Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, now on trial in Boston for assassinating his rivals and others, has much more in common with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, now facing a national election after twenty-three years in power, than either of the aging bosses might have realized. Bulger is alleged to have ordered dozens if not hundreds of opponents to be killed. Mugabe is reputed to have done the same.
In mid-June Edward Chindori-Chininga, chairman of the Zimbabwe Parliament’s committee on Mines and Energy, a former cabinet minister, and a stalwart member of Mugabe’s dominant Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) political party, released a scathing report condemning the party’s involvement in stealing from the country’s diamond mines. He criticized the actions and behavior of Obert Moses Opofu, Minister of Mines, and, implicitly, Zimbabwe’s military leaders and others close to Mugabe for their misappropriation of diamonds and diamond wealth.
A few days after the report became public Chindori-Chininga was driving his car along a road in his political constituency. Inexplicably, it went off the road and smashed into trees (or some reports say there were no trees at that curving point of the road). Chindori-Chininga died in the same supposedly accidental manner that have led to dozens of prior “accidental” road deaths in Zimbabwe since the 1980s. In May, he was also involved in a collision and spent several days in hospital. In the fatal case, his air bag did not inflate, indicating that the collision with the trees could have occurred after, not during, his death.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife was killed in a crash in which he was also a passenger. Eddison Zvobgo, then Minister of Justice and an emerging opponent of Mugabe, was severely injured in a crash. Border Gezi, a provincial chief for Mugabe’s party, died in a car crash. In August 2011, General Solomon Mujuru, a critic of Mugabe and a rival of other generals close to Mugabe, was burned alive in his rural home. Much earlier, during the liberation struggle of the 1970s, two of Mugabe’s most effective potential leadership contenders were mysteriously eliminated. In none of these cases have perpetrators been brought to justice.
In Bulger’s case, testimony in the Boston trial makes clear that Bulger ordered or condoned a number of “hits.” Mugabe has never been put on the witness stand. Nor have investigators as yet taken testimony from his close associates. So everything is conjecture and rumor. However, several years ago a Zimbabwean then at Boston University visited me at Harvard University and said that he had worked in a special “transportation” section in Zimbabwe. He proceeded to tell me exactly how cars were run off the road, wheel lugs were loosened, tree trunks were placed across roads suddenly, and foreign particles were put into gas tanks. His information was circumstantial, and impossible to verify. But Mugabe has always been known for his ruthlessness. At 89, he is determined to stay in power despite the opposition of probably a majority of Zimbabweans and the leaders of the surrounding South African Development Community nations (South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, etc). Presidential and parliamentary elections are now scheduled at the end of this month.
Defectors from ZANU-PF orthodoxy, critics of the ruling party from within, and loyalists who have lost their loyalty have always been more threatening to Mugabe and the ruling party than external political opponents. Just as Bulger supposedly killed those who “ratted,” so Mugabe might order the deaths of one-time close colleagues who have lost their sense of obedience. It is equally possible that Mugabe merely condones, not orders, assassinations. In Chindori-Chininga’s case, either Mpofu, the Minster of Mines, or one or more of the generals who profit from the ransacking of Zimbabwe’s diamond fields, could have done the deed. Likewise, Mujuru might have been killed on the express orders of the generals or other politicians against whom he was believed to be quietly campaigning. Minister of Defense Emmerson Mnangagwa wants to succeed Mugabe and his name always surfaces when bad things happen.
Chindori-Chininga probably offended a number of key operatives profiting from the Zimbabwe diamond fields when he accused the nation’s executive (Mugabe and ZANU-PF cabinet ministers) of refusing to be held accountable to Parliament. Moreover, “from the time that the country was allowed to trade its diamonds on the world market, government has not realized any meaningful contributions from the sector. This is despite the fact that production levels and the revenue generated from exports have been on the increase.” Moreover, Mpofu has been “procrastinating,” the report says, about the introduction of new laws to regulate diamond mining. The profits from the mines indeed flow into the hands of Mpofu, several generals, Mugabe’s wife, Chinese collaborators, and others. The scandalous affairs on the diamond mines are well known, now documented by Chindori-Chininga from inside. But, like so many Bulger-like events in Zimbabwe, critics like Chindori-Chininga are silenced.
This was published in the Star (Toronto), July 30, 2013 under the title Mobsters and Mugabe.