IN 2011 there was unbridled excitement in Zanu PF over the Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) and the creation of the Kurera-Ukondla Youth Fund, popularly known as the Youth Fund established via the indigenisation programme.
This became part of the party’s campaign for the 2013 elections.
The launch of the Youth Fund by Vice-President Joice Mujuru was widely lauded as a noble initiative that would provide relief to “marginalised youths” in a country with an unemployment rate of above 80%. The policy attracted youths to Zanu PF as they jostled to get a piece of the empowerment pie.
Youths rushed to the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment with business proposals while the opposition claimed the policy was a concerted effort to secure the youth vote ahead of polls.
Recently, the empowerment projects have been shrouded in controversy, with revelations President Robert Mugabe was presented with fake cheques for CSOTs as the companies concerned deny pledging amounts quoted by former Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere.
The Youth Fund is embroiled in controversy amid indications that it has been abused, with beneficiaries failing to honour their debts.
Giving oral evidence to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, Stanbic Bank and Allied Bank revealed the youth loan funds were looted with some beneficiaries misrepresenting their ages and addresses.
Among those fingered were Zanu PF Mberengwa East Member of Parliament Makhosini Hlongwane, alleged to have benefited to the tune of US$32 000 from Stanbic, and Affirmative Action Group president Chamu Chiwanza who was said to have undeservedly benefited from the Youth Fund as he is not “disadvantaged”, as required by the fund.
Hlongwane has since denied looting the fund saying the money he got from the bank was a loan.
Allied Bank’s head of agribusiness James Mada told the committee that in 2010, the Indigenisation ministry ordered the bank to disburse US$27 667 to 30 youths from the Johanne Masowe weChishanu Apostolic Church sect for poultry projects.
The projects were a complete disaster as all the youths failed to pay back the loans and efforts to get assistance from the church leader and Mashonaland East Zanu PF political commissar Lawrence Katsiru, whose two sons also benefited, yielded no results.
Allied Bank only managed to get back US$150 from three people.
This has given more credence to claims that the fund was a political ploy as, during its poll campaign, Zanu PF courted Apostolic sect members’ vote, promising funds for economic-generating projects and land.
While Stanbic head of business banking Patson Mahachi told the committee that the bank had signed an agreement with the ministry to release maximum amounts of between US$5 000 and US$10 000 per beneficiary from a US$20 million revolving fund, parliamentarians noted that some beneficiaries got loans of up to US$500 000.
The bank also claimed it had been given false addresses by some of the beneficiaries and there were cases of double-dipping.
In March Cabs managing director Kevin Terry told the parliamentary committee that the society had approved loans for 3 622 applications worth US$5,2 million, and had disbursed US$4,5 million.
However, of the US$4,5 million disbursed, arrears stood at US$2,3 million with a shocking total of non-performing balances of just over US$3,1 million.
In 2012, media reports from Manicaland alleged the fund was being abused and had been used to pay bride price by some beneficiaries.
Zimbabwe Youth Council director Livingstone Dzikira was reported by our sister paper, NewsDay, as saying about 70% of the fund was being abused.
Two weeks ago youth activists said there was lack of clarity on the overall intention of the fund in relation to the main challenges of unemployment, poverty and lack of basic services.
Zimbabwe Youth Forum national director Wellington Zindove said the programme had been politicised from the onset.
Said Zindove: “We noted that this Youth Fund was hijacked by politicians and was used to reward youths from Zanu PF. Even the processes of acquiring funds were not transparent as you had to go through the Zimbabwe Youth Council which is under the control of Zanu PF youths.
“We have had testimonies to that effect at workshops that we have held, where youths would say ‘had it not been because I know so and so who is Zanu PF, I would not have been successful in getting a loan’. The Youth Fund did not sufficiently reach out to the intended beneficiaries.”
He said the fund was characterised by corruption, partisan distribution and lack of transparency.
Zimbabwe National Students Union national spokesperson Avoid Masiraha said what affected the Youth Fund was its politicisation and that students perceived it as a Zanu PF project.
“We have always heard complaints that it was mostly youths associated with Zanu PF that mostly benefited from this fund and events from last week (two weeks ago) proved it. The failure by the Youth Fund to reach youths from all corners of the country is because it is politicised,” said Masiraha.
Deputy Indigenisation minister Mathias Tongofa said he did not have adequate documentation on him and could not comment on allegations of looting, use of fake addresses and ages as alleged by the banks that gave evidence to the parliamentary portfolio committee.
He however said that the loans disbursed to youths through the fund had proved to be non-performing at a rate of 65% as the majority had failed to pay up.
Tongofa said: “There are so many reasons for the poor performance of these loans; these vary from the poor economic performance to the lack of capacity among youths to run businesses. Some of the youths wrote good proposals, but failed to implement them.
“The ministry is making follow-ups to recover the loans, but there was no guarantee that it could recover all of them, he said. He denied that the Youth Fund was partisan.
“We are non-partisan, we cater for all Zimbabweans,” said Tongofa. “We don’t know who belongs to which party. If you check the highest percentage of people who got the money were from Harare, but Harare is predominantly MDC. Besides, we don’t have the final say in distributing the money. It’s the banks that have the final decision as technical experts.”