By Chido Makunike
IN Western countries Christmas time is the traditional season to exchange gifts. In Zimbabwe a new tradition that is emerging is the amazing generosity of politicians at election time.
If one were naive, one would think that election time would be when those who aspire to elective office, or to being re-elected, would brush up their manifestos in an effort to sell themselves to the electorate as the best candidates for the offices they were interested in. But election manifestos and well-thought out plans of what one hopes to accomplish during their time in office take work that may be beyond the ability of some of our politicians. It is so much easier to try to beg, borrow or steal money and other resources with which to try to simply buy off large segments of the population.
This may seem absurd and offensive to a discerning and sophisticated voter, but in a society where economic hardship is keenly felt by many of the most vulnerable voters, attempted vote-buying cannot be ruled out as an effective tactic to give some of our less scrupulous politicians an edge over their opponents.
We saw many examples of this during the last parliamentary election, and there are early signs that we will see more in the next one a few months away. For instance, in 2000 some aspiring MPs wantonly stretched the limits of good taste and electoral legality by offering various “inducements” to the mostly rural electorate that cheapened and compromised the whole political process. Controversial, brazen and shameless as the offers of money to the voters were, they helped to push some onto the political gravy train.
I don’t know what “benefits” have accrued to the voters in the affected constituencies from having such characters as MPs for the last five years, but all the signs are that it has been a rather good and beneficial tenure for “honourable” MPs themselves!
It is no wonder one senior official lamented how the ruling party has been prostituted by self-serving mafikizolo fifth columnists! I have also noted how gifts are flying all over Tsholotsho constituency as several big political egos position themselves to be its MP in the next parliament. Mugabe propagandist Jonathan Moyo, who seems to have also appointed himself to the position of “more Zanu PF than anybody else” would seem to have a head start over the other aspiring candidates.
He is aggressive and ruthless in a way that often seems worrying, and would appear to have mysteriously bottomless pockets.
He has donated blankets and computers to various groups of his would-be constituents, among many other gifts. Moyo’s generosity is splashed in the state media he controls with equal generosity, often accompanied by a glossy colour portrait of a benevolently smiling younger Moyo, perhaps taken five or 10 years ago, carefully casting him on the mould of the dashing young saviour of Tsholotsho!
If you divide the purported values of the computers and blankets he has donated by their number, you find that they are all apparently top dollar, top of the range luxury items! Either that or the values we are given are completely fictitious, pure propaganda of a type we have become rather accustomed to since Moyo and George Charamba began running the department of “information and publicity!”
As to where all the money is coming from, that question only betrays that those who ask it are ordinary working stiffs struggling in Zimbabwe’s tough times. If you were a passenger of a minister on the Mugabe gravy train, you would not ask such silly questions. While those out of favour may be jailed for months with no legal recourse for miscellaneous crimes, if you are a flavour-of-the-month minister you can sell your South African house without anyone asking where and how you got the money to buy it in the first place, and what you did with the presumably “external” funds you received from selling it!
Zanu PF enforcer Joseph Chinotimba has reportedly done rather well for himself since being used so effectively during the last election to strike terror in Zanu PF and Mugabe opponents. He has reportedly “won” some lucrative state service tenders from which in less than five years he has made enough money to be in a position to donate “gifts” to the voters of the Glen Norah he would like to be MP of to the tune of $250 million, including hundreds of pairs of shoes and a vehicle!
Although apparently doing very well materially, Chinotimba longs to be taken seriously and is making his second attempt to become a ruling party MP, thereby extending his tenure and security on the gravy train.
From the huge, free front page campaign colour picture of the benevolent Chinotimba, helpfully featured by the Herald, it looked like the shoes were used, making a certain cynic question the value attached to the donation. Perhaps the sums were done using the same generous calculator used to value Moyo’s donations! And hmm, I wonder how candidates like Moyo and Chinotimba are so brazenly able to use the state media to help their campaigns with free publicity? I smell a rat here somewhere.
Given the Chinotimba jokes that continue to fly back and forth by cell-phone SMS and email, Glen Norah is going to become a laughing stock if Chinotimba somehow works his way to being its MP. He might have been a fearsome and effective enforcer of terror for Zanu PF, but to imagine him as a serious MP given his buffoonery is a little difficult!
But all this just illustrates the levels to which the formerly great Zanu PF has sunk. Yes sir, it’s the age of the fifth columnist mafikizolos in Zanu PF, forget about principle and the good of the nation! The mercenaries we must most worry about are no longer Western dogs of war, but those among us!
Chido Makunike is a regular columnist of the Zimbabwe Independent.