THE Zanu PF conference currently underway in Goromonzi clearly demonstrates how power consolidation and self-aggrandisement by ruling party elites have taken precedence over an imploding economy which has become a threat to national survival.
Characterised by spiking inflation, a shambolic health delivery system, widespread company closures and rolling power cuts, the economic crisis gripping Zimbabwe is spiralling out of control.
The conference comes when Zimbabwe’s public hospitals have degenerated into death traps as doctors and nurses stay away from work, demanding better salaries and improved working conditions.
The conference, like many others held before, is seen by some analysts as a feeding trough for party bigwigs where numerous recommendations that never see the light of day are made.
Professor of World Politics at the University of London Stephen Chan said “in almost all countries in the world, during times of austerity, all political parties would hold their conferences with a reduction in expensive provision”.
They would do that to show solidarity with a nation going through hard times, he said.This is at a time when restive citizens are struggling to buy the staple commodity, mealie-meal, with the price of a 10-kilogramme bag of the product sharply shooting up from ZW$50 in November to ZW$145 this month.
Zanu PF has splurged ZW$5 million to organise the conference which is being attended by 7 000 of its members drawn from the country’s 10 provinces. An additional 2 000 foreign delegates are also attending the party’s annual gathering.
The party’s provincial organising committee recently announced that 150 head of cattle will be slaughtered during the conference; with plans afoot to secure 400 goats and 5 000 chickens to ensure that Zanu PF’s fat cats are kept well fed.
Ironically, in the midst of the implosion which has left Mnangagwa’s administration in sixes and sevens as solutions to arrest the economic meltdown remain elusive, the conference is being run under the theme “Modernise, Mechanise and Grow the Economy Towards Vision 2030.”
On the back of the ruling party’s annual jamboree, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently projected that Zimbabwe’s economy will contract by over 7%, buffeted by severe headwinds, namely the acute drought, prolonged power cuts and a dip in industrial productivity.
Before President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ascendence to power, past Zanu PF conferences had become predictable events where senior party members would stampede to endorse the continued stay in power of former president Robert Mugabe. And Mugabe, in his power-consolidation project, hijacked the events to consolidate his longevity in office at the expense of addressing the pressing bread-and-butter issues characterising his ruinous tenure.
Similarly, prior to the conference, the party’s secretary for administration, Obert Mpofu, in a revelation that triggered condemnation, said Zanu PF would consider tinkering with the constitution to extend Mnangagwa’s term beyond the two provided for by the law as head of state.
Mnangagwa was agreeable to the plan, quipping that: “We can change the laws … there is nothing that we want that cannot be done because we command two-thirds majority in parliament.”
All the party’s provincial structures had already endorsed Mnangagwa’s candidature for the 2023 polls ahead of the conference.Resources to host the conference have been mobilised, from among other sources, insolvent and dysfunctional state enterprises namely Zesa, Zinwa and TelOne.
While Zesa has contributed money that it does not have to finance the Zanu PF conference, the embattled entity is struggling to recover ZW$1,2 billion it is owed by consumers, mostly government departments and parastatals.
Strikingly, this year’s conference comes at a time Zanu PF has largely failed to implement resolutions from the previous event when the party resolved to deepen democracy and constitutionalism as well as curb graft, among a raft of resolutions.
During last year’s Zanu PF conference held in Esigodini, Mnangagwa, in his address, noted that: “I am happy that all thematic committees have agreed to fight corruption. We want to entrench the rule of law and constitutionalism in the party and country because it is us who fought an armed struggle to give us democracy.”
However, as Mnangagwa’s term hurtles to the end with a fresh election on the horizon, the President this year drew condemnation from various quarters over the heavy-handed manner in which he has handled dissent as well as his lethargic approach to curtail sleaze. His fiercest critics have observed that the ongoing conference will gloss over these shortcomings while exaggerating on the capabilities of Mnangagwa’s administration to remedy the myriad of ills besetting Zimbabwe.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure noted that, historically, Zanu PF has always advanced its narrow interests, such as hosting the extravagant annual conference, ahead of pressing national interests.
“This is reflective of misplaced priorities by Zanu PF government. This problem has been a recurring problem every year. I only remember one incident when (the former late) president Mugabe cancelled the annual jamboree. It was a difficult year and there was a chorus of grumbling by the public and he had to climb down. But apart from that isolated case, Zanu PF has always put ahead of national interests, the interest of the party,” Masunungure noted.
“So it is not entirely surprising that they have invested ZW$5 million which can make a huge difference at Parirenyatwa Hospital. But those are not the normal priorities of the ruling party. Some of the resources (to organise the conference) are milked from state coffers. That is also the case with the Goromonzi conference.”
Political analyst and Habakkuk Trust founder Dumisani Nkomo questioned how Zanu PF had managed to mobilise a hefty ZW$5 million to finance its three-day annual party at a time government was struggling to mobilise resources to remunerate doctors.
“The important question is how that wealth to organise the conference was amassed in a sea of national poverty and in the context of a government that is failing to pay doctors and civil servants. So that is the key question even before we speak about the order of priorities,” Nkomo said.