NEWLY-appointed Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Frederick Shava, who has an unsavoury dark and criminal past, has his work cut out for him.
Shava replaced retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo who succumbed to Covid-19 on 20 January.
As the country’s top diplomat – the face of Zimbabwe to the outside world – the new minister, bouncing back into cabinet after 32 years, has to grapple with complex internal and external challenges in his new job.
This includes dwindling domestic and international confidence, goodwill and support for President Emmerson Mnangagwa administration over its failure to implement political and economic reforms, combat rising corruption and human rights violations as well as lack of service delivery.
Zimbabwe is once again the pariah state that it was under Mnangagwa’s predecessor, the late long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.
Only last week, Britain imposed new sanctions on four state security officials accused of human rights abuses and killings of civilian protestors in 2018 and 2019.
The United States has maintained sanctions on targeted Zimbabweans and entities.
But beyond that the international community, which initially gave Mnangagwa the benefit of the doubt, has disengaged.
The new minister has to fix the diplomatic decoupling. Shava’s task is made even harder by the fact that he has a heavy monkey on his back.
He has an unsavoury reputation. His name is associated with abuse of office and high-level corruption, perjury and genocide, in which he called for extrajudicial killings of real or perceived government opponents.
It is the sort of record which in reasonably civilised and democratic societies would have morally disqualified him from public office, just like his boss and several of his associates.
But this being Africa – a continent still struggling with democratic transition in Gramscian rationale as the old order is dying while the new is not being born, hence political monsters or morbid creatures in the interregnum – they are in power.
Shava has a colourful history. He was considered a rising political star soon after Independence in 1980.
No wonder Mugabe appointed him Labour, Manpower Planning and Development minister in 1981 following the dismissal of the outspoken late Zanu PF secretary-general Edgar Tekere, who opposed Mugabe’s plans for a one-party state and later became vocal over corruption.
Tekere, who had earlier on been acquitted of murdering a white farmer, went on to form his own party, Zimbabwe Unity Movement, to contest the 1990 elections, helping to stop Mugabe in his tracks over his desired de jure one-party state project.
Shava held the position until 1987 when he was appointed minister of state for Political Affairs, serving in high office among a cast of liberation war luminaries, although he was not in the trenches in Mozambique or Zambia.
No sooner had Shava been prominent and influential than he found himself entangled in undesirable activities: first overzealously agitating for ruthless measures – including summary public executions – during Gukurahundi.
Records in parliament captured in the Hansard and several books, including Stuart Doran’s Kingdom, Power and Glory: Mugabe, Zanu and the Quest for Supremacy, show Shava was one of the most vocal Gukurahundi advocates.
He even demanded extrajudicial killings in parliament.
“I advise strongly the Minister of Defence that people should be shot and killed on mere suspicions of being dissident supporters.… to demand from the dissidents, and to demand from dissidents’ supporters two eyes for one eye, two ears for one ear, and never turn another cheek…Supporters of dissidents, once identified, I contend that they must be shot on sight because they are just as bad as facilitators of information…” Shava said in parliament on 3 February 1983, according to the Hansard.
Alarmed by the lobby for summary executions, Ruth Chinamano, a Zapu MP and wife of the party’s deputy president Josiah Chinamano, intervened, saying that was the most destructive speech she had ever heard in parliament, but the Speaker Didymus Mutasa intervened to protect and allow Shava to continue.
“I will repeat, supporters of dissidents, once identified, must be shot on sight, because insofar as they facilitate information to dissidents about the security forces, they are just as bad as dissidents themselves,” Shava said.
Shava agitated for Gukurahundi despite his own ministry being affected by the massacres.
Ibbo Mandaza, a former director and secretary in the ministry before his elevation to the Public Service Commission, confirmed the abductions and killings of the ministry’s staff.
“I was the Director of the National Manpower Survey in the Ministry of Manpower Planning and Development from the latter’s inception in April 1980, and subsequently became the permanent secretary in 1981, just as Frederick Shava took over from Edgar Tekere as minister,” Mandaza told The NewsHawks.
“I left the ministry in 1983 on promotion to the Public Service Commission just as the Ministry of Manpower Planning and Development was combined with that of Labour under Shava.
“But I am not prepared to comment on Shava’s politics, except to the extent that Gukurahundi affected our ministry’s staff and work, directly and adversely.
“To begin with, the Ministry of Manpower Planning and Development was from inception staffed by comrades from both Zanu and Zapu by design, notwithstanding tension already existing between the two former liberation movements.
“Therefore, as Director of the National Manpower Survey whose work covered the entire country, one day I woke up to the discovery that as a consequence of the Gukurahundi scourge in western Zimbabwe and Midlands, most of my enumerators and field officers — most of whom were former Zipra in these two regions — were reported to have either ‘disappeared, killed or detained’. Others, like Bob Ndlovu, managed to flee the country at the time.”
But then on that Shava was not alone: Most senior Zanu PF officials, from Mugabe going down, including ministers and MPs, were Gukurahundi agitators.
Their remarks in the media and parliament make shocking, appalling and embarrassing reading, especially now.
The prime minister and his ministers, as well as senior Zanu officials, acted like a lynch mob in their bid to liquidate Zapu and its leader Joshua Nkomo to establish a one-party state and political hegemony.
Yet the blood-letting agitation did not hurt Shava at the time – he was protected in collective succour.
It was corruption and perjury – including his jailing and immediate pardon – which then irretrievably damaged his reputation and led to his political downfall.
Shava was one of the ministers implicated in the Willowgate corruption scandal which involved officials corruptly buying and selling cars — effectively wheeling and dealing — acquired on subsidised rates through state-owned Willowale Motor Industries.
In the corruption frenzy, Shava emerged as the busiest wheeler-dealer at the time. He bought and sold so many vehicles that the Sandura Commission was dismayed and criticised him for “behaving like a car dealer” after raking in about US$70 000 in a year; which amounted to minting money in the 1980s.
The investigation, conducted by a three-member commission led by Justice Wilson Sandura, climaxed with the resignations of three cabinet ministers Enos Nkala, Shava and Maurice Nyagumbo, who went on to commit suicide.
Mugabe promised to take action against at least three others accused of similar corruption.
To make matters worse, Shava resigned in shame after giving false testimony to the commission. For lying under oath – perjury – he was slapped with a nine-month sentence, without an option of a fine.
Mnangagwa, then like now, sprang to his rescue. After Mnangagwa’s pleas on behalf of Shava, Mugabe acted promptly, issuing a pardon 24 hours later.
“Who among us has not lied? Yesterday you were with your girlfriend and you told your wife that you were with the Prime Minister. Should you get nine months for that?” Mugabe said as he justified freeing Shava, while sowing the seeds of impunity and more corruption.
That was a narrow escape for Shava, but the damage had already been done. Upon resigning, Shava cut a lonely and pathetic figure.
“I failed him (Mugabe). My conscience does not allow me to continue in this office of high esteem,” Shava said as he disappeared into the political shadows.
After resigning from the government ignominiously, Shava went underground and was in the political scrapyard for a long time as a spent force.
But later he got a second chance – without repenting, at least in public. He was thrown a lifeline and sent to Beijing, China, in 2007 as ambassador.
After that he continued on. His recovery path with a new posting to the United States as Zimbabwe’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in New York in 2014.
He was then elected seventy-second president of the Economic and Social Council on 28 July 2016, a position he held for a year, marking a further step in his rehabilitation.
This week, Mnangagwa once again rescued him as he appointed him a Foreign Affairs minister; signifying the rise and fall…and resurrection of Shava.
At home, Shava is Mnangagwa’s long-time ally and homeboy, who will support him in his battle for supremacy with the military faction led by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga.
He is coming in as one of Mnangagwa’s political henchmen. He has a lot of political experience and a high profile to help him consolidate power.
Yet having been away for so long, that will make it difficult for him to regain political clout and influence, especially on the structures amid ongoing power struggles, to make an impact.
On the international front, for Shava to gain credibility and succeed as he engages the outside world, he needs to show that he is now truly rehabilitated.
He will have to demonstrate that he is no longer the corrupt man of over 30 years ago; that he now respects human rights and the sanctity of life, and indeed that he is now honest – he no longer lies to a point of being prepared to commit perjury.
Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana said Shava is now a “model citizen” after learning from his mistakes. This remains to be seen.
Unlike his predecessor Moyo who was appointed at a time Zimbabwe and Mnangagwa had local and international goodwill soon after the 2017 coup, Shava is coming in when Harare is now a pariah state again amid failure to implement reforms and growing human rights abuses, as well as repression against opposition, political and civic activists.
Journalists, lawyers, activists and ordinary Zimbabweans are under siege.
While Mnangagwa’s government is claiming progress on reform citing a series of piecemeal changes and wants re-engagement, the world is moving away.
Shava has to use his political capital and diplomatic experience to turn things around, but with a huge monkey on his back the question is: Will he deliver?