Sometime in 2014, Dr Gideon Gono, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was within spitting distance of a seat in the Senate, the upper chamber of Zimbabwe’s parliament, before it was dramatically snatched away. He was the ZANU PF nominee to replace Kumbirai Kangai, who had died not long after the 2013 election. However, just as he was about to take the new title, Gono’s ascendancy was brutally thwarted.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) rejected his nomination on the grounds that he was not registered on the voters roll in Manicaland province, where the seat was vacant. Gono had approached the Office of the Registrar General (RG) to transfer his registration from Harare to Manicaland. ZEC declared that it was an invalid registration because the RG no longer had the power to register voters. ZEC was right. But instead of correcting the RG’s error and registering Gono, ZEC claimed that it could not do so until electoral laws were amended to conform its new constitutional role. On this, ZEC was wrong. They had the power to register in terms of the constitution and they could have used it if it wanted to.
Based on ZEC’s refusal, the ZANU PF politburo replaced Gono with another candidate. With that, Gono’ dream of becoming a senator in Manicaland was over. Curiously, a few weeks later, ZEC announced that it was registering voters, a perfect somersault given its earlier position on Gono when it said it had no power. Nothing had changed between the two instances to jusify ZEC’s sudden change. It was an intriguing case in which the positions of ZEC and a faction in ZANU PF were curiously aligned against Gono. It seemed there was a faction that did not want to see Gono take the senate seat and ZEC was complicit in this scheme. That or ZEC was simply incompetent when it dealt with the Gono case before it changed its mind.
It seems Gono was collateral damage in the war of attrition between ZANU PF factions in 2014 and may have been as an ally of the Mujuru faction. Rugare Gumbo, who was later fired remained hopeful that the legal issues would be cleared to ensure Gono’s smooth passage to the Senate, a view that was extinguished by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa when he declared that it was a closed chapter. Professor Jonathan Moyo publicly berated Gono for alleged failure to understand the law.
Interestingly, while Mujuru and her allies were unceremoniously fired from the party, Gono survived. That might have been due to his proximity to the Mugabe family. But with the Manicaland senate seat snatched from under his nose, his fortunes waned and he retreated from the political limelight.
Around the same time that Gono was losing the senate seat, he was also under a barrage of attacks from Dr Munyaradzi Kereke, a former loyal lieutenant at the RBZ. In contrast to his former boss’s political fortunes, Kereke’s were on the rise. He had contested the elections in 2013 in defiance of a party directive and won. He had allegedly been thwarted by the Mujuru faction but had received backing from the Mnangagwa faction. When the Mujuru faction was fired from ZANU PF, and with the Mnangwagwa faction in charge, Kereke was readmitted into ZANU PF.
Kereke’s departure from his role as a subordinate of Gono at the RBZ had been unceremonious and messy. The acrimony led to bad blood between the two men. Kereke threw all manner of allegations against Gono, including charges of corruption and inappropriate liaisons. It was a messy divorce. In due time, Gono left his post at the RBZ after the end of his 10-year statutory tenure. Kereke launched cases against Gono and even approached the Constitutional Court, in pursuit of private prosecution. He claimed to have vast amounts of evidence that would nail his former boss.
Meanwhile, Kereke’s fortunes dipped in dramatic fashion. He was accused of raping a minor child in 2010, a matter which had been stifled by prosecution authorities which refused to prosecute him for alleged lack of evidence. The Prosecutor-General, Johannes Tomana, was accused of protecting Kereke, said to be a political ally. It was a controversial decision which was challenged by the victim’s guardians who eventually managed to carry out a successful private prosecution. Kereke was found guilty of rape. He is now at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, where he is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The curious apology
It was curious therefore, to keen observers of the Zimbabwean political scene, that the Kereke-Gono affair was rekindled in recent weeks, following prominent coverage in The Sunday Mail, the state-owned weekly newspaper. First, a public apology to Gono by Kereke was given front page treatment. Two weeks later, Gono’s acknowledgement of the apology received similar high profile treatment.
What might have prompted the state weekly to bring back into the limelight two men who had seemingly gone into political oblivion, one by confinement to jail, and the other, by political banishment? It is highly unusual that a convicted rapist hogs the front page of a state weekly – for an apology, not to the victim but to a former boss. It appeared there was a story behind the story – just what it could be remains a matter of conjecture.
There has been much speculation as to what might have prompted this curious exchange between these two men via the state weekly.
One theory is that this could be a well-choreographed act designed to “cleanse” the former central bank governor in preparation for political office. It was Kereke after all, who made the high profile allegations and threatened to expose Gono. The theory is that “cleansed” of the dirt that Kereke threw at him, Gono would be ready for some political office. But this theory would be incomplete without the assumption that Gono is part of the elaborate scheme. Yet, this assumption could be false, as there are suggestions that Kereke’s apology came as a complete surprise to Gono. Reading through Gono’s interview, one can observe that his acknowledgment of Kereke’s apology is qualified, which shows some hesitation. He does not, for example, undertake to withdraw his own defamation suit against Kereke. But if Gono is not part of an elaborate “cleansing” scheme, what else might have triggered Kereke’s apology?
Plea for mercy?
The second theory is that Kereke initiated the apology in pursuit of self-interest and in response to powerful political forces that he may have offended. It will be recalled that one of Kereke’s claims during his rape trial was that the allegations were political and that they were designed to punish him for his allegations against Gono. After his conviction he has tried, on at least two occasions, to apply for bail pending appeal. Both times, he has hit a brick wall. Kereke believes he is suffering political persecution. The apology may be a desperate plea for mercy. He probably thinks an apology and withdrawal of his allegations will thaw the hearts of those whom he offended. The apology may therefore be a plea for forgiveness.
But if it is a plea for forgiveness, to whom is Kereke really apologising? Gono does not have any legal powers to forgive him, even if he chose to do so. If it is a plea for forgiveness, it must be a plea directed to a higher power, which brings the Mugabe family into the equation. Gono’s proximity to the Mugabe family is well known. Perhaps that is where the apology is directed. Furthermore, even if it was a plea for forgiveness, why would The Sunday Mail grant such a favour to a convicted rapist? There must be thousands of prisoners who would want to make apologies to other private persons they wronged outside. They would never get space in a mass circulating paper. Kereke could have written a letter of apology to Gono. His appearance in the state paper could only have been engineered by powerful political forces in control of state media.
Nevertheless, a pertinent question is what prompted Kereke to make those allegations against his former boss in the first place? Has he suddenly discovered that he was wrong about his former boss? Was he acting on his own when he went rogue on his old boss? Gono’s failure to land the senatorial post in Manicaland was arguably down to powerful political forces during in the struggle for the succession. Could those forces have been behind Kereke’s allegations then? Could they be behind the recent apology, a change in strategy perhaps in light of the succession race?
When Kereke attacked Gono, he may have been acting on behalf of political superiors who might have been disturbed by Gono’s entrance into the political arena. They achieved their purpose when they thwarted Gono's rise to the senate. Gono’s proximity to the Mugabe family must be a source of concern to succession protagonists. There was a time when Gono was the prime minister in all but name. But if Gono's political entrance was inconvenient in 2014, what has changed now? Could there be a realignment of political interests?
It should be interesting to see what comes next after the Kereke apology and Gono’s acknowledgment. The collusion theory has no discernible basis. While Kereke is motivated by self-interest, his access to state media and favourable coverage suggests that his apology has more beneficiaries beyond himself and Gono. If that is the case, both Kereke and Gono could be mere pawns in an elaborate and increasingly complex war to succeed Mugabe. It won’t be surprising if this ritual is a precursor to Kereke’s release from jail or Gono’s re-emergence on the political arena or indeed, a dramatic reconfiguration of the succession race as it goes to the wire.