July 14, 2008 at 10:47 am Leave a comment

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister Bright Matonga (left)

HARARE – One question has been doing the rounds of the Harare political establishment of late while keeping journalists gripped in a frenzy of speculation. Why has deputy Information Minister, Bright Matonga, suddenly become such an avowed defender of President Robert Mugabe, while at the same launching a virulent onslaught on western nations, especially the United Kingdom.

The secret is now out. Matonga’s behaviour is linked to very personal issues, pertaining to affairs of the heart.

Zimbabwe’s acerbic junior Information minister has effectively ditched Anne Pout, his British-born wife of 11 years, and married a rich businesswoman said to be the niece of the President.

The Zimbabwe Times can exclusively reveal that Matonga has officially moved out of the Matonga matrimonial home on a farm they seized from a commercial farmer and has since moved in with Sharon Mugabe, an immensely wealthy businesswoman. The 36-year-old widow who has stolen the heart of the capricious Matonga who stands a good chance of being named as new Minister of Information any time now, runs a marketing communications firm, Imago Y&R.

Matonga, who has become the darling of the British media as he routinely lambasts the Gordon Brown government at the slightest opportunity, while defending Mugabe, yesterday refused to take questions on his relationship with Sharon Mugabe.

Sharon’s exact relationship to the President could not be established last night amid suggestions that she is Mugabe’s niece, daughter of Albert Mugabe, the President’s late brother, the trade unionist who died in a swimming pool drowning back in the 1980s.

Imago Y&R, formerly Michel Hogg Young & Rubicam, was sold to Sharon Mugabe by Zimbabwe’s marketing guru Michael Hogg in 2005 after a failed bid by rival Gary Thompson’s agency, Gary Thompson & Associates. The take-over marked one of the biggest empowerment transactions in the sector. Mugabe acquired the controlling stake in the leading advertising, marketing and communications firm. She renamed it Imago Y&R.

The agency won the contract to run Mugabe’s sleek election campaign ahead of the June 27 presidential election run off, and is believed to have racked in colossal profits from the glitzy but controversial campaign. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe underwrote the cost of Mugabe’s re-election campaign, while Matonga became increasingly vociferous in support of Mugabe.

It is now being alleged that Imago Y&R secured the lucrative Zanu-PF contract through its chief executive’s personal relationship with the junior Information minister. Matonga was responsible for vetting companies that submitted tenders for the Mugabe election campaign.

In June, Bernard Barnett, a Y&R corporate vice-president in London, told the Sunday Times that, following a tip-off, Sharon Mugabe had been asked whether her company was the professional media outfit called in by Mugabe’s advisers after the last elections.

“We asked the managing director if it was true – that they had been working for Zanu-PF – and she said she personally was one of the president’s communications advisers,” said Barnett. “It was a very unpleasant surprise. Neither she nor the agency should be working for a regime like that, and especially not campaigning for them.”

Barnet said at the time Y & R would sell its 25 percent stake in Imago. “We’re just anxious to end any possible connection between ourselves and that disgraceful regime,” he said.

Mugabe, whose husband died two years ago, now officially lives with Matonga in her mansion in Borrowdale Brooke. She has been spotted on several occasions in the company of Matonga at one or the other of her many business enterprises, including a designer fashion boutique in the Eastgate Shopping Mall.

The couple is reported to have a young baby. Matonga has moved out of his matrimonial home, abandoning his wife, Anne, whom he brought back with him to Zimbabwe in 2001 from the UK.

Matonga married Anne, a former municipal information- technology manager in 1997, and moved into her home in Billericay, a small commuter town in Essex, England, according to family sources.

Matonga is said to have met Anne while he was still at a college in Southend-on-Sea, a resort town east of London, where he studied media production and technology at South East Essex College.

Halfway through the four-year program, immigration officials tried to deport him after a change in rules for foreign students made him ineligible to stay. Anne is said to have intervened and averted her then boyfriend’s deportation.

After his graduation, Matonga worked as a delivery driver and a freelance journalist and was literally living off Anne, our sources say.

Family sources described Anne as the marriage’s “driving force who smartened him up no end”.

“This is how he pays her after all that she has done for him, abandoning a woman who made him what he is today because of this other woman?” fumed a very close family source. “He is an ungrateful bastard. So he is trying to curry favour with the President by marrying his niece?”

The family source described how Anne looked after her husband while they lived in Basildon before Matonga’s return home in November 2001 to head the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s television division.

Anne and their son flew to Harare six months later, our source added.

In September 2002, the couple became part of a state- backed campaign to seize white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black families that mainly grew food for themselves. The programme resulted in a drop in food production, caused food shortages and a decline in exports, as well as triggering off the current economic recession.

The Matongas took over a farm in the rich Banket area, northwest of Harare. Anne was subsequently quoted in the media while defending the land reform programme and Mugabe’s government policies.

Matonga, a former chef executive of the state-owned bus company, ZUPCO, narrowly escaped incarceration following allegations that he benefited corruptly from bribes during the acquisition of new buses by the company.

Matonga’s co-accused, Charles Nherera, then ZUPCO chairman, was sentenced to a jail term after he was convicted on the corruption charges. It is understood he is now out. Matonga is alleged to have been rescued through extra-judicial intervention as he had been appointed deputy minister in 2005.

Sharon Mugabe studied and worked in the US until 2000. She was a financial analyst, first with First Albany Brokerage Firm and later for New England Consulting Group.

She returned to Zimbabwe in 2000, and joined the African Banking Corporation as head of communications.

Our sources say she is the principal cause of the breakdown in the Matonga’s once happy marriage.

Efforts to obtain comment from Sharon Mugabe were futile. Anne declined to comment, while Matonga screamed: “Go to hell,” before switching off his phone. – The Zimbabwe Times


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