai expelled Biti from the party in 2014 as a result of disagreements over succession.
He has resurfaced as president of the People's Democratic Party and is heavily critical of SADC's handling of the 2008 election, especially the role of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who was seen to be too sympathetic to Mugabe.
Biti said Zimbabweans were understandably angry with Mbeki and SADC.
"The people of Zimbabwe feel that president Mbeki used SADC to retain Mugabe in power after he lost the 2008 election.
"So the cynicism and scepticism is that SADC is an old boys' club whose business is to ensure that old boys are reproduced.
"That anger is understandable," said Biti.
"SADC must look at itself [and ask] why it is so disconnected from the ordinary man and woman. It is because it has played into the stereotype of being an old boys' club that protects dictators."And SADC must see why there is such a difference between itself and Ecowas [the Economic Community of West African States].
"Ecowas will move in against dictators. Ecowas moved in against [former Liberian president] Charles Taylor. Ecowas moved in against [Yahya] Jammeh in the Gambia. Ecowas moved in against Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso. Ecowas moved in against the nonsense in Mali.
"What has SADC done? Look at what [President Joseph] Kabila is doing in the Democratic Republic of Congo - flagrant abuse of the constitution.
"So SADC must take a leaf from Ecowas. And in West Africa, people identify with Ecowas.
"In Southern Africa, people want to stone SADC.
"SADC must get its act together because it is a dictators' club."
In January 2013, as finance minister, Tendai Biti shocked the financial world by claiming that Zimbabwe had only £138.34 left in its coffers.
Biti went on to tell reporters that they were individually likely to have healthier bank balances than the state.
He later claimed he had used the figure to make a point about the country’s finances, and that the very next day the government was again in the black, to the tune of $30-million...

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