Will Kuruneri survive the storm?


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He has only been in office for two months. That is as a senior minister. But he is already embroiled in a “scandal” that could end his career as he heads one of the most powerful ministries. But Finance Minister Christopher Kuruneri has taken the “scandal” so calmly that observers believe he will weather the storm and steer the country together with central bank governor Gideon Gono back on track.

The “scandal” was broken by the South African Sunday Times on March 21, when it reported that Kuruneri was building a R30 million mansion in the posh suburb of Llandudno in Cape Town, South Africa, and was paying for the mansion in foreign currency.

This was a damning story coming at a time when the government is clamping down on those externalising foreign currency. With President Robert Mugabe’s promise to crack down on those who have been externalising funds and all corrupt leaders, many people have been asking whether Kuruneri can survive this “scandal”, as this should be embarrassing to Mugabe who promoted him two months ago.

To make matters worse, the South African media has just disclosed that Kuruneri owns more than one mansion in Cape Town . He also has a share in an apartment block.

Kuruneri has admitted that he owns the mansion but says it is valued at only R7 million. Even then, at $4.6 billion, this is a posh place by Zimbabwean standards. At R30 million, this would translate to $19.5 billion, enough to cover the budget of a government ministry.

Though the story appeared in a South African paper, sources say Kuruneri was sold out by his ZANU-PF colleagues. They say that this was inter-party in-fighting by people from his own Mashonaland Central province who had probably been doing business with him in the premier South African resort.

Cape Town is one of the biggest attractions for the rich and famous from all over the world.

The observers say, however, if the intention was to get Kuruneri fired, the plotters had miscalculated, or the Sunday Times had bungled, by initially claiming that Kuruneri was probably a front for Mugabe and was building the mansion for his boss.

This could have saved Kuruneri as it immediately gave the impression that the South African paper was not after Kuruneri but after Mugabe. The story was, therefore, part of the plot for regime change.

Observers say while Kuruneri was known to be “stubborn” he was a hard worker. He had been promoted to turn things around. He made a good combination with Gono. The “scandal”, they said, worked even better for Mugabe as it gave him more leverage on Kuruneri. If he was spared he would deliver and that was what mattered most for Mugabe at the moment.

For Kuruneri, this is just another challenge. He has survived another corruption scandal before.

Kuruneri was charged with corruption in the early 90s after it was alleged that he had defrauded the Urban Development Corporation, which he headed, by inflating the price of a stand that was being sold by a business associate Christopher Mushonga because they wanted to enter into a joint venture.

It was alleged that he had offered $5 million for the stand which Mushonga had bought for $15 000 in 1984. He was cleared of the charges in November 1994.

Kuruneri, who had been deputy Minister of Finance, was promoted on February 9 in a cabinet reshuffle which Mugabe said was aimed at fighting graft. Dubbing the new cabinet a war cabinet, Mugabe said the war was no longer with the British and Americans. That war had been won. But it was a war against internal evils.

“The war is getting less and less political, that is vis-a-vis the British and vis-a-vis the Americans, those I think we have defeated now……It is now the internal war to fight the evils within our system, to fight corruption, to fight tendencies to amass wealth at the expense of the nation, to fight indiscipline, to fight crime,” Mugabe said.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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