Harare, Zimbabwe – Revelations of gold smuggling by individuals affiliated with Zimbabwean government officials and the ruling party in an Al Jazeera documentary have triggered outrage in the country.
The four-part documentary titled The Gold Mafia was filmed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit), based on dozens of undercover operations spanning three continents and thousands of documents.
It exposed how huge amounts of gold are clandestinely smuggled every month from Zimbabwe, Africa’s sixth-largest gold producer, to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, aiding money laundering through an intricate web of shell companies, fake invoices and paid-off officials.
Uebert Angel, presidential envoy and ambassador-at-large to Europe and the Americas since March 2021, was secretly filmed bragging that he could move $1.2bn easily, due to his diplomatic immunity.
Other individuals filmed or named in the documentary as being part of smuggling rings include Zimbabwe Miners Federation President Henrietta Rushwaya – believed to be the niece of President Emmerson Mnangagwa – and Kamlesh Pattni, a businessman previously involved in a gold smuggling scandal in Kenya.
Pattni, who “knighted” Robert Mugabe as King of Kings in March 2012, handing over a black gown and gold crown to the late leader, still has strong connections to the ruling party.
In October 2020, Rushwaya was arrested at the Harare airport for attempting to smuggle gold to Dubai. Her case is still in court but the National Prosecuting Authority has said there is not enough evidence for a conviction.
In Zimbabwe, the film’s revelations have caused an uproar.
Illicit trade in gold has long been estimated to cost Zimbabwe an estimated $100m every month, according to official estimates.
The country is reeling from years of economic mismanagement that have resulted in high inflation and unemployment. According to figures from the World Bank, half of the country’s estimated 16 million people live in extreme poverty – on $30 or less monthly.
There have been widespread allegations of endemic corruption impacting the economy and government critics say the documentary has once again exposed the level of graft in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans have called for swift justice against the individuals implicated in the film.
Angirayi Moyowatidhi, a 45-year-old street vendor in Harare expressed outrage at what he said was organised looting of the country’s resources.
“When we were growing up, we were told of how the colonial regime of Cecil John Rhodes to Ian Smith looted our country’s resources and externalised them to the United Kingdom. Now, we are witnessing the same process save for the fact that this is being done by our elected black leaders,” Moyowatidhi told Al Jazeera.
“The people who are involved in gold smuggling and breaking the country’s laws to profit from gold must be arrested no matter their stations and positions in life,” Gift Gadza, a 29-year self-employed youth in Harare told Al Jazeera.
“Ordinary people like me are suffering while other people are living pretty from gold looting. I think we need to unite as people and protest against the looting of resources in the country,” Gadza said.
Chris Mutsvangwa, spokesman for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) blamed the West for attempting to foment public anger through the documentary.
“The country’s detractors, who coalesced around George Soros and his Open Society Institute of Southern Africa are clearly miffed and terribly disappointed that Zimbabwe has reverted to and resurrected gold as the reference anchor of the US Dollar,” said Mutsvangwa in a statement.
“Countries under sanctions have to find ways of circumventing the sanctions,” government spokesman Nick Mangwana said in a tweet, drawing widespread criticism from users. “This may mean having to procure supplies through third parties or sell in grey market.”
Anger online led to the scandal becoming a trending Twitter story in the country since Friday.
“The #Aljazeeradocumentary exposes the extent of the rot at the top, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) tweeted. “This clearly shows how corrupt, rotten & broken leadership has destroyed a jewel and great country. Zimbabwe is not poor, it’s just poorly governed!”
THE FISH ROTS FROM THE HEAD The #Aljazeeradocumentary exposes the extent of the rot at the top,but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.This clearly shows how corrupt, rotten & broken leadership has destroyed a jewel and great country. Zimbabwe is not poor, it’s just poorly governed!
— nelson chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) March 24, 2023
Trevor Ncube, a longtime critic of the Zimbabwean government and former publisher of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, said Mnangagwa should have addressed the allegations already.
“Silence is not an option,” Ncube tweeted.
Under normal circumstances @edmnangagwa would schedule a Press Conference to address the damning allegations in the first episode of the #AlJazeeraDocumentary . He would address the nation, take questions from journalists. Silence is not an option. I am an optimist. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/MnZOyvph82
— Trevor Ncube (@TrevorNcube) March 24, 2023
Some have called on Mnangagwa to fire Angel.
If ED is not involved in this Gold Mafia story then we will see him relieve Prophet Ubert Angel of his duties immediately because the Prophet made reference to the President in his discussion to the effect that he could strike deals in the absence of the President and on his…
— Setfree Nherera Mafukidze 🇿🇼 (@cdesetfree) March 24, 2023
Other Twitter users have gone on to demand Mnangagwa’s resignation.
“Emmerson Mnangagwa is the criminal surrounding Zimbabwe. We call on all patriotic Zimbabweans to join us in our call for the President to step down. This is not about Ubert but his employer the number 1. To the Police, Soldiers this message is for you too,” Team Pachedu tweeted.
Some of those fingered in the documentary have denied the charges.
“The reality is that the Ambassador has never traded in gold or moved cash for anyone,” a statement from Angel said, challenging anyone with evidence to the contrary to come forward. “It is clear from the documentary that Ambassador Angel and his team were never shown trading gold.
“These utterances [in the documentary] were made with the aim of getting the true picture of these fake investors and it became clear that the intelligence operatives were 100% correct,” it added.