ZIMBABWE’S co-Vice-Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko — the two remaining liberation struggle stalwarts in government besides President Robert Mugabe and a few others — fiercely clashed in cabinet over the command agriculture project and the official economic blueprint, ZimAsset.
By Bernard Mpofu/Kudzai Kuwaza
Command agriculture is a government scheme initially aimed at producing two million tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land, using farmers identified and given inputs, irrigation and mechanised equipment for the purpose. ZimAsset, in full the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation, is government’s official five-year economic blueprint.
High-profile official sources said Mnangagwa, who chairs the cabinet committee on food security and nutrition and is thus spearheading command agriculture, clashed with Mphoko as simmering tensions over the project finally erupted in front of Mugabe.
“Mphoko, since last week, but more so directly this week in cabinet triggered the fight when he said command agriculture has now become a parallel programme run by an individual for self-serving ends while undermining ZimAsset,” a senior official said.
“He went on to suggest Mnangagwa was now operating as a lone ranger with his faction and this was detrimental to ZimAsset. Mphoko also said ZimAsset sought to create two million jobs by 2018, but this was being sabotaged by those employing soldiers in command agriculture when army officers are already employed. This basically sparked off the fight.”
Another official said Mnangagwa furiously hit back, saying Mphoko’s comments were strange and needless.
“Mnangagwa fought back, saying command agriculture is a government project and Mphoko should know that as this has been explained in cabinet and in public; he also said it was weird such questions were now being asked in the first place. But Mphoko went ballistic, warning Mnangagwa could not silence him because they are equals. He reminded him that his boss is Mugabe, not him. All the while Mugabe just kept quiet.”
At least 2 000 farmers were expected to participate in the US$515 million scheme. Mnangagwa has said government’s project got oversubscribed to about US$1 billion. He said the banking sector offered US$300 million; Sakunda US$264 million and National Social Security Authority US$20 million, among other offers.
President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba — who is in the Mnangagwa Zanu PF faction — said on Tuesday while addressing mourners at the burial of his late wife, Idaishe Olivia Chengu-Charamba, in Mutorashanga, Sakunda was funding the programme. Sakunda is owned by Zanu PF benefactor Kuda Tagwirei.
“Let it be known that command agriculture is not being funded by public funds, nothing is coming from taxpayers. The money is coming from Sakunda Holdings through their company Trafigura,” he said. “These are committed Zimbabweans bound by the love of their country who came to fund the project.”
Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who together with Mphoko belongs to Grace Mugabe’s G40 faction, has said command agriculture has largely been a failure as it has used US$500 million to contract 247 035 hectares of which 191 124ha (77%) were tilled, while only 153 102,6% (61%) were actually planted.
Another G40 ally, Agriculture minister Joseph Made, has said only US$190 million had been used to plant 160 000ha of maize.
However, Mnangagwa and his allies have hailed the project as a huge success, exposing serious policy discord over the issue in government.
But Policy Co-ordination and Promotion of Socio-Economic Ventures minister Simon Khaya Moyo said yesterday there was no policy clash within government, adding the two programmes were meant to complement each other.
“There is no confusion at all in government. As you know, ZimAsset is the official government blueprint that was crafted by the party (Zanu PF) and adopted by government after the 2013 elections,” he said. “This blueprint is premised on four clusters which include food security. There is no contradiction between the two as command agriculture ensures food security.”
Government’s decision to embark on command agriculture was necessitated by worsening national food insecurity, from about 12% in 2011 to 42% last year.
The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report has said four million Zimbabweans need food aid because of an El-Nino-induced drought. Food insecurity became entrenched after government’s violent and chaotic land reform programme, which destroyed agriculture.
Officials said Mphoko also attacked Mnangagwa for allegedly militarising the command agriculture project.
The Independent understands nine lieutenant-colonels and 65 majors from the Zimbabwe National Army and other senior Zimbabwe Defence Forces officers have been deployed under the command agriculture programme.
The sources said Mnangagwa defended himself, saying the project has not been militarised and was voluntary — not Soviet-style or Stalinist. Mugabe, sources said, did not intervene during the harsh exchanges between his two deputies. Mphoko bitterly complained the command agriculture programme was now sabotaging the over-ambitious US$27 billion ZimAsset and that was unacceptable.
“The contestation was on factional lines with ministers backing the two vice-presidents clearly showing their political prefrences,” a source said.
This week in parliament, Buhera South legislator Joseph Chinotimba made a statement of privilege glorifying the command agriculture programme before MDC-T MP Murisi Zwizai countered him, saying the programme was not there to support individual agendas.
“As Members of Parliament, God blessed us with enough rains and people were able to produce a lot or crops through command agriculture. As parliament, we would like to support such initiatives. We would like to thank the minister and the vice-president. They should remain steadfast so that we continue to have a good harvest. If we have bumper harvests, we will not be perpetually bothering (Public Service) Minister (Priscah) Mupfumira for food support. If possible, these people should be promoted. I thank you,” Chinotimba said.
Zwizai countered Chinotimba, saying: “I rise on a point of correction. As parliament, we are not here to belittle the President. He is the one who initiated the command agriculture. We do not accept Zanu PF factions to come here to compete and praise those that are in the succession race. Mr Speaker, this House is not an arena for factions that are in the succession race. Command agriculture was initiated by His Excellency, the President Cde RG Mugabe. If you want to thank (anyone), you should thank him. I thank you.”