VP resignation over sex scandal leaves Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa exposed

President Mnangagwa (centre) sits with his two vice presidents - Constantino Chiwenga (left) and now ex-vice president Kembo Mohadi (right), during a swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 29 December 2017.
President Mnangagwa (centre) sits with his two vice presidents - Constantino Chiwenga (left) and now ex-vice president Kembo Mohadi (right), during a swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 29 December 2017. © AFP - Wilfred Kajese

Zimbabwe’s Vice President Kembo Mohadi has resigned following an embarrassing leaked audio tape in which he appeared to make sexual propositions to women, leaving President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the awkward position of having to find a replacement.


“I have been going through a soul-searching pilgrimage and realised that I need the space to deal with my problems outside the governance chair,” Mohadi wrote in a letter published by the government.

The vice president, one of two in the executive, said social media had been “relaying viral moral panic”, and he was the victim of “voice cloning”, that his image as a family man had been damaged by lies. He was stepping down from his post “to save the image” of the government.

Mohadi was supposedly caught with his pants down as recorded phone conversations were posted online by the ZimLive news outlet purportedly revealing the country’s number two talking to women about sexual acts.

“I have loved you for a long time,” says Mohadi, according to a Sotho translation posted with the audio of the tape posted online. He is heard asking a woman about having a baby together, going on to say, “We’ll just f**k then.”

The sensational story published by ZimLive details sexual trysts involving Mohadi, as well as concerns his aides had over his phone being cloned.

“Digital media, in their hybridity, have been abused by my enemies to blackmail me, but my spirit will never die,” Mohadi said in his resignation notice.

Zimbabwe’s state-backed Herald newspaper last week printed Mohadi’s phone cloning excuse, describing how the vice president’s voice had been fabricated, using technology to artificially recreate his voice.

The 71-year-old said all the accusations against him were false and intended to demean his character and soil his image as a Zimbabwean leader.

Abuse of office

“He’s an elderly gentleman, who can engage consensual relationships with whoever he wants,” said Nigel Mugamu, the founder of the 263Chat news website, saying he had trouble believing the phone cloning explanation.

“The issue, though, is that he’s a person in power involved in relationships with clearly younger women,” Mugamu told RFI, questioning whether Mohadi was using his position to get sex, influencing women who might feel pressured into gratifying the vice president.

Kembo Mohadi’s case raises many moral questions. A man of influence in political office can decide people’s futures,” said Mugamu, referring to an alleged recording of the vice president discussing a scholarship with a young woman.

“Hopefully, following the resignation of Mr Mohadi, important conversations around toxic power dynamics, sexual harassment and the safety of women in the workplace will take place,” said Fadzayi Mahere, a spokesperson for the opposition MDC party, in a social media post.

Power struggle

Mohadi served as home affairs minister under former president Robert Mugabe, and in the cabinet under Mnangagwa after he came to office in an army-backed takeover. He was promoted to vice president by Mnangagwa at the end of 2017, although he was considered a "placeholder" in his role, according one analyst.

“You can’t say he’s an influential politician with a real grass roots constituency within Zanu-PF,” said Robert Besseling, head of research consultancy Pangea-Risk, who says Mohadi’s resignation is not significant for Zimbabwe’s politics but does open up the question of succession.

It now falls to Mnangagwa and his other vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, to find a replacement, which could give insight into the various factions within the ruling party vying for control, according to Besseling.

Army chief Edzai Chimonyo, Valerio Sibanda, commander of Zimbabwe’s Defence Forces, and spy chief Isaac Moyo are likely to be some of the top picks to replace Mohadi if Mnangagwa is looking to consolidate power, said the political analyst.

Mohadi’s resignation is unlikely to have an impact on the lives of many ordinary Zimbabweans, who are coping with the impact of coronavirus lockdowns and the country’s dire economic situation.

Zimbabweans witnessed a significant fall in household income with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a World Bank assessment. Crippling inflation also hit the country once again last year, serving as a reminder of runaway hyperinflation a decade ago.

Another wave of the coronavirus, inadequate public health services, unpaid civil servants, a crackdown on the media and opposition, as well as food insecurity are much more of a concern for Zimbabweans, according to Besseling.

“One wonders, how are people getting on?” said writer Mugamu. “I know for a fact, a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet,” he added.

Mnangagwa recently eased coronavirus restrictions in the country, but still has not outlined a plan for reopening schools, and many businesses remain shut. The country started in mid-February a vaccination campaign for Covid-19 with doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese government.

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