HARARE – High-flying Tourism minister Walter Mzembi, and, arguably President Robert Mugabe’s blue-eyed boy is under fire, as his peers in both government and Zanu PF, daily plot for his downfall, including omitting him on government itineraries.
In an interview with the Daily News, Mzembi said he is perplexed by decisions by officials in the ministry of Foreign Affairs to ignore him when Mugabe embarks on State visits, some of which require his ministry’s input.
“The days when we see (the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority) ZTA dominating space at international exhibitions are gone,” he told the Daily News.
“As much as I and my sector would like to be carried on the presidential outbound trips, we were missing in action I think on the last three.”
He said he was frustratingly left in the cold even though his ministry was “observing the panel of engagements that were taking place out there”.
“Much of them (Mugabe’s trips) involved tourism and I cite Japan for example, the meeting there of the president (Mugabe) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) president,” he said.
“Jica is basically tourism. So, I would hope that we are able to lead and be heard by our Foreign Affairs counterparts to the extent that we are also not left behind on State delegations that relate directly to what my ministry is doing here.
“So, equally, industry must press on its appearance at international exhibitions and if there are problems, I should know why they are not participating as much as we expect.”
On his trip to Japan, Mugabe was curiously accompanied by his daughter Bona, while relevant stakeholders were left in Zimbabwe.
But what makes matters worse for Mzembi is that he has been associated with former Vice President Joice Mujuru, and for that reason, his home province of Masvingo wants him expelled from Zanu PF, and by default, from government.
Insiders say some Zanu PF heavyweights are pushing for Mzembi’s ouster and have been trying to influence Mugabe to wield the axe on the minister who is Mugabe’s favourite.
Talk has been that he could be fired and replaced by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxilia.
Superficially, his opponents in Zanu PF claim to have a strong case against him.
They accuse the minister of abusing his role as an “honourable minister” when the country hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in 2013.
Police are said to be investigating Mzembi’s suspected involvement and abuse of funds extended to his ministry by a local diamond firm and a Chinese national to bankroll the UNWTO indaba.
But Mzembi stridently denies the allegations.
He says the investigations are part of a nefarious plot by his desperate foes within Zanu PF to soil his name and thus orchestrate his downfall.
The shocking corruption allegations aside, the flamboyant minister, who Mugabe famously described as “the best” in his Cabinet just a year ago, has been disowned yet again by his province.
“He is forthright and he is full of brilliant ideas,” Mugabe said then.
“They don’t remain in the mind but he makes them take form and he acts upon them. Yes, he has gallivanted across the world from the North to the South but every step he has taken has been to make Zimbabwe better known.”
But even such lavish praises from the highest office could not stop Masvingo province from recommending his suspension from Zanu PF, ostensibly for sabotaging the party, but really because of his perceived links to Mujuru.
This is a second attempt by Masvingo province to dump Mzembi after he was rejected as a central committee member ahead of the party’s damp-squib congress in December last year.
He was literally rescued by Mugabe, who appointed him to the central committee, notwithstanding Masvingo province’s rebuff. Mzembi is now practically living on the benevolence of the 91-year-old strongman, Zanu PF sources said.
In the intriguing Zanu PF game of thrones, Mzembi has suddenly found himself cornered and at the mercy of his opponents, who are resurrecting all past allegations in which he was remotely involved.
To embarrass him, Shuvai Ben Mahofa, the minister of State for Masvingo, aided by lickspittle State media, has serially portrayed Mzembi as a greedy land grabber, who wanted to kick out a white commercial farmer from his chicken project in Masvingo.
Mahofa is a close ally of the increasingly powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Highly-placed sources said Mahofa has the ear of Mugabe’s wife.