Questions are being raised over the exact nature of the relationship between President Robert Mugabe and his family with various controversial characters and dodgy dealers, including ex-convict-turned businessman Wicknell Chivayo.
The convicted fraudster has sought to camouflage his dodgy activities by associating himself with the First Family to get protection.
Chivayo is one of the business people who have brought the opportunism and abuse of the Mugabes by posting pictures of himself with the President as well as with First Lady Grace Mugabe and her son Robert Junior on the social media.
This week it emerged that Chivayo, who has never been far from controversy, unprocedurally received a US$4,8 million payment from the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) for pre-commencement works on the 100-megawatt Gwanda solar plant even though his company had not submitted the requisite performance guarantee to protect public funds.
In paying Chivayo’s Intratrek Zimbabwe, ZPC bypassed its board.
But in the midst of a corruption storm, Chivayo remains defiant, and even suggesting nothing would stop him from becoming wealthier through state tenders in 2016.
“I can assure you that while my enemies and competitors are searching high and low for the foreign interests and senior politicians that I allegedly front, Intratrek and myself will continue looking for and winning opportunities to improve the lives of Zimbabweans while enjoying life and making a lot of money,” Chivayo said in an emailed response to this publication.
“If at all my success in 2015 disappointed you I’m sorry to say 2016 is going to be another bad year for you.”
In an earlier telephone interview, Chivayo offered to give financial assistance to “poor reporters like you.” He said that instead of vilifying him, this reporter should approach him for “financial help” just as he had assisted a number of journalists from the Zimbabwean state media by flying their families and providing them with money.
This week, he mockingly stated on his Facebook page that he would hire a lorry to take journalists to Gwanda in Matabeleland South province, the site of his controversial solar project.
“As most of you have no cars, be rest assured as a sign of sympathy I’ll be very generous enough to hire you a lorry to ensure you all witness this historic launch of a project that was my brainchild,” wrote Chivayo on Wednesday.
Despite being an ex-convict, sources say Chivayo is close to Mugabe’s son Robert Jnr. He has reportedly used the friendship to access the Mugabes.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, First Lady’s spokesperson only identified as Berejena said: “I don’t know of any relationship between the First Family and Chivayo.”
Presidential Spokesperson George Charamba was not reachable for comment on his mobile phone.
A number of shady businesspersons have sought sanctuary under the First Family by giving the public an impression that they are either close or related to the Mugabes. Some businesspersons have also tried to legitimise themselves by donating towards the family and party functions where Mugabe is idolised.
Last month Chivayo posted: “Had dinner in Dubai yesterday with my mother and my little brother (Robert Jnr). I love my parents. Team Bob for life, Mungandi dii? Hapana kana zvamunondiita (What can you do to me? There is nothing that anyone can do to me).
Even cabinet ministers have not been spared Chivayo’s vitriol as shown just two months ago when he lambasted Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who had joined many Zimbabweans in suggesting that the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) needs corporate sponsorship rather than an individual benefactor. This was after the businessman withdrew sponsorship for the national team after the state-controlled weekly Sunday Mail reported he had gone two months without paying national soccer team coach Kalisto Pasuwa.
In his diatribe against the minister, Chivayo claimed to be a “Zanu-PF hard core” supporter and part of “Team Bob for Life”.
In 2014, he posted pictures with Mugabe at State House with the comment: “Long live my hero, my role model, the most valuable gift from God to the people of Zimbabwe, the man of principles, a sincere and loving father, incorruptible revolutionary.”
Chivayo has, however, not been alone in flaunting his closeness to the First Family. Businessman Agrippa Masiyakurima, commonly referred to as Bopela, has also been flaunting his association with the Mugabes.
Masiyakurima’s Bopela Group of Companies has been implicated in the NetOne corruption scandal, which has resulted in the parastatal losing millions of dollars.
Last year, he donated 91 cattle and US$91 000 towards Mugabe’s 91st birthday celebrations.
Masiyakurima was also one of the funders of Grace’s meet-the-people rallies which she has used to cast aspersions at Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his backers.
Grace has also been dragged into scandals at Premier Service Medical Aid Society (Psmas) after one of the fired top executives Henry Mandishona allegedly claimed he was related to her and had her support.
Mandishona was fired for gross incompetence, abuse of office and insubordination, although he has denied the claims.
Former Psmas CEO Cuthbert Dube, who was caught up in corrupt activities, was also linked to Mugabe’s family.