IN the run-up to the July 31 polls, he dished out freebies to the electorate, raising questions as to whether he was just a Good Samaritan or another politician buying votes.
Despite his enormous efforts, when vote counting came, he narrowly lost the Mabvuku/Tafara constituency that he was eyeing, in a development that might make one who had ploughed so much wonder whether he had been helping ungrateful souls.
It is safe to say that few political philanthropists have been generous to the poor neighbourhood of Mabvuku/Tafara to the magnitude demonstrated by Goodwills Masimirembwa, the former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairperson.
According to residents of Mabvuku/Tafara, last year Masimirembwa spent US$14 000 for Ordinary Level students who had failed to raise examination fees.
He also bought a 17,5KVA generator for Mabvuku High School in order to revive night school which had been discontinued a few years back.
Masimirembwa also sponsored five underprivileged students from his constituency who were studying at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), his alma mater where he studied law.
He also supported sport, at one time donating a football kit — 150 footballs and uniforms for 18 teams — worth more than US$8 000 in a gesture that he said would ensure that youths desisted from crime and premature relationships.
Living in the affluent suburb of Highlands, Masimirembwa appeared to not only understand the needs of the poor in the nearby township, but to be in touch with them as well.
He installed more than 30 tanks of water with a capacity of over 5 000 litres and helped many bereaved families to fund funeral expenses.
But when he had done everything and had said everything to endear himself with Mabvuku/Tafara residents, they rejected him at the ballot box in favour of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T)’s James Maridadi.
This week, Silvia Bhasikoro, a member of the Harare Residents Trust from Mabvuku/Tafara, told The Financial Gazette that Masimirembwa empowered many people and did his best to uplift people’s lives in that constituency.
She added that the former ZMDC chairman extended help without looking at one’s political affiliation.
“Masimirembwa did so much for the people. There are water tanks, he helped schools. He helped one church to put roofing when members ran out of resources. There were also competitions, there was a singing competition for churches that was won by the Salvation Army,” said Bhasikoro.
“He went to funerals and bought food. He bought coffins for the poor and provided his bus for transport.”
But how come Mabvuku/Tafara residents turned their backs on Masimirembwa on voting day?
Some say when his foundation changed administrators, this put off a lot of people. There is also a belief that voters rejected his party, not necessarily him.
Bhasikoro said when the former ZMDC chairman was in charge of the programme under a foundation named after him, it was transparent, but disillusionment crept in when he put chairpersons in charge.
The new overseers were said to have been corrupt, diverting food and money to their own use to the extent of expropriating even blankets meant for the elderly.
“I think he lost because in the end the things were not reaching the intended beneficiaries as there was stealing. The other thing is that maybe people wanted a change of government. I have no doubt that with all the good he did, if Masimirembwa was MDC-T, he would have won,” said Bhasikoro.
But before the electoral setback Masimirembwa suffered had fully sunk in, President Robert Mugabe, on the occasion of officially opening the first session of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe, told the nation that Masimirembwa had been involved in a US$6 million diamond deal that reeked of corruption.
In no time, the police issued a statement that the matter was under probe.
The police investigation comes against the backdrop of claims by former finance minister Tendai Biti that people from the ZANU-PF side of the inclusive government were looting diamond revenues that should otherwise have found its way into state coffers.
But as police conduct their investigation, questions now abound why only Masimirembwa has been singled out in a sector widely believed to be rotten to the core.
Farai Maguwu, the director of Centre for Natural Resources Governance, said it’s questionable if the focus on Masimirembwa was solely about corruption considering that last year when the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC) wanted to probe the ZMDC it was blocked.
He added that politicians should not be seen to be at the forefront of pushing Masimirembwa’s case, otherwise it would not be seen as prosecution, but rather persecution.
“Last year when ZACC tried to investigate ZMDC they ran into serious trouble with the state. The entire sector is corrupt. Most probably Masimirembwa’s opponents got the better of him this time around or he simply pressed the wrong button,” said Maguwu.
But who is Masimirembwa and how did he get to this point?
Born on December 20, 1959, Masimirembwa comes from the ZANU-PF stronghold of Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe.
He studied law at the UZ and worked as a public prosecutor before going into private practice.
He was later de-registered by the Law Society of Zimbabwe over allegations that he had mishandled clients’ funds.
From there, controversy followed him like a tail.
In 2007, he presided over the National Pricing and Incomes Commission under the Industry Ministry which was then under Obert Mpofu, now Transport Minister. The commission spearheaded a blitz many blamed for emptying supermarket shelves and the collapse of industries.
He later found himself at the ZMDC when Mpofu was heading the Mines Ministry and controversy over failure by diamond companies to remit funds to Treasury persisted.
In a statement last year, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition accused Masimirembwa of improper dealings and said many characters were involved in opaque deals in the diamond sector.
The coalition said the ZMDC itself was riddled with corruption and mismanagement, pointing out the suspension of the parastatal’s chief executive officer, Dominic Mubayiwa and four senior officials on 16 counts of corruption involving millions of dollars.
The individuals were accused of corruption, misappropriation of resources and flouting of tender procedures, leading to their suspension without pay or benefits.
“The ZMDC chairperson, who presided over the 2007 price blitz which led to acute food shortages in the country and is a known ZANU-PF functionary, is among a number of politicians and economic elites who are misappropriating the diamond revenues,” said Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
In 2009, he set up the Zimbabwe Institute of Legal Studies which the Law Society of Zimbabwe has declined to recognise.
Contacted for comment this week, Masimirembwa said allegations against him were false, including the ones raised by Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe.
He declined to state where he got funds to sponsor many activities in Mabvuku/Tafara which he does through his foundation.
“All the Members of Parliament were doing something. Have you gone to them? Don’t put me on trial through a newspaper article. Write whatever you want to write,” Masimirembwa said.