Source: ZANU-PF in populism overdrive | The Financial Gazette February 9, 2017
By Alois Vinga
WHILE opposition parties are busy bickering over the establishment of a coalition, the ruling ZANU-PF party is actively perfecting its elections winning formula, based on populism.
With Sate machinery at its disposal, the governing party’s populist agenda is certain to rip apart its rivals at the next polls, unless they awoken from their deep slumber.
Through its political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, who runs the Local Government Ministry, over 300 000 housing units would be rolled out to desperate home seekers before the 2018 elections as ZANU-PF casts its net deep into the opposition’s urban vote fishing pond.
To be carried out as part of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation programme espoused in its 2013 elections manifesto, the scheme will deliver 105 935 housing units in Harare; Midlands (56 760); Matabeleland North (28 772); Mashonaland West (23 819); Manicaland (21 830); Masvingo (20 269); Mashonaland Central (16 607); Bulawayo (15 100); Matabeleland South (12 500) and 11 776 in Mashonaland East.
Kasukuwere has also promised to deliver over 500 000 housing units to the civil servants, through another programme whose details remain sketchy.
As if that is not enough, the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment has joined the fray.
It will avail 15 000 more housing units just outside the dormitory town of Chitungwiza to ZANU-PF youths, before extending the programme to other cities.
“We have identified Denoda Farm, just outside Chitungwiza, and we plan to embark on a massive housing project… having realised that as youths we do not have enough money to purchase housing stands and pay for our rentals at the same time,” said Patrick Zhuwao, the Youth Minister.
The populism goes beyond the provision of housing.
With large companies going under owing to the harsh economic environment, most people are turning to self-help projects to make ends meet.
In mining, there has been an increase in artisanal mining activities, with government increasingly turning a blind eye to the environmental damage it is causing.
In order to get political mileage out of it, ZANU-PF has lined up initiatives to capture artisanal miners.
Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, has announced plans to establish a mining industry loan fund for small scale miners.
The Mines Ministry is also reviewing all reserved areas with a view of considering them for prospecting and pegging for interested investors.
Those targeted in this category number between 600 000 and 800 000 artisanal miners, spread across the length and breadth of the country. This is expected to give the ruling party yet another potential massive pool of voters. In farming, government is targeting to produce two million tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land.
Two thousand farmers have been given inputs and equipment under the command agriculture programme to help restore Zimbabwe’s bread-basket status.
In education, grants for university and college students would be reintroduced after being scrapped years ago due to funding constraints.
Notwithstanding the fact that government is in a serious financial rut, money for those grants shall be found just in time to make sure ZANU-PF attracts some votes from the youthful population.
Still in education, more than 5 000 students were supported under government’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics programme for A Level students.
The initiative, with an acronym STEM, was introduced by Higher and Tertiary Education Minister, Jonathan Moyo, who is also a key ZANU-PF Politburo member.
Not to be left out, the Ministry of Labour has given the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) a directive to increase pensioners’ monthly payouts from US$60 to US$150 by June this year.
“We understand that there are several investments which were made by NSSA in the past, some of which failed to materialise, while others are doing quite well. However, as government we are of the opinion that the US$60 which is being paid out to pensioners is not enough and something must be done to address the situation,” remarked Labour Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, recently.
“We have since given a directive to the NSSA board to come up with strategies to generate funds which will ultimately see the authority increasing the pension payout by March 31, 2017,” she added.
With ZANU-PF’s sights now firmly set on the 2018 general elections, its monstrous machinery is likely to leave no stone unturned to get voters on the party’s side.
As it is, communities are being raved, left, right and centre – preparing them for the make-or-break plebiscite.
The lure for votes is known to push ZANU-PF to do unthinkable things.
The party will just do anything it takes to win the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans come each election.
Its populism agenda is just grand with parastatals such as the Grain Marketing Board, the National Railways of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation being typical examples of State-owned enterprises that are made to over-employ thousands of people to prop up the ruling party’s populism agenda.
Populism is a mass mobilisation technique used by politicians to garner the support of fragmented clusters of people through policies or actions that seek to unite the ordinary people, otherwise for the politicians’ selfish gain.
Africa Check factsheet has it that in 2013, ZANU-PF promised to create value to the tune of US$73 billion from the indigenisation of 1 138 companies across 14 key sectors of the economy. This, it said, was going to enable national development banks to “finance the rehabilitation of key economic enablers and social infrastructure to create employment and economic prosperity for all Zimbabweans”.
In the lead up to the July 2013 polls, people got excited because of the promises, and this helped ZANU-PF win the harmonised elections, resoundingly.
In the run up to the 2013 polls, a number of presidential initiatives were also unveiled. These included the US$5,9 million National Presidential Youth Initiative and a US$19,5 million Presidential Scholarship Programme, which thrilled youths into casting their votes for ZANU-PF.
The list of ZANU-PF’s populist promises is endless: It even includes a pledge to create some 2,2 million jobs.
The 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) Report has raised concern over the rise of populism the world over.
The report warned that the increase in this phenomenon was a threat to human rights as governments are progressively claiming more and more to be acting in the people’s interests, yet their interests are largely self-centred.
“Human rights exist to protect people from government abuse and neglect. Rights limit what a State can do and impose obligations for how a State must act. Yet today a new generation of populists is turning this protection on its head. Claiming to speak for ‘the people’, they treat rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils,” observed HRW executive director, Kenneth Roth.
Political analyst, Rejoice Ngwenya, said it was clear that ZANU-PF was already in serious campaigning mode.
Because ZANU-PF does not have the capacity to meet the populist promises being made, parastatals and government coffers are seen being hijacked in the electioneering process.
“However, it will be difficult to hold the party to account since the government has a mandate to serve the public so the thin line between financing populist projects and normal government work is difficult to discern,” said Ngwenya.
Economist, John Robertson, said while most of the projects were feasible, there was need for government to act in a way that would attract investment.
“When the government fails to pay debts accrued by government entities whose funds are used to finance popular projects such burdens are passed down to ordinary citizens. There is need to make promises that add value to the economy,” said Robertson.
Government insists that economic empowerment has always been at the heart of ZANU-PF and that those who think the party was embarking on populist campaigns were enemies of indigenisation.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister, Christopher Mushohwe, said ZANU-PF did not just fight the war to remove the whites from power but to eradicate poverty among its people.
“While we gave land to the people, we still realised that we needed to empower them in all spheres of the economy which is why government has embarked on programmes that avail agricultural inputs, formalising small scale miners so that the country does not run short of anything. Allegations that empowering the people is populist signifies cheap politics from opposition elements who have no programmes to offer the people,” said Mushohwe.