“I did not come here empty-handed. As your mother I have brought you something. I brought two tractors, two planters, a fertiliser spreader and 120 knap sack sprayers to Nyanyadzi and Nyakohwa irrigation schemes,” First Lady Grace Mugabe told Zanu PF supporters in Chimanimani, Manicaland, a fortnight ago where she handed over agricultural equipment, 250 tonnes of maize, clothes and an assortment of food stuffs to Zanu PF supporters who had gathered for her rally.
“Cashel Valley will receive six tractors, six planters, a fertiliser spreader, hundreds of tonnes of maize and 120 knapsacks.”
And again in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central last week, Grace donated 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.
Zanu PF supporters who attended the rally walked away with food stuff, including rice, cooking oil and other basic commodities.
Reacting to accusations of vote-buying, she said: “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.”
She plans to do the same in all provinces where she is going to address more rallies as the Women’s League chairperson.
However, what Grace did not tell those who attended the rally is that some of the hand-outs, particularly the farming machinery and maize, belonged to the state and not items she bought with her own resources.
The tractors, planters, fertiliser spreaders and knapsacks she is dishing out on a partisan basis, were actually obtained after a publicly underwritten US$98 million agricultural equipment loan facility, extended to Harare by Brasilia under the Zimbabwe-Brazil More Food for Africa Programme.
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.
The loan will be paid back using tax payers’ money at 2% interest rate per annum, payable in 15 years with a three-year grace period.
Grace’s donation of the equipment on partisan lines, which some Zanu PF officials believe is meant to aid her bid to dislodge Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential ambitions although she insists she is just “working for the party”, is unfortunate as it reflects how much state resources are abused to advance the agenda of an individual or a party.
Whether she is distributing the equipment to advance Zanu PF’s agenda or to test the succession waters to determine what chance she has, is inconsequential, because either way, state resources should not be abused to further her interests or her party’s interest.
Grace is a First Lady and not a government official. Her position is not recognised in the constitution hence she has no right to distribute state resources.
In any case, it would still be wrong for a member of the executive say, Mugabe and members of his cabinet, to distribute public resources at a party rally. However, that a private individual can do so, serves to highlight the extent to which bad corporate governance has developed roots in the country.
Political analyst and United Kingdom-based law lecturer Alex Magaisa said the abuse of state resources by Zanu PF speaks to the seizure of government by a political party.
“Zanu PF has over the years captured the state, so that the state is the party and the party is the state. In this way, the state works as an instrument of the party. That is why you see state security details wearing Zanu PF regalia at party rallies,” said Magaisa.
“The misuse of state resources for partisan purposes has always been a problem and so the donation of state property such as tractors by the First Lady, who does not have a constitutional role within the state, is simply following a well-defined pattern.”
Magaisa also said the patently unconstitutional behaviour can and should be legally challenged as it is unconstitutional.
“Unelected and non-state actors have no role distributing state resources as they are not accountable to anyone. Those who are allowing it are also in breach of the constitution,” he said.
Abuse of state resources was further evidenced by the use of buses belonging to the struggling Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) to ferry party supporters from various provinces to her rallies.
Just like last year, when Grace went on a countrywide campaign dubbed “Meet the People Tour”, which she used to ouster former vice-president Joice Mujuru, the Zupco buses used to ferry people to and from her rallies have her large portrait and inscriptions reading: “Munhu wese kuna Amai” (Everyone to the mother).
A first time visitor to the country would be forgiven for thinking that Zupco was her private company and not a struggling parastatal.
While her supporters travelled on Zupco buses, Grace has been travelling in a presidential helicopter flanked by two Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopters.
Grace is however, not in a club of one when it comes to abusing state resources, as the Mugabe regime which has always aspired for a one-party state has perfected the art over time.
Many other governments formed by liberation movements have also used this model, in line with the Soviet-style of administration where the ruling party has authority over the government.
In Zanu PF’s case, government structures — the military and parastatals — have all played a critical role to prop up the party.
The army has been pivotal in campaigning for Zanu PF, as seen by its violent intervention to rescue Mugabe and Zanu PF after losing the first round of March 2008 presidential elections.
Parastatals, which in any case are heavily militarised, have been also important in propping up Zanu PF by, among other things, making cash donations during elections and availing their vehicles to Zanu PF campaign teams.
The National Railways of Zimbabwe, for example, is known to transport party supporters to rallies and party functions such as conferences and congresses, while the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has been crucial in spreading party propaganda.
Another political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Zanu PF is operating like a liberation movement, hence the lack of separation of powers between the state and the party.
“There is no appreciation of democracy and a healthy separation of state and party. In independent Zimbabwe, this lack of separation enhances a well-oiled patronage system in which party loyalty is rewarded with seats at the feeding trough, which is abuse of state resources and corruption,” he said.
“Zanu PF is anchored by state resources both in its abuse of state finances, as well as abuse of state security apparatuses.”
Crucially also, government ministries have been doing party work with the local government structures, as an example, being used to organise party functions.
Ministries such as Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment and Small and Medium Enterprises are often used as conduits to fund party activities.
The lack of a clear line of separation between the state and the party has, however, resulted in abuse of resources. It is a shame that opposition parties and Zimbabwean civil society have been largely quiet as the plague spreads.
First Lady’s abuse of state resources: What opposition parties said
Opposition parties have described as “criminal” First Lady Grace Mugabe’s abuse of a US$98 million loan Zimbabwe secured from Brazil to fund what is increasingly seen as a bid to succeed her 91-year-old husband.
“Heaven forbid! Heaven forbid if that woman becomes the next president of this country,” former finance minister and People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti told NewZimbabwe.com in an interview.
“To give it to Grace who is not a member of the government and on a platform of patronage it reflects two things; number one — it reflects the lack of sincerity of Zimbabwe around debt contraction which has a bearing over its so-called debt relief effort as we saw in Lima, Peru.
“Secondly, it’s a reflection of the fact that these guys are just concerned with power and looting; there are no principles, there are no values, there are no standards.”
“This is vote-buying, it’s illegal and also very criminal,” Douglas Mwonzora of the MDC-T said.
“The First Lady has even said that she is giving these donations in order to entice people to vote for Zanu PF.” — Staff Writer.