HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe has said ministers at a Cabinet meeting he chaired agreed to pay two head of cattle and three buffaloes to a woman who claimed she could produce gasoline out of rocks, the official media reported Friday. Mugabe later ordered the woman's arrest on fraud charges.
The Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, reported the woman claiming to be a tribal healer, known in the West as a witch doctor, also took large sums of money, a car and a piece of land from the nation's highest ranking politicians, promising in return to use spells to produce diesel fuel from rocks in the bush outside the provincial town of Chinhoyi, 70 miles northwest of Harare.
Instead of invoking spirits, the woman bought diesel and piped it into the rocks, the newspaper reported.
It said Mugabe himself ordered Rotina Mavunga's arrest. She was charged with fraud last month — more than a year after the gas from rocks saga began.
"We are not going to be too hard on her. We just want the truth and to know who put her up to such things," the state media quoted Mugabe as telling guests at the commissioning of a biofuel plant Thursday in the nation stricken by the world's highest official inflation and chronic fuel shortages.
Mugabe said he at one point sent a delegation of his most senior colleagues, the defense and police ministers to investigate the claims, and when they returned without a clear answer he dispatched the ministers of energy, mines and science and technology and a third delegation of top military and police officers, the Herald reported.
Critics accuse the 83-year-old Mugabe, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, of ruining the economy by ordering often violent seizures of farms from whites to be handed over to blacks. Since the campaign started in 2000, a country that once exported food has been in crisis. The economic meltdown has been accompanied by a crackdown on Mugabe's political opponents and increasing international isolation.