Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu, who is a former Mines minister, blew his gasket in Parliament on Thursday after clashing with Mines and Energy portfolio committee chairperson Temba Mliswa over the country’s missing $15 billion revenue from the gem-rich Chiadzwa diamonds fields.
The burly Zanu PF secretary for administration later vowed never to appear before the Mines and Energy portfolio committee to answer any questions relating to the missing funds as long as Mliswa was presiding over the emotive issue — also suggesting damagingly that the garrulous Norton legislator had at some point sought a bribe from him.
Mpofu’s tantrum sparked anger among the gathered MPs who called for him to be slapped with stiff sanctions which he said, however, would have little effect on him — as he had been in Parliament for more than three decades, and thus knew how to deal with the august House’s procedures.
The fracas erupted after Mpofu had been summoned to Parliament to help explain the missing $15 billion worth of the precious stones from Marange, as the government hunts for elusive answers on the emotive issue.
“I am not the Minister of Mines and I don’t know which precedence has been set where former ministers are subjected to questioning on issues to do with ministries that they have already left. I have no mandate to speak about the Ministry of Mines,” Mpofu bellowed.
The Minister had made it clear from the beginning of proceedings that he had no time for the committee, also telling Mliswa bluntly that he could not be lectured on how Parliament worked.
This prompted Mliswa to ask him to withdraw the statement, which he flatly refused to do.
Mpofu said further that he had taken an oath of secrecy as a minister and would also not accept to be abused by Mliswa, whom he accused of besmirching his image.
At that point, MDC MP for Zengeza West, Simon Chidhakwa, said if Mpofu did not want to appear before the committee, he was supposed to openly say so — to which the minister responded by saying that he had been in the House of Assembly since 1987 and thus understood what he was saying and doing.
The combative Mpofu also claimed that Mliswa had once travelled 600 kilometres to his house, where the Norton MP had allegedly sought to discuss the same issues.
But Mliswa shot back saying Mpofu was trying to divert from the issue at hand, and adding that the said visit had occurred when Mliswa was still in Zanu PF and the two had simply discussed politics — including former ruling party bigwig Didymus Mutasa’s exit from the former liberation movement.
Mpofu then asked for a break to wash his hands, before coming back and stating emphatically that he would not say anything more as long as Mliswa was chairing the committee.
“For as long as he is sitting in front of me, presiding over this issue, I will not co-operate. You are even refusing me a chance to say what he had come to do at my house.
“With respect to honourable members, I will never, never be presided over by Mr Mliswa for what has happened and you should allow me to express myself.
“I am not going to talk. I have submitted myself to you and I will not talk about this issue … no matter what you say, I will never say anything … you don’t know me …” Mpofu thundered.
He also claimed that Mliswa’s visit to his house had implicated the Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Mudenda — to which Mliswa answered by saying that he would not allow himself to be drawn into Matabeleland North’s political squabbles.
At that point, Chidhakwa asked for Mpofu to be charged with contempt of Parliament for refusing to answer questions.
But Mpofu hit back saying, “You cannot intimidate me on issues of principle”.
The committee later adjourned for lunch, demanding that Mpofu come back in the afternoon, but he refused.
“I am not coming if you (Mliswa) are coming. I came here uninvited. I don’t respect you. I am not coming at 2 o’clock.”
In 2016, Mugabe made startling claims that his government could not account for a jaw-dropping $15 billion that was allegedly lost through nefarious activities by players involved in the extraction of the gems in Chiadzwa.
The fields in Marange are considered to be one of the world’s biggest deposits of diamonds.
While the gems were discovered decades ago, a diamond rush only ensued in 2006, resulting in Mugabe’s government deploying the military to restore order
At the height of the mining of diamonds there, Mbada Diamonds, Marange Resources, Anjin Investments, Diamond Mining Company, Kusena and Gye Nyame were some of the companies which were involved in the extraction of the gems in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).
The mining companies’ licences were not renewed after Mugabe made his startling claim.
And in a controversial move, the government subsequently replaced the mining companies with the state-owned Zimbabwe Diamond Consolidated Company, which now exclusively carries out all the mining in the area.
In 2012, long before Mugabe alleged that the $15 billion had been spirited away, a watchdog group campaigning against “blood” diamonds had also released a damning report in which it alleged that more than $2 billion worth of diamonds had been stolen from the Marange fields.
It also claimed that Mugabe’s inner circle, together with some international dealers and a large network of criminals had connived in “the biggest single plunder of diamonds the world has seen since Cecil Rhodes”.
“Marange’s potential has been overshadowed by violence, smuggling, corruption and most of all, lost opportunity.
“The scale of illegality is mind-blowing” and has spread to compromise most of the diamond markets of the world,” Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) alleged in its report that was titled: Reap What You Sow — Greed and Corruption in Zimbabwe’s Marange Diamond Fields.
Last year President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised hopes that the government would finally provide answers to the missing $15 billion.
Anti-corruption watchdogs and opposition groups have also welcomed his tough rhetoric against graft, including his three-month moratorium on people who externalised foreign currency — saying it will help the government to recover some of the money that was stolen during Mugabe’s controversial rule.
Before he became president, Mnangagwa had said the government had ordered a forensic audit of the seven companies that were mining in Chiadzwa as part of the investigations regarding the missing $15 billion.