news in depth:BY BRENNA MATENDERE
FIRST lady Auxillia Mnangagwa’s business partners, among them a ruling Zanu PF senator, are on the list of people meant to benefit from a $600 million (US$25 million) fund to cushion vulnerable populations against the Covid-19 lockdown.
This publication, working in collaboration with Information for Development Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting journalists to report on bad governance and corruption, made the discovery during an investigation into how the fund was being managed.
The government established the fund after decreeing a lockdown in late March 2020, to benefit small-scale traders and other vulnerable groups whose incomes would be affected by the restricted movements and closure of businesses.
Thousands apply, hundreds enter
Investigations have established that, in the sprawling Kwekwe district — President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s home town in the Midlands province — some 6 000 aspiring beneficiaries applied when the fund was announced, but the local office of the Social Welfare ministry that was co-ordinating the applications ended up with just under 500.
No disbursements of the fund have been made in Kwekwe yet because the initial tranche disbursed by government has been exhausted.
The final list was submitted to the social welfare department by a group of businesspeople, most of whom are linked to Zanu PF, largely at the exclusion of ward heads or councillors, who were supposed to be part of the process, it was established.
Elliot Mudumo, the head of the Kwekwe district social welfare office, declined to comment on the scam and referred all questions to the Information ministry.
Kwekwe, just like other parts of the country, has a bustling informal sector due to the high unemployment rate caused by the closure or downsizing of companies such as Ziscosteel, Lancashire Steel and Sable Chemicals.
In the early days of the lockdown, sources in Kwekwe claimed, there was a widespread belief that the fund would present an opportunity for well-connected people to milk government coffers through false claims.
But the per capita disbursements turned out to be a paltry $200, translating to less than US$10 per month for each individual on the average March 2020 official bank rate.
First lady’s business cronies
Available documents show that Perseverance Zhou, the ruling Zanu PF proportional representation lawmaker for the Kwekwe constituency, was on the list.
Senator Zhou is listed with her national identity number (58-045574L48) and her NetOne mobile line, which she meant to use to receive the cash transfers.
The lawmaker is also a gold miner and enjoys parliamentary benefits like sitting allowances, a monthly salary, a luxurious vehicle and fuel coupons.
Zhou holds shares in a company — PPAC Investments Private Limited — that is jointly owned by Mnangagwa’s wife Auxillia and two other well-known businesswomen, Pinky Sibanda and Cynthia Kangoli, according to information obtained from the Deeds Office.
PPAC is a combination of the first letters of the names of the four directors, with “P” standing for Perseverance (Senator Zhou), the other “P” for Pinky (Sibanda), “A” for Auxillia (Mnangagwa) and “C” for Cynthia (Kangoli).
On the company registration form (CR 14), the first lady is listed as Auxillia Kutyauripo, which is her maiden surname, but the physical address is kept as Precabe Farm, the first family’s property in Sherwood just outside Kwekwe.
It was not immediately clear why she used her maiden name and avoided the Mnangagwa family one.
PPAC Investments was registered on November 21, 2013 on registration number 8904/2 while the firm banks with ZB Bank Kwekwe branch through an account number in our possession.
The three business partners are considered wealthy and the company that they jointly run with the president’s wife owns Kwekwe Recreational Park in addition to other thriving businesses in the Midlands.
On her own admission, Zhou has always been aware of her inclusion on the list, but did not intervene to get it removed despite her not qualifying.
Zhou, though, insisted that it was not her fault that she was listed among beneficiaries of the Covid-19 fund.
“I belong to several organisations, so I am sure one of them submitted my name during the first 21 days of the lockdown when the call was made,” she said.
“I am also aware that there are other undeserving people (on the list) like teachers, but honestly, in my case, the fault falls on those who submitted the names. I am into associations of women, so I think when they submitted their lists, they just included me since I am a member. I am hoping to go and correct the anomaly,” added Zhou.
Also on the list is Sarudzai Tuhwe, the Zanu PF chairperson for Mbizo 9, and Aliness Muganho, a ruling party member who works at Kwekwe General Hospital’s cleaning unit.
Veterans of the war of liberation, who have no known history as small-scale traders are on the list and include Erasmus Muzenda, Linda Nyevera, Partison Mafute and Ruth Mirrian Nhari — an ex-police inspector.
Fully-employed teachers on the list include Lorini Gwazani, who works at Russell Primary School, Joye Gunda and a deputy school head, Catherine Masvingise, who teaches at Tasungana Primary School in Kwekwe.
“The official list, which was presented by our representatives was thrown away by senior Zanu PF officials who wanted party loyalists to benefit from the money,” said a well-known female informal trader, who refused to be named.
The Member of Parliament for Mbizo, Settlement Chikwinya from the opposition MDC Alliance, agreed with the informal trader.
“Zanu PF clearly abused the scheme to benefit undeserving members of their party at the expense of genuine cases, which required assistance under the Covid-19 social welfare fund. MDC Alliance councillors submitted names, but they were never considered,” said Chikwinya.
But the ruling party refuted accusations of manipulating the selection process.
The Zanu PF provincial spokesperson, Cornelius Mupereri, blamed the bungling on opposition councillors, who dominate the Kwekwe urban council.
“Allegations that Zanu PF hijacked the process of selecting vulnerable traders are false and baseless. The process was being handled by councillors who are, in fact, from the opposition. They were working with officials from the social welfare department and we weren’t involved as a party,” said Mupereri.
The Kwekwe-based Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) said it would soon make a court application to stop the use of the “polluted list” of prospective beneficiaries and the involvement of political parties in selecting beneficiaries.
Sten Zvorwadza, the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) chairperson, said his organisation had submitted names to the government but none had been considered.
“The National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe shared the list of some of our Kwekwe members with the ministry of Small to Medium Enterprises, but nothing happened and, to date, none of them got considered for the payments,” he said.
Taking the blame
The Kwekwe district co-ordinator, Fortune Mpungu, said that, while he had not received formal complaints regarding the disputed list, his office would launch a verification exercise to identify anomalies if requested to do so.
Small to Medium Enterprises minister Sithembiso Nyoni seemed to blame her counterparts at the Social Welfare ministry for bungling in the vetting process.
“Our job was to encourage the vulnerable vendors to register their names with their associations before submitting to us. We then submitted the names to the ministry of Social Welfare. They are the ones who did the vetting and they know how they vetted the (vendors),” she said.
Social Welfare minister Paul Mavima took the blame for the manipulated selections and admitted that his department was supposed to do the vetting of applicants.
“It’s my ministry, which was supposed to do the vetting. We have to go back and see what exactly happened and, if undeserving people got the money, they must reimburse it. Why would a teacher, for instance, want to be on a list of vendors? That’s the height of dishonesty,” said Mavima.
He added that Zhou was not supposed to be on the list of prospective beneficiaries.
“Why would a senator or MP be on that list?” he queried.