By Richard Chidza
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s $20 million agricultural inputs scheme — a project widely seen as a vote-buying gimmick— is turning out to be his biggest setback in the drive to lure new voters.
The programme, launched at the Zanu PF headquarters early this month, roared into life last week in most provinces where it has been hijacked by party office bearers and marauding bands of youths. In the process the rank and file of the party have been sidelined.
A groundswell of discontent is building among ordinary villagers and farmers who feel alienated after top Zanu PF officials who have hijacked the distribution snubbed them.
Chaos and politicisation has hit the $20 million project, whose handling by Zanu PF leaders on the grassroots level has left potential voters angry dealing a blow to the 88-year-old’s bid to retain existing voters and win new supporters.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the scheme was for Zanu PF cadres only, confirming the disgruntlement among impoverished villagers who had hoped the Mugabe scheme could pull them out of their situation.
“The presidential inputs scheme is a Zanu PF programme that is meant to benefit members of the party,” said Gumbo.
“It is not a government programme and I do not see why anybody who is not a member of the party should feel aggrieved,” Gumbo told the Daily News on Friday.
In areas such as Manicaland’s Mutare North constituency, villagers say the abuse linked to Mugabe’s input scheme has put them off, adding the project has done little to win their hearts.
In villages and resettlement areas such as Mukuni South, Nyamajura and Dora, villagers were seething with anger after only a handful of Zanu PF office bearers received between 10 to 15kg of maize seed last week.
“The President will get votes from those few people receiving the seed since the rest of us are being snubbed,” said a traditional leader who refused to be named. He said he travelled to Zumbare Growth Point on Thursday where the inputs were being distributed only to be told off.
“Only a few people in Zanu PF’s books were given the seed. Others were told to wait for another consignment. The scheme has deepened resentment for Zanu PF. People are wondering why Zanu PF leaders are creating this hostility if they want Mugabe to win. Pamwe ndiro bhora musango racho (Maybe it is a way of undermining Mugabe’s popularity).”
Phillip Jasintu, the MDC deputy youth chairperson for Mutare North constituency, said even resettled farmers known for their allegiance to Zanu PF failed to benefit when seed was distributed at Nyamajura Community Hall on Thursday.
“It was only for the Zanu PF at heart. No one else was considered. In fact some farmers were being chided for demanding the seed when they have not been attending party meetings,” he said.
Gorden Kanetsa of Chikuni Village said many villagers were put off after being snubbed from the project last year. “We did not bother to pursue it because last year during the distribution held at Dora Secondary School, we were told it was for Zanu PF people only. We will meet at the ballot,” said Kanetsa.
Mugabe is still reeling following a devastating 2008 first round defeat to veteran trade unionist and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
A subsequent bloody run-off election in which hundreds lost their lives was condemned at home and abroad with Mugabe’s erstwhile comrades in the region ditching the veteran Zimbabwean strongman.
Mugabe, at the helm of the country since independence from Britain 32 years ago, sheepishly agreed to form a coalition government with his arch foe, that is expected to pave way for an uncontested election expected next year.
MDC Mashonaland West chairperson Japhet Karemba told the Daily News that non-Zanu PF members and the elderly were being turned away.
“They should not lie to Zimbabweans that it is for every citizen. It is a Zanu PF vote buying project because Zanu PF chairpersons are in-charge of the distribution and our people are being turned away. Those that are not active members of Zanu PF are being turned away or they do not even know about the programme at all,” Karemba said.
Reports from Manicaland and Mashonaland Central where Mugabe personally launched the scheme, indicated that most of the committees set up to manage the distribution of the inputs are members of Zanu PF amid accusations of corruption and nepotism.
Interestingly Zanu PF this week deployed politburo members to drum up support and activate its election machinery ahead of a party conference to be held in Gweru next month.
Zanu PF’s political life hinges on winning the next elections with commentators saying a loss would signal the demise of the once mighty political institution as happened to United National Independence Party in Zambia and Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi Congress Party. Daily News