Joram Gumbo, the former Transport minister, has been arrested for his actions around the Zimbabwe Airways controversy. But it tells a story of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s feeble anti-corruption drive that none of the charges Gumbo faces shed any real light into the scandal that led to the country ending up paying millions for planes that it never used.
Among the charges, it is said Gumbo influenced Zimbabwe Airways to use a property owned by his niece Mavis Gumbo — wrongly cited as his “sister” in the papers – as its headquarters. Gumbo, it is said, then ordered that US$1 million set aside for the airline’s wages be used to renovate the offices.
Gumbo is still serving in government as Minister of State Responsible for Policy Implementation, having been shunted from the Ministry of Energy in May.He also faces separate charges relating to CMED, the State’s transport logistics unit.
However, it is the charges he faces on Zimbabwe Airways that blow more hot air than an airplane jet blast. Some background: First, back in June 2017, plane-spotters posted images of a Boeing 777 emblazoned “Zimbabwe Airways”. Initial speculation at the time was that the planes belonged to a rebranding Air Zimbabwe. Wrong, Gumbo told the nation then. The plane, he said, belonged to private Zimbabweans.
“This has nothing to do with government; we have no good books to attract partnerships. All we are doing is to assist them,” Gumbo told the Zimbabwe Independent in November 2017.
There was more speculation; did this plane belong to the Mugabes? No, said Gumbo.
“This has nothing to do with President (Robert) Mugabe or government. I told them (unnamed investors) we had initiated talks with several airlines so they just adopted my idea and we took them to Malaysia, which had shown interest.”
And why was Simba Chikore, the late Mugabe’s son-in-law, appointed to head the new airline? “He was just too good (in interviews) because the guy who came second was way below him in terms of points.”
As for how Mavis Gumbo ended up being Zim Airways’ landlady, Gumbo said the airline had only “stumbled on the house without her or my knowledge and they liked it”.
By May 2018, Gumbo’s story had flipped completely. Zim Airways was, in fact, owned by the government, Gumbo told Parliament. The State had, he disclosed, paid US$41 million towards the US$70 million purchase price for the second hand Malaysian aircraft.
Why had he lied then? It was a ploy, he said, to fool creditors who would have grabbed the planes over Air Zimbabwe debts.As the planes were delivered in 2018, Patrick Chinamasa, then Finance minister, said a vehicle called “Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company, which is 100% owned by government, is leasing the new Boeing 777 to Zimbabwe Airways, which is also wholly owned by the government”.
Chinamasa is now Air Zimbabwe board chairman, bizarrely appointed despite the airline having been placed under an administrator.In December 2018, plane-spotters posted images of one of the Zim Airways planes, at an airport in Kansas, USA. It turned out it had since been bought by Jet Midwest. Soon after, it was reported that another B777-200ER had also been sold after Zimbabwe missed instalment payments. Two remaining planes, it was said then, were still expected to be delivered to Zim Airways in 2019 as they had been fully paid for, as claimed by Gumbo. No planes have been delivered since then.
However, two years after that first Zim Airways plane was first spotted, in its bold livery with a black tail, Zimbabweans are nowhere closer to being told the truth around the planes.
A dance around the edges
There is, obviously, a deeper scandal that happened between a phantom airline and its troubled predecessor.It could be that Joram Gumbo did not profit from the Zim Airways deal. However, having flown to Malaysia to stitch up the deals as Mugabe’s Transport minister, he certainly knows how it all went down. But, when he walks into court for his remand hearing, he will be under no pressure to tell us what really happened.
Whether Gumbo is convicted or not on these charges, by the time his trial ends, Zimbabweans will be nowhere closer to the truth about Zimbabwe Airways. This is because, just like many other top figures arrested before him – such as the arrest of corruption poster boy Ignatius Chombo – Gumbo won’t have to answer to what happened at the centre of the scandal. He only has to answer for the skirmishes that happened around it.
The scale and spread of the corruption is such that few scandals can be pinned on a single person; there has been enough sleaze to go around. And that is the story of Zimbabwe’s hollow anti-corruption drive. –