At a press conference to announce his new Cabinet, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was in a rush to show he had done something new.
Why did you appoint Kirsty Coventry, one reporter asked, she has never walked the corridors of power? Mnangagwa responded: “Who was born in the corridors of power?”
Another reporter asked; but what about the bigwigs? Again Mnangagwa shot back: “How did they become big?”
And he had, indeed, appointed people who have never walked the corridors of power and others who are yet to be big names.
In total, six full Cabinet ministers were dropped. There were hints that Mnangagwa would come out swinging a broom.
In June, ahead of the election, Mnangagwa said that first Cabinet – a sprinkling of technocrats on top of a large pile of dead wood – wasn’t really his. He would only appoint his own after winning the July 30 poll, he said.
“And I am finishing the term of our former President up to July. I am going to win elections and start my own mandate from August 1, then I will have more power to implement the vision I have for a new Zimbabwe, a prosperous Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa told state media in June.
Earlier, he had told a ZANU-PF Women’s League meeting that he wanted senior party officials to be deployed to party headquarters, enticing them by promising they would keep all the perks they clearly can’t live without.
We take a look at five of his appointments that are a break from the past.
Out of Oxford: Mthuli Ncube
Appointing Ncube is a big statement by Mnangagwa, to both his domestic and foreign audience. Inside his party, it is bold one in the face of a ZANU-PF that is suspicious of outsiders.
There will be inevitable questions about his past role at Barbican in 2004, when under the Gideon Gono onslaught on banks the institution he founded was placed under curatorship due to “critical under-capitalisation, poor corporate governance practices and violations of Exchange Control Regulations”. After being folded into the ill-fated Zimbabwe Allied Banking Group, Barbican was relicensed in 2010 but never reopened.
But Ncube went on to greater things after that episode. He became chief economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank. Until this appointment, he was MD of Quantum Global Capital, a private equity firm in Switzerland.
In January, Ncube hosted an investors’ lunch for Mnangagwa in Geneva. In the room was a lot of big money; Deutsche Bank, ABB, Swiss Re, Novartis, Siemens, Lonrho, Glencore and others. It appears Mnangagwa was impressed.
Ncube is unlikely to get everything he wants, such as getting rid of bond notes immediately. He may not be allowed to cut as much spending as he needs to, what with Mnangagwa’s occasional urge to hire planes for political hygiene. But Ncube comes at a time Zimbabweans, and potential investors and partners abroad, were looking for signs of a shift in direction. He represents just that.
Swimming against the current: Kirsty Coventry
After his Cabinet announcement, Bloomberg ran a headline to its influential worldwide audience: “Oxford Economist, Olympic Swimmer Get Zimbabwe Cabinet Posts”.
In terms of optics, Kirsty’s appointment ticks many boxes. She is the country’s greatest sportsperson ever – with seven medals, she is Africa’s best ever Olympian – she is a woman, and she is young. In the grand scheme of things, her appointment reflects “newness” and wins Mnangagwa just as many brownie-points among investor types as does Ncube’s.
She has been the chair of the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete’s Commission, which represents the interests of athletes in the IOC. She was a member of the commission since 2012. Last year, she was appointed a VP of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee. She serves on the World Anti-Doping Agency, she’s a VP for the International Surfing Association and a member of FINA, the world swimming body.
For the first time, we have a Sports Minister who actually is a sportsperson and knows how modern sports work. Sport is not a hobby; it is a major business and a national rallying point.
But has anything prepared her for the mafia-style cartels that run Zimbabwean sport, from football to cricket, and from athletics to rugby?
In football, the game is controlled by greedy bandits. Which is why they decided that it was only logical to elect the grand wizard in the art of greed, Philip Chiyangwa, as head of ZIFA, just in case anyone was in any doubt as to the sort that controls football.
The game is underfunded, facilities are stuck in the last century, national teams struggle to travel for games, and players have to go without pay or decent accommodation. Cricket is in a spin, and the latest appointment of a discredited Givemore Makoni as acting MD of Zimbabwe Cricket is only the latest outrage. After a series of losses, our rugby Sables only just managed to avoid relegation from the top Africa league with a win away to Uganda.
As Minister for youth, Kirsty now has to deal with the ZANU-PF Youth League, which believes it is there only for free money, State-funded binges and jaunts in the name of “empowerment”. The arts sector is in no better shape than sport, and is also in desperate need of fresh air.
She will need to shut out the noise and swim against the tide. But then again, she’s the queen of the backstroke.
Real spin doctor: Obadiah Moyo
Obadiah Moyo has replaced David Parirenyatwa as Minister of Health. Given the state of Zimbabwe’s public healthcare, where basics such as bandages and pain killers are in short supply, Parirenyatwa was one of the most unpopular figures in Government.
Moyo, who has spent almost 15 years at Chitungwiza Hospital, will have to pull off miracles to avoid Parirenyatwa’s fate in the eyes of the public.
As long as Government continues to underfund healthcare, there is little else to be done, whoever is in charge.
Government allocated $520 million for health in the 2018 budget. It is an improvement from previous years, but the fact that $300 million of this will go to salaries shows the sort of problems Moyo is up against. There is just $37 million to repair rotten health infrastructure.
The drug shortage is dire; an embarrassing 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s drugs is donated from abroad. Pharmaceutical companies supply the rest, but it’s getting harder for them given a deepening forex crunch. Many companies have maxed out on their credit limits with foreign suppliers, and they owe a total of over $25 million. They are getting only up to 20 percent of their monthly foreign currency allocation from central bank, and this has caused shortages and price hikes.
At Chitungwiza, Moyo won praise for to keep the hospital afloat and modernising it. He did this by securing partnerships with corporates, although this drew criticism of privatisation of a public hospital. A new kidney transplant unit is reopening with the funding of a coalition of private firms.
Moyo will need those partnerships at a larger, national scale now. Key to that would be helping Zimbabwe make its own drugs again. Ajanta Pharma, a well-known Indian drugs firm, has been sniffing around Caps Holdings. In April, Ajanta even signed a letter of intent to invest in the firm, but there has been no progress since.
As long as the Mnangagwa Government continues to put luxury 4X4s over ambulances, and fails to fund healthcare enough, Moyo will inevitably be right back where his predecessor got stuck.
Moyo is a former DJ, known for spinning records back in the day as DJ Biscuit. But there is no time for partying. There is an outbreak of cholera, a disease that has no place in modern times. His test starts right away.
New industry: Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu
Mnangagwa has daringly given a 36-year old the job of reviving Zimbabwe’s industry. Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu is the new Industry and Commerce Minister, replacing Mike Bimha, a man who was supposed to spark industry to life but who would really be more at home writing books with titles such as “The 15 Habits of Extremely Uninspiring People”.
At some point, even he should have gotten bored talking about the imminent revival of Ziscosteel. But, for some reason, he kept doing it, as if it were some weird personal entertainment.
Ndlovu is as new as they come. He has no industrial experience, his only traceable work experience being a lecturing gig at Lupane State University and working at the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board. He has come through the ZANU-PF youth league ranks, and is the new MP for Bulilima East.
His lack of a track record in industry may work against him, as Zimbabwe’s economy can be a complex place, with many competing and at times corrupt interests. But Mnangagwa may be gambling on that lack of experience to provide fresh eyes and new ideas to replace the stale approaches of previous Ministers. Ndlovu studied Finance at NUST and this June was due to graduate in Development Finance at UCT, but deferred it to focus on his campaign.
New chapter: Sekai Nzenza
Nzenza’s journey to Cabinet started on the way to a village funeral in Chikomba, Mashonaland East, back in February. According to Nzenza, the village women asked her to stand as their MP. She refused. Days later, dozens of villagers arrived outside her home early one morning, and demanded that she run. She did, and now the former Herald columnist and ex-World Vision staffer is Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister.
In her new role, she will need every bit of that connection with the grassroots that she showed in Chikomba to deal with labour unions and welfare issues, while also mustering all her corporate experience to preside over NSSA.
With $1.3 billion in assets, NSSA is one of the biggest investors in Zimbabwe. Whoever is in charge there wields a lot of power, which is why there have been endless management rows in recent years. Nzenza will have to solve all that, and refocus NSSA.
One of her biggest jobs will be in the Public Service, which may be restive soon if Mnangagwa carries out the reforms that are needed there, included job cuts.
Nzenza is said by those who know her to be a firm follower of traditional religious beliefs. Her late sister, Charity, was a diplomat of close to 30 years.