HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa sacked Energy Minister Fortune Chasi on Friday saying “his conduct of government business had become inconsistent with the president’s expectations.”
Mnangagwa named little-known Muzarabani North MP Soda Zhemu as Chasi’s replacement.
Mnangagwa also named Anxious Jongwe Masuka as his new minister of lands, agriculture and rural resettlement, replacing Perrance Shiri who died on July 29 from Covid-19.
The 55-year-old Chasi, previously deputy transport minister, replaced Jorum Gumbo as energy minister in May 2019 as the country battled its worst energy crisis on record.
A combination of higher electricity tariffs to fund imports and increased inflows at Kariba Dam where the country draws most of its electricity have eased power outages which lasted up to 18 hours at the peak of the crisis.
Chasi had however battled to get a handle on the fuel crisis which has persisted for several years. The government recently allowed private importers to sell fuel in foreign currency as the country appears to be returning to full dollarisation.
Chasi’s exit is believed to be linked to his recent bruising battle with ZESA’s executive chairman Sydney Gata who has been married to Mnangagwa’s niece, Angie Mayahle, since 2014.
Late last month, the Mazowe South MP suspended Gata over corruption allegations, but Gata hit back accusing him of abusing his power and calling him an “impediment to my efforts… to uprooting corruption at ZESA”. Gata also dismissed Chasi’s directive to other board members to investigate him, stating that “the directive is contrary to the law and cannot be acted upon.”
Gata also told Chasi that he was seeking to activate the mediation role of the Office of the President and Cabinet “without delay.”
Mnangagwa subsequently suspended the entire board at the power utility while ordering an investigation into the allegations of wrong-doing. It was not clear on Friday if the “mediation” led to Chasi’s dismissal.
Gata has two children with Angie, described by some as Mnangagwa’s “most-loved niece.” She has reportedly invested in several solar projects, backed by Mnangagwa, with the aim of selling power back to ZESA.
Chasi was criticised for re-appointing Gata to ZESA after he previously left under a cloud of corruption allegations – but sources say the appointment was made on Mnangagwa’s directions.
When corruption allegations recently surfaced against Gata, Chasi saw an opportunity to elbow him out – a fight he would inevitably lose, and with it his ministerial job.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa said Masuka – who has no parliamentary seat – has sat on 30 agriculture-related boards since 1991 including the Tobacco Industry Advisory Council; the Agriculture Research Council and the Zimbabwe Seed Trade Association.
He joins the Cabinet from his job as CEO of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society.