The Three Men Who Run The Zimbabwe Government

Not long ago, Dr Simba Makoni spoke about what he called the "classic Yes Minister style" of Zimbabwe's government.

For those who do not know, Yes Minister is a British comedy set in Whitehall, the seat of the government of the United Kingdom. In the comedy, people like Sir Humphrey actually run government business, telling a minister what he can and can not do, getting up to all sorts of tricks to ensure that their agenda (which they say is the national agenda), carries the day.

Dr Makoni mentioned the issue of speeches, for instance. When he took over at the Ministry of Finance, he found that his speeches were written for him by the civil servants. 

Worse, these speeches would not be given to him until just before he got into his car to go to the function where they were to be delivered.

To get around this, and being a fully technologically literate person, he asked for a computer to be put into his office. He also demanded that the computer be given Internet and intranet access. He wanted to ensure that communication within the ministry could be done via email instead of pieces of paper. 

He also announced that he would be using his own Internet-based email, which the government can not hack into.

This, remember, was the year 2000!

After much resistance, it was done. 

As for speeches, he started writing his own. Civil servants in his ministry took him to task about this, saying there were people who could write the stuff for him. He resisted.

It is no exaggeration to say that as a result of the resistance to change in the civil service and their need to control the ministers, the clash with these functionaries contributed to the eventually departure of Dr Makoni from the government.

You see, Mugabe uses the civil service to spy on his ministers, in addition to the usual spying on them done by the CIO, the Intelligence Organisation.

Hence, the three most powerful men in government (as opposed to in the country) are:

1. George Charamba: as the spokesman to Mugabe, he has immense influence with the man, especially since Mugabe is insulated from the public and does not interact or even remotely socialise with his ministers. The daily briefings he gets from Charamba and the opinion and advice that is shared between them has made Charamba Mugabe's ears and eyes on the administrative side of government.

For the other eyes and ears functions, Mugabe has the Central Intelligence Organisation of course, although even these are out favour to an extent now.

Charamba is really so powerful only because, working with Mugabe, it is understood that only Mugabe can fire him. Hence those in government, including cabinet ministers, see him as untouchable.

2. Mariyawanda Nzuwa: As head of the Civil Service Commission, he approves all appointments below the Deputy Minister level. He is the one who drafts the original list of Permanent Secretaries and where they are assigned. He and George Charamba are the ones who drafted that list of Permanent Secretaries which Morgan Tsvangirai said was null and void.

This issue is still to be settled and you will see in the end who is more powerful by just how many of Nzuwa and Charamba's original PermSecs are kept on in the new line up. Tsvangirai has told his staff that he is going to be "professional" and will even keep well known ZANU PF PermSecs in ministries run by the MDC if they are well qualified.

3. Misheck Sibanda: As Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Sibanda (and before him Utete) has actually had a direct influence in decisions on which ministers Mugabe fires and which ones he keeps when he reshuffles. Apart from the ministries that Mugabe himself has an interest in, such as Women's Affairs, Agriculture and the old Ministry of Political Affairs as well as the Ministers of State he appoints within his office, all other recommendations were done by Sibanda, who then consulted Charamba before the list was presented to Mugabe for his final vetting.

If there was someone on the list that Mugabe had a personal vendetta against, then the name would jump up at him and the fellow would be removed without question. All other "lesser" ministries sailed through.

Sibanda was, therefore, heavily lobbied by ZANU PF politicians who wanted themselves or their favourites to be given jobs. This is how people like Bright Matonga ended in jobs that were too big for them - recommendations to Sibanda from ZANU PF politicians who were interested in "tribal balance".

Apart from this procedure, Mugabe's only guidance, especially in the last ten years or so, has been to tell these men what sort of cabinet he wanted.

So, he would quietly let be known that this time he wanted a "technocrat cabinet" and the President's Men would scour for suitable new faces. In the last "technocrat" cabinet, three names suggested by these men were removed by Mugabe himself, who said one of them had been a supporter of Forum, the opposition party of the early 1990s which was led by the retired First Black Chief Justice of Zimbabwe: Enoch Dumbutshena.

Recently, after the formation of the Inclusive Government, these men have continued as though nothing has changed and Mugabe appears to be backing them, perhaps because they have gained his trust.

They are still doing some damage, flexing their muscles.

For instance, you will notice that James Maridadi is no longer quoted by the Herald, the government daily newspaper. In the first days of the GNU, the Herald referred to him as the Spokesman for The Prime Minister.

It was Charamba personally who issued the order to The Herald that Maridadi was not the spokesman for the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. Instead, he is Tsvangirai's  spokesman at the party level, so he was to be quoted only when Tsvangirai was speaking on matter to do with his party and not the government.

Hence, effectively, Maridadi has been banned from the pages of the Herald. Look carefully and you will see that the paper now refers to the "Prime Minister's Office", as in "The Prime Minister's Office confirmed...", without mentioning any names.

Misheck Sibanda is the man whom Mugabe uses as a sounding board to gauge the effectiveness of his ministers. Sibanda's reports are taken seriously by Mugabe, who is very much a protocol person, schooled in the old English style where rules are rules and must be followed even if they are silly.

In other words, the Yes Minister school of government....

Of the three, Nzuwa's powers are perhaps the most sweeping of all, considering the breadth of senior government appointments he controls.

In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say Nzuwa can either make or break the career of a minister, especially the lesser ones (the big fish he would not even dream of touching are Emmerson Mnangagwa, Sydney Sekeramayi, Joice Mujuru, VP Msika, Didymus Mutasa, Joseph Made and, lately added to the list, Kembo Mohadi.  All others are fair game to him.

Morgan Tsvangirai realises this, and it sunk home for him on the day he was summoned to explain himself at Sate House after he issued that statement saying the appointment of Permanent Secretaries was null and void.

He walked back into his Munhumutapa Offices the next day shaking his head, telling his staff that Mugabe was not in control of government.


Because Mugabe's had apparently asked Tsvangirai if he had not had input into the selection of PermSecs. He further went on to say, " Did I sign those appointment papers? I can not remember, I signed so many papers yesterday, these young men brought me so many papers...."

Which means that the career of PermSecs were being decided by these three men in the name of Mugabe. If Tsvangirai had not objected, they would have gotten away with it, the new PermSecs would have known to whom they owed their allegiance and their ministers would have been simply figure heads, without any power over the civil servants in their ministries.

And by the way, the reason this PermSec thing is being drawn out like this is because Mugabe said to Tsvangirai, and here I am quoting a source within the PM's office:

"Prime Minister, what you should do is take the CVs of these people and look at them, see which ones are not qualified and then lets get back together and hear your thinking."

Today, Monday 06 April 2009, the PM and the Prez will meet at State House and Tsvangirai is supposed to point out the ones on the list of PermSecs whom he believes are not qualified. If Mugabe agrees, then they will go. If not they will stay.

Tsvangirai was not given the option to get rid of them on political grounds, because Mugabe maintains that his is a professional civil service. He still claims that no party interests inform their decisions, only national interests.

So, in essence, Tsvangirai can not fire any of them on the grounds that they are "ZANU PF" because he would not be able to prove it. As you know, our PermSecs do not make political speeches. The only time they make public speeches would be when they have to read a policy speech on behalf of a busy minister.

Most times, the minister is told what he would have said at such gatherings later, because he would not have written speech at all.


  1. This is where I agree with those aiming for bigger and better things for our country instead of using 80s life as a yardstick for us to get back to! Last weekend I was at pains to explain to my friends how backward our “perfect” corporate culture is and eventually used the typical office scenario to hammer home some painful truths. In Zimbabwe security guards and secretaries literary run the company and the CEO’s secretary is more powerful than anyone else in the company aside from their boss! One has to “convince” the secretaries you are worth talking to the boss before they tell you “he’s in a meeting”! You have to sound right (English accent), be from a prestigious institution and be up to the class to speak with the boss. And these are private companies!

    The point here Denford is to show you that this is a social problem in Zimbabwe and not one isolated to the President only. Charamba and Sibanda are basically the President’s secretaries who are doing their jobs. Give it six months and you won’t even get to Chamisa in the same way you did before. And it won’t be long before YOUR secretary gives us the run around as well!

  2. VaMutota - The thought did occur to me as I wrote this....and you are absolutely correct, it is the corporate culture here and perhaps elsewhere, but I think it is only in Zimbabwe where even Directors are afraid of the Executive Chairman's Secretary!!

    As for me, I can assure you that the day will never come. Although I am a Director at a fairly large company, I have never had a secretary in my life and I do not see what it is that will get me to acquire one.

    I happen to have worked with a very grounded person who is CEO and he also does not have a secretary.

    We can use the computer very well and type our own letters, we write good letters and documents etc.

    But more importantly, I think that, even in a company, everybody, including the gardener, should be able to walk into the CEOs office and air his views or grievances.

    By the way, Dr Simba Makoni also does not believe in all this Secretary nonsense and has refused to hire one for his office here at Mavambo. He types his own letters, reads and answers his own mail, snail as well as e-mail

    An Executive Assistant is another matter entirely and they do not vet the main man's visitors!
    But Dr Makoni does not even that.


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