FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe, also Zanu PF Women’s League leader, and other senior party officials are abusing for political gain a publicly underwritten US$98 million agricultural equipment loan facility, extended to Harare by Brasilia under the Zimbabwe-Brazil More Food for Africa Programme, by making partisan donations at Zanu PF rallies organised using state resources, senior government officials have said.
The First Lady is also donating tonnes of maize which officials say belong to the state, foodstuffs and clothes whose source of funding is shady. Grace recently raised US$3 million for her birthday party in July and said she would use part of it to fund her donations, but the amount of aid she is dishing out is worth much more.
Brazil supplied Zimbabwe with 320 tractors, 450 disc harrows, 310 planters, 100 fertiliser spreaders and 6 650 knapsack sprayers valued at US$38,6 million under the first phase of the US$98 million facility commissioned by President Robert Mugabe in May.
More agricultural equipment is expected under the second and third phases which will be valued at US$30 million each.
It has, however, emerged that Grace, who has started a controversial nationwide campaign trail which insiders say is meant to test the Zanu PF succession waters ahead of the 2018 general elections, is donating the equipment sourced under the facility, although she is not a government official.
“Grace is donating state equipment to her political party members at rallies which is wrong and even unlawful,” a senior government official said. “She is not a government official even though she is First Lady, a position that is not recognised in the national constitution. She is not part of the executive and what she is doing is bad and illegal.”
Another official said: “The tractors she is donating through her party to its members belong to the state; therefore it’s wrong for her to distribute or donate them at a party function. She is also being dishonest in that she gives people the impression she bought the equipment and food using her own personal resources.
“The equipment belongs to the state and should be distributed through proper government channels in a transparent manner under known terms so that it benefits the entire nation, not Zanu PF members alone.
“It is a sign of bad governance for equipment acquired by the state, underwritten by the government and which will be paid for using tax payers’ money, to be distributed under such a partisan process which rewards party loyalists to advance dubious political agendas of one individual or a party faction.”
The equipment she is donating includes red 575,4 Agrale tractors, sourced from Brazil through a public facility. The US$98 million agricultural equipment loan will be paid back using tax payers’ money. The facility has a 2% interest rate per annum, payable in 15 years with a three-year grace period.
So far Grace has addressed two rallies in Chimanimani, Manicaland, held last week and in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central this week.
In Chimanimani, she donated two tractors, two planters, a fertiliser spreader and 120 knap sack sprayers to Nyanyadzi and Nyakohwa irrigation schemes, while Cashel Valley received six tractors, six planters, a fertilizer spreader and 120 knapsacks.
She also donated various food stuffs including 250 tonnes of maize, clothes and blankets whose funding is unclear.
In Rushinga, she donated various farming equipment, including eight tractors, planters and fertiliser spreaders.
She also donated 300 tonnes of maize, 50 tonnes of which was distributed at the venue. She gave an order that the remaining 250 tonnes be collected from Rushinga Grain Marketing Board depot using coupons.
Another government official also said the maize being donated by the First Lady at her rallies belonged to the state and includes part of the 700 000 tonnes which the government is importing using taxpayers’ funds to meet the country’s food deficit.
Zimbabwe produced 800 000 tonnes of maize last year against a national requirement of 1,8 million tonnes. As of June, Zimbabwe had imported 1 800 tonnes of maize from Zambia.
The United Nations says more than 1,5 million people in Zimbabwe need food aid.
The donations are largely seen as part of Zanu PF’s patronage system, a vote-buying process and Grace’s desperate bid to endear herself with the electorate as she seeks to build her national profile.
Some officials belief she has presidential ambitions and is trying to build a social base upon which she can challenge Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa widely seen as the favourite to succeed her husband.
Addressing people in Rushinga, Grace however, said there was nothing wrong with her approach even if it was vote-buying, an illegal practice.
“They said I am giving people the goods as a way of buying votes,” she said.
“Hazvina basa kana ndikakutenga ukandivhotera (It does not matter if I pay you to vote for me), it’s okay. It’s better to vote for someone who gives you something than someone who does not.”'