News in-Depth: Zanu PF well-oiled campaign shows patronage machine at work

A recent Zanu PF rally at Mutawatawa growth point in Uzumba district, Mashonaland East province. Picture: Hilary Maradzika

A day after President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rally in Harare on August 9, thousands of empty boxes of fast foods were strewn across the venue spanning up to more than the size of four soccer fields.

These were the remnants of a feast that brought together two groups: the rich powerful political elite who drove their top-of-the range vehicles from their plush mansions, and  poor Zimbabweans who travelled long distances — some through the night and on empty stomachs — in Zupco buses that were hired by the ruling party.

The stark contrast between the two classes was, as has become the norm at Zanu PF rallies ahead of the August 23, too glaring.

As the pitiable party supporters scrambled for a once-in-five-years chance to get a new piece of clothing for free, in this case a low quality branded T-shirt, cap and scarf, their leaders were showing off different styles of party regalia made from fine cloth, blended with expensive designer dressing and accessories.

Having spent hours travelling, the supporters were clearly hungry and had to put their dignity aside to scramble for the French fries, chicken and fizzy drink provided by the ruling party.

While their leaders sat on fine leather chairs under specially made tents, the ordinary supporters were sitting in the dust, enduring the chilly August breeze.

After the rally, it was another rush back to the cold buses for the supporters as leaders zoomed off in modern vehicles.

Just as happened in Harare, Zanu PF rallies — held in many parts of the country so far — have become a symbol of the acute social and economic inequalities the country has experienced in years.

The inequalities are spurred on by what has been termed ‘exclusionary’ leadership that enriches only a few while impoverishing the majority.’

With the country’s economy continually underperforming and the ordinary workers earning below the poverty datum line, Zimbabwe now only has two major social classes: the very rich and often corrupt politically connected elite and the very poor formal and informal workers.

This has left the extraction of minerals as one of the contentious and lucrative businesses that has the potential to quickly elevate one up the social ladder.

According to recent research, Zanu PF political elites have maintained tight control of the extraction, refinery and export of mineral resources for political gain.

The liberalisation of gold mining in the past years has resulted in the ruling elites controlling the small-scale mining industry, reaping huge payouts from exports at the expense of the communities where the gold is mined.

A recent report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) in partnership with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Zimbabwe Peace Project concluded that artisanal and small scale mining had become ‘an important vehicle for power retention and accumulation by the ruling elites’.

The report released on August 7 is titled:  The Nexus between Mining and Violence Towards 2023 Elections.

The report explains the “strong connections between poor and exclusionary governance, high levels of corruption and human rights abuses, including machete gang violence, gender-based violence, and insecurity which are exploited by callous politicians, businessmen, and transboundary organised criminal gangs”.

According to the report, machete gangs, which are widespread throughout the country, have primary access to the gold mines but they reap little as they surrender most of the proceeds to the “buyers”, the majority of whom are politically connected Zanu PF individuals.

The gangs,  known for using all forms of violent and criminal acts, “enjoy a level of political protection” from prosecution, the report said.

“The organisation and control of the mining sector, especially artisanal miners, is an important cog in the Zanu-PF power retention matrix,” the report reads.

“This includes the utilisation of financial resources from the sector.”

The report says proceeds from gold are part of the reason why Zanu PF’s campaigns are well funded.

The ruling party bought hundreds of high end vehicles for its candidates, and is affording to buy millions of regalia in addition to providing food for supporters.

In April, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ambassador-at-large, Uebert Angel, told undercover Al Jazeera reporters investigating money laundering in Zimbabwe that the Zanu PF leader had a US$240 million war chest in personal funds for the elections.

Mnangagwa was name dropped as the king-pin in the underground gold trade in the documentary.

“Ruling party functionaries utilise the largesse from mining interests rather than the party’s central pot to fund their own campaigns,” the report said.

“This places them at an enormous advantage compared to opposition competitors.”

Zanu PF Mabvuku candidate who is also the National Gold Buyers Association of Zimbabwe chairperson and member of Zanu-PF’s fundraising committee, Scott Sakupwanya, has spent big in his attempt to win the constituency.

Sakupwanya rose to prominence in 2020, when pictures of him posing with gold bars and money amounting to what was said to be $5 million (R94 million) in cash, went viral.

In Al Jazeera’s documentary, Angel said Sakupwanya was “the biggest gold guy in Zimbabwe.

In July, Sakupwanya is reported to have spent well over US$1 million to bring retired American former world boxing champion, Floyd Mayweather to the country.

For his constituency, he has used what he calls personal funds to drill boreholes and resurface some roads.

He also recently “bought” three ambulances and pledged to pay Mabvuku Clinic nurses’ salaries from his own pocket.

According to the report, gold remains a major political issue especially after the government launched an ambitious five-year plan to grow the mining sector earnings to US$ 1.2 billion in 2023 to US$2.7 billion in 2027.

“It is important to observe how such initiatives oil the ruling party’s patronage machine by creating enough spoils for elites to share and therefore maintain coercion,” the report says.

“During interviews, sources pointed out that miners, whether involved in politics or not, are happy to finance activities of the party to protect their interests.

“Some ruling party politicians see their continued accumulation in the sector as intricately tied to power retention, and vice-versa.”

In addition to funding elections, the gold chain is a source of political violence as confirmed by the research.

“There is a heightened risk that mining-linked machete gangs may be instrumentalised for violent political acts leading up to elections,” reads the report.

“Gangs are emboldened by a sense of protection by their sponsors who often are powerful politicians.

“Generally, police are careful to act against makorokoza who are connected to powerful politicians as they first must get clearance.

“In the event of arrests, sponsors call police ordering their release “vapfanha vangu” (these are my guys), bribe the police to secure release, provide lawyers and pay for bail among other things.

“For this reason, it is said, makorokoza” tend to be very loyal to their sponsor.”

In interviews carried out in Chegutu as part of the research, witnesses said there is a “a feeling of helplessness as some violent gang leaders are known to boast of connections with powerful politicians”.

“Each time they are arrested, they are released by the police through the alleged intervention of their political protectors,” the report said.

“In some constituencies, machete gangs have been hired to disrupt rallies of rivals.

“Makorokoza are not after politics but money, so involvement in politics is only at the behest of a political patron.”

The research shows that mining areas, where artisanal mining is rife, pose certain risks for human rights and a free election.

“The machete gang violence initially restricted to gold rushes is now a community-wide phenomenon,” the report added.

“We established that clashes between gangs spill over to other social spaces, creating an environment of fear.

“Ordinary residents and in particular family members and female partners become collateral.

“Gangs are also increasingly associated with criminal activities like murder, robberies and rape.”

ZimRights director, Dzikamai Bere said gold has become a resource curse, and a source of social and economic inequality, political violence and human rights violations.

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