By Bridget Mananavire
At a time that long-suffering Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends meet, President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF is splurging up to $60 million on a new fleet of cars, trucks and buses, ahead of next year’s eagerly-awaited national elections.
This also comes as the country’s stone-broke government is planning to splash millions more on brand new cars for traditional leaders, in a move that has been roundly condemned as “sickening vote buying” by Zanu PF ahead of the watershed polls — and not withstanding other more urgent needs.
Well-placed Zanu PF sources told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the warring former liberation movement would soon take delivery of 365 new vehicles for use in campaigns for the 2018 elections.
The insiders said they had “no clue” where the party, which is struggling to fund its conferences and to pay salaries for its staff, got the money for the new fleet.
Among the new fleet are Ford Fiestas — similar to the ones which were recently purchased for the police — top of the range Ford Rangers and buses.
On average, the Ford Fiestas fetch up to $25 000 each on the local market, while a standard Ford Ranger single cab starts at about $40 000.
Zanu PF secretary for transport Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri refused to shed light on the source of the party’s money yesterday, and how much the new fleet would cost.
“That is party business and I will not discuss that with the press … sorry,” she told the Daily News on Sunday.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC branded the purchase of the vehicles as “immoral and insensitive” to the plight of long-suffering Zimbabweans.
“We have repeatedly stated, and we repeat it here that Zanu PF is a full-fledged mafia organisation.
“At a time when millions of Zimbabweans are struggling to access their hard-earned money from banks, the Zanu PF regime has gone on a motor vehicle buying spree, splashing more than $60 million on new cars and buses for their 2018 election campaign.
“The source of the money is most likely the proceeds of the illicit sale of the country’s diamonds and wildlife. The RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) is completely and utterly powerless to act where Zanu PF is concerned.
“In fact, the RBZ easily becomes a de facto extension of the Zanu PF department of finance when it comes to facilitating illicit, fraudulent, corrupt and illegal financial transactions.
“Remember, the regime is also going to spend millions of United States dollars buying motor vehicles for chiefs in a clear and unmitigated vote buying gimmick in preparation for next year’s elections,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu railed.
“As the MDC and also as the country’s largest and most popular political party, this is why we are strenuously pushing for electoral reforms in order to make the playing field even.
“How are we supposed to compete with a mafia organisation that has looted, ransacked and grabbed the country’s natural resources to push its wicked and nefarious political agenda?” he added.
In a move that was roundly criticised by the opposition as “2018 bribes”, the government announced last week that it was going to splurge millions of scarce dollars on new vehicles for traditional leaders.
Speaking in Parliament, Rural Development minister Abedinico Ncube revealed that government would be buying new cars for 226 chiefs, as part of the fulfilment of the promises that Zanu PF had made in the aftermath of the 2013 elections.
“It (buying new cars) is something we are working on. We are going to give them (chiefs) very shortly … all 226 registered chiefs will get the cars,” Ncube said, responding to questions on how much the government had budgeted for chiefs’ to have vehicles before the expiry of the current parliamentary term.
Apart from splurging on new cars for the traditional leaders, the stone-broke government will also continue to pay village heads $25 in monthly allowances.
“They are not given salaries, but this is an allowance. Every village head is entitled to be given an allowance,” Ncube said.
Traditional leaders have often been accused by the opposition and rights groups of aiding Zanu PF to retain power through terror campaigns and partisan food distribution in rural areas.
While Zanu PF and the government are doling out cash like confetti, life has become more and more unbearable for millions of long-suffering Zimbabweans, as the local economy continues to die.
This comes as Zimbabwe has just been officially ranked as the poorest country in Africa, at a time that the nation is also experiencing a severe shortage of cash.
The cash shortages have seen snaking queues becoming a permanent feature at banks around the country, as panic has set in among both ordinary Zimbabweans and businesses — amid understandable fears that the dying economy is hurtling towards the debilitating lows of 2008.
Despite the RBZ introducing more bond notes into the market and increasing their weekly importation of United States dollars by 50 percent, the government is dismally failing to stem the country’s severe cash shortages which have seen desperate Zimbabweans besieging overstretched banks.
The acute cash crisis has led to renewed calls for the country to adopt the South African rand as Zimbabwe’s anchor currency, to stem an impending economic implosion.
Recently, tobacco farmers rioted over cash, in ugly incidents which saw heavily armed police officers engaging in running battles with them at the auction floors.
Zimbabwe is deep in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis which has led to horrendous company closures and the consequent loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
At the same time, economists have said poverty levels in the country are skyrocketing, with average incomes now at their lowest levels in more than 60 years — with more than 76 percent of the country’s families now having to make do with pitiful incomes that are well below the poverty datum line.
According to the Africa 2016 Wealth Report, Zimbabwe is ranked as the country with the poorest people on the continent, with average wealth of $200 per person.
In the report, AfrAsia — a Mauritius-domiciled financial institution which once operated in Zimbabwe after acquiring the now-defunct Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited — noted that back in 2000, Zimbabwe was one of the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa on a wealth per capita basis. Daily News