Q: Zanu PF has introduced a new model where senior party officials like you are domiciled here at the headquarters. Is the party ready for such radical changes?
A: Yeah, you see the party; especially our party which happens to be the party in power, has introduced quite a number of measures that are aimed at transforming it, hence the victory that we witnessed recently.
There are a lot of issues that we sold to our constituency through our party manifesto, issues touched on the livelihoods of our people and the entirety of Zimbabweans, things to do with employment creation, opening Zimbabwe to business, things appealing to the Diaspora to come and invest in the country and the general transformative thrust to make our country — the country of choice.
We had some policies that scared away investors and these have been reviewed.
All the things that got us under sanctions have been looked into with a view to correcting our shortcomings.
Our president has come up with a mantra of openness with an approach of servant leadership.
You know he has actually said the party leadership should be a listening leadership. It should actually listen to people’s aspirations and concerns with a view to address them. And addressing these issues needs an active government system.
You know the implementers are ministers who are employed full-time to address the policies of the party as espoused by his Excellency, the president.
You see, the difference between what is happening now in the party and what used to happen is that we were following some policies, some very popular like the land reform, but people were not clear as to how to deal with indigenisation.
There was quite some concern, it was not clear how it should be pursued, and it was really subject to all sorts of interpretations by individuals depending on how they perceived it.
But now, that piece of legislation has been amended and is undergoing quite some serious review as we speak that some investors seem to be accepting.
The previous arrangement seemed to scare away investors. People were scared to even invest in areas that can be considered low hanging fruits fearing for security of their investments.
We have reduced obstacles to investment. Very soon we are going to see the amalgamation of the Zimbabwe Investment Centre, the Special Economic Zones and other related investment arms of government which were an impediment to investment.
Q: Does that not create the problem of two centres of power—one in government and the other here? Isn’t this some conflation of State and party?
A: Not necessarily. This should be a smooth conduit between the party and government. In the party, we hold annual conferences and congress after every five years. The decisions by congress are brought before the politburo to actualise, to ensure that they are implemented. It is from that position of the politburo, which is actually a working party between congresses, that it was deemed prudent that there should not be duplication of duties, so there is need to have the policy formulation body which is the party, and the policy implementation body which is government.
This is international best practice, for example in Angola, South Africa, China and it is working very well. The party is superior to government. It is the party that forms government and you cannot ignore that fact if you want to be effective.
Q: So the party can influence the recalling of an incompetent minister?
A: The party can influence anything. It can influence the recalling of ministers, the recalling of politburo members through the president because these are two institutions that are directly under the president’s control. He chairs Cabinet, he chairs the politburo, chairs and guides congress; central committee is chaired by the president. So, it is in that sphere that he is the coordinator of all these policy actions.
But the president is busy with national issues every day and that is why he said he would want a team in the party on a full-time basis to remind government on issues that were raised through the party manifestos and expectations of our electorate through what we promised them.
You know you get voted into power because of your attractive policies and we should be reminding our institutions about what people voted us to do for them.
And it is in that spirit that our team of permanent full-time politburo members will be doing research and development on issues that we promised people through our manifesto.
You will see that right now the prices of commodities have just shot up, the rate of exchange has shot up and the party is concerned about those developments, and we can only remind our colleagues in government that no, this is not what we were voted to do.
Q: So are we going to see the revival of party companies?
A: We have in our team as full-time executives, people who are responsible for economic affairs of the party and the country. We will be addressing issues affecting the operation of our companies.
They are not dead, they are there but you know they were also affected by the economic environment that was prevailing before. It is our intention that we fully-resuscitate the companies to make sure that they meet the current trends.
We have functional companies albeit with low operational capacity comrade Christopher Mushowe will be looking into that.
I had a meeting this morning addressing all those issues and coming up with a work plan to that effect.
I am also setting up a vibrant research and development organ that will act as a think-tank to assess the situation on the ground, the economy, the people’s livelihoods in the country with a view to submitting to the president for his guidance.
Q: Zanu PF has been accused on several occasions of looting parastatals to fund its operations. Are we going to see an end to that culture?
A: My brother, we have been accused of all sorts things. I have been in the party for more than 50 years. I have been treasurer-general of the party and there is no single day I saw money coming from the fiscus to support the operations of the party.
I have not seen that, unless if they are talking about donations because when we do fundraising, people donate and we don’t ask them to stop donating because they are associated with certain institutions.
The only funding that we get from government is the political parties funding which is accessed by the opposition as well. If you have got an example of the party using public funds for its operations, please let me have that.
Q: Maybe the allegations emanate from revelations by Jonathan Moyo that he took Zimdef funds to bankroll party activities. And in his interview with SABC, he suggested that it is the norm.
A: No, that was during my time as treasurer-general and I don’t remember getting money from Zimdef for the party. I am very clear about that. These are individuals who will be doing that in the name of the party but it was never a directive of the party.
I was minister for 23 years and I have never directed any parastatals under my purview to do that. It will be irregular for a minister to do that because ministers don’t control public funds, they rely on the accounting officer — who is the permanent secretary.
I don’t remember signing any cheque or getting any money through whatever means, it’s about ethics but when people talk about it loosely, it is like government is a treasure trove where people just take without conditions.
Q: There are concerns that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu PF are not sincere in fighting corruption. Because some of you guys are alleged to be corrupt.
A: This is the only government that has spoken strongly against corruption not in a theoretical manner but in a really practical sense. Our manifesto talks about the need to fight corruption as top of our agenda.
It is not a political gimmick and that is why it is in black and white. The president has set up some institutions in line with the laws of the country to beef up the anti-corruption drive.
It is just that people are not patient; they should just give him a bit more time. He has been in power for less than 10 months and he is expected to have done all those things. All of us in leadership are aware of what the president wants to achieve and all of us are clear as to the president’s mantra.
People continue to accuse government, accuse us as individuals, as ministers of doing things that we have never done, that we will never do.
If there is any evidence against any of the leaders that shows they acted in any manner that is corrupt, let the law take its course not to rely on social media because one does not like a certain minister. That is not how we should fight corruption.
Corruption does not benefit anybody because if it denies the public the little opportunity that they could have, no sane politician with his sane mind will tolerate that. But let us not just accuse someone because you are jealous of their success.
There are certain situations where one is actually donating to the community and not directly benefiting himself you know. Look at what some individuals have done to their communities. It is commendable when they build schools, hospitals, boreholes but let us not misconstrue personal views based on political differences and perhaps hatred as real.
Q: You have also been mentioned as being one of the most corrupt politicians and that you even forget some of the properties you own. What’s your response to these accusations?
A: Yes, certain individuals, most of whom are outside the country, say such things. You see, I did not become a businessman when I got into government. I have been one since long time ago. The lists of assets that they say I acquired corruptly are properties I bought way back.
You see York House in Bulawayo is a very expensive building which I bought from Old Mutual in 1998. Go to CABS and you will get those facts.
I have been in industry, working for Tregers as managing director. I became MP in 1987 and in 1995, I became deputy minister and I had all my assets, you see, and I am proud of that. My assets are there, but people don’t want to know what my background is.
They say I own Victoria Falls, but what I own is mine. I have never asked anything from anybody. If there is anybody in or outside the country who says he gave Obert $1, just tell him to come forth.
Q: There are allegations that you suddenly amassed all this wealth when you became Mines minister during the Chiadzwa diamond rush.
A: I have been like this and I have never benefited anything from government that can be viewed as undue. The fact that I worked in the ministry of Mines does not mean it made me better. I have always been like that.
Q: There are reports that you were the whistle blower in the Willowgate scandal, in which senior government officials were accused of using a government facility to purchase vehicles from Willowvale Motor Industries and resell them for profit. The ensuing investigation resulted in the resignations of five members of former president Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet. One of the five, Maurice Nyagumbo, later committed suicide after being charged with perjury. Walk us through what really happened and your role?
A: There is background to that. It was corruption. I personally was fighting because people were buying motor vehicles from Willowvale using my name to the extent that I got a refund cheque of almost $120 000 and that was a lot of money but I said no, this is not mine.
I went to Willowvale to find out how this does happen when I never bought anything from here. That time I was at Tregers and that is when I brought (journalist Geoffrey) Nyarota. He was not the whistle blower, I called him to my office and said, “look, there is something strange here.”
I was accused by (Enos Muzombi) Nkala and Nyagumbo of having exposed them. So, they influenced Tregers to fire me. I fought and won the case. But instead of going back to work, I opted to be paid out and I was given a lot of money.
So young man, if you want to know my wealth, it started a long time ago. Those guys paid me well and I never looked for a job again.
We signed what was called “restraint of trade” to say I would not venture into something similar to theirs because I am the one who brought the technology of the brown plastic grain bags used at GMB when I was group projects director.
I got a deal with the then chairperson of GMB Ian Makone — now with MDC — who gave me an order of $4 million at that time.
I was given a golden handshake by Tregers, so I never worked again. I was the first black guy to drive a Mercedes Benz in Bulawayo, the first one again to become a member of CZI.
Those are the truths of life, so I have never been poor. I have never been and people really underrate me, but look, everything I have was acquired through hard work.
My children run their own institutions here in Harare and we don’t need anybody. Who would be able to bribe me? If anything, it would be the other way around. Who would have the guts to come and bribe me?
The most surprising thing is that in 2009-2013, it grew up to double digits when I was minister but I know my detractors don’t want to admit that it has never happened again. It’s there on record.
The only time the mining sector did well was during my time.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti would come to Cabinet to say there is less than $300 in the bank but civil servants would still be paid because companies were declaring dividends on a weekly basis.
I have only been to Marange twice, once with the late vice president John Nkomo and the other time with the late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. If I see a diamond today, I may not recognise it, so these things are said by small-minded people and I have no time for them.
Q: What business are you into?
A: I am into tourism, properties, farming big time and a cattle producer. Each one of my boys has more than 500 cattle. You can come to Bulawayo and see for yourself. We supplied 1 000 command livestock in Matabeleland North. I have been renting CSC farms since 1994 when the parastatal collapsed. We were sitting on 6 000 but we recently sold another 1 000 and that is not small money.
We do game farming in Victoria Falls. I have got a big game farm. I have only one farm — Horse Shoe Farm — that I own. The others I rent — 10 000 hectares from CSC.
They say I own Pioneer Building but it’s not mine. Mine is York House and other small properties.
We are into mining, not small mining, but big mining. We mine coal and gold.
We are into transport, earth moving equipment, borehole drilling and you can’t expect me to be a beggar.
We have got lodges, top-of-the-range lodges in Victoria Falls and Bulawayo.
We do mineral water, so what people say really belittles me. I am better than that. Yes, it is serious because people are taking me as some petty person who can receive money from anybody.
Q: You recently resigned as Senator to make way for Cain Mathema to take up a Cabinet seat. Can you explain this shocking level of magnanimity?
A: I have said to Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) I am resigning and now Zec has since written to me to say that I must now submit the name of my replacement.
Government discovered that Cain Mathema had been appointed minister without being an MP or Senator and as the secretary for administration and senior in Mat North, it was brought to my attention.
I was going to look for a junior to drop, but I said no, I can’t tell anyone to drop, I will drop myself and I communicated the position to the president.
It is not the first time because I also relinquished my constituency for young Richard Moyo, the only chairperson who was never dropped because of factionalism, so we thought he needed to be rewarded and he is young as well.
So it is in line with our desire to empower the young as they prepare to leave the stage.
I am the most popular figure in Mat North if you look at the numbers that I won in elections that were not matched by anyone in the region. Do you really think I crave to become a Senator?
I am now 67 and looking to leaving it for the young. I am happy here at the citadel of power and I coordinate and control the party activities.