Zimabwe’s second Vice President Kembo Mohadi was caught in a kompromat trap. Recordings of phone calls full of lurid sexual banter, thanks to intercepts that were almost certainly the work of a state intelligence agency, were faithfully reproduced on the Zimlive online news site in a series of salacious stories.
Episodes of the cache of intercepted ‘phone calls played out over the last two weeks of February, creating a picture of a top politician abusing his office to secure sexual favours from vulnerable young women, most of them working in his office.
Mohadi held the line and then on 1 March resigned – a unicorn-style rarity in the ZANU-PF government. He said he was stepping down, “… not out of cowardice but as a sign of demonstrating great respect to the office of the President.”
Denying all wrongdoing, Vice President Mohadi insisted that he was a victim of disinformation, voice cloning, and political sabotage.
“I have been going through a soul-searching pilgrimage and realised that I needed the space to deal with my problem outside government,” said Mohadi in a statement released by the Ministry of Information.
His claims of political sabotage are more intriguing and harder to pin down. His position as second Vice President is not imbued with much power: he was absolutely in the shadow of the first Vice President General Constantino Chiwenga, the man who led the coup against Robert Mugabe in 2017 that put Emmerson Mnangagwa in power.
Mohadi had no independent power base and was never seen as a successor to the president.
Mohadi’s ignominious exit plays to President Mnangagwa’s advantage. At last, a top official has resigned after being accused of malfeasance (even if he denies it).
Everyone believes that Mnangagwa forced out Mohadi; and that also helps the President’s image as he continues to consolidate power while the opposition is imploding.
Mnangagwa could use the gap at the top to make a more popular appointment, perhaps a woman.
Other reports by some of Zimbabwe’s energetic investigative journalists suggest that competition for contracts on the massive Beitbridge inland port project and a stake in the Pelahalonga gold mine may have been a more compelling reason for Mohadi’s rivals to force him out.
Mohadi’s ouster- a cyber security matter
The hacking of Mohadi’s phone lines and dissemination of the intercepts to media houses could also pose risks for the government according to Prolific Mataruse at the University of Zimbabwe.
“The fact that such information was leaked from one of the country’s highest offices should have alarmed the government. The issue of cyber security and the protection of privacy should not be ignored.”
The government should be carrying out investigations in to the leaks, says Mataruse.
“This issue exposes how we are lagging behind in investing on hi-tech information systems that protect matters of national interest”, he says.
Part of Mohadi’s resignation letter read: “[…] Digital media, in their hybridity, have been abused by my enemies to blackmail me, but my spirit will never die.”
Immoral nature of leaders under Mnangagwa
Mohadi is not the only top official abusing their power and intimidating women, say government critics such as Brian Ncube, a doctoral student based in Germany.
“The resignation of Mohadi exposes the immoral nature of the men at the helm of Zimbabwe’s echelons of power. A person who is a vice president [known] to be exchanging young women is the highest level of moral decadence …exposing the lack of governance under Mnangagwa.”
It compares badly with the presidency of Robert Mugabe: men such as Simon Muzenda, Joshua Nkomo and Joseph Msika, says Ncube.
Mohadi pushed out or forced
Earnest Mudzengi, director of the Media Center in Harare, argues that Mohadi’s resignation was more about him than the government.
“If he had not resigned from government, I do not think they would have forced him to resign.”
“We have not heard of a tradition here in Zimbabwe of a government official who resigned as a result of womanising,” says Mudzengi.
There is also a question of moral equivalence. Mohadi resigned over allegations of sexual impropriety but other senior officials brazen out well-documented cases of grand corruption.
“It is difficult to find out why Mohadi will resign over a sex scandal, […] when these men are corrupt and enriching themselves using national resources,” says Ncube.
Mohadi retains his post in ruling Zanu PF
Whatever the significance of the accusations against Mohadi, they haven’t affected his position within the ruling party. He retains his position as Zanu-PF’s second secretary, according to party spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo.
That is a clear contradiction, says Mudzengi. “If the ruling party stands for the values of humanity, family values as they claim, then surely he should have resigned from both party and government.”
Ncube tells The Africa Report that by retaining his position in the ruling party [Zanu PF] as the second secretary, Mohadi was given a soft landing.
“While he remains the second secretary of the party, he is finished. He has faced his political waterlog.”
Mnangagwa’s best candidate for the vacant position
Ncube is sceptical that Mohadi’s replacement will assume any political significance.
The new vice president should come from the old ZAPU formation once led by the legendary independence leader Joshua Nkomo.
“But for expedience, Mnangagwa may appoint a female vice president to appease the pressure from women-led organisations and garner support ahead of the 2023 elections,” says Mudzengi.
Equally, Mnangagwa might choose to appoint another military officer if that would strengthen his grip on the security forces.
Right now, the more interesting question is not who will replace Mohadi, but rather why was Mohadi was brought down and in whose interests? The truth behind that story may take more longer to emerge and could have its own political consequences.