As Zimbabwe prepares to go to the polls next year, fears are mounting that the government is covertly boosting Zanu-PF’s election prospects through a surge of “empowerment programmes”.
The programmes, which target youth, women and small and medium-sized business owners, allow Zimbabweans to apply for loans ranging between $500 and $ 5 000, payable over six months.
The latest programme, launched last week under the ministry of small and medium enterprises headed by Sithembiso Nyoni, provides loans intended to “champion business projects”.
The state company spearheading the empowerment drive, the Small Enterprises Development Corporation, has pledged to give funding to those unable to provide collateral security.
Pamela Dlamini (44), a mother of two who is desperately in need of money to kick-start her almost insolvent boutique, told the Mail & Guardian that she had waited three weeks for her application to be processed in spite of meeting all the requirements.
Dlamini said that ‘there are too many strings attached to these loans”. She regularly attended meetings to check on her application, where she faced pressure to support Zanu-PF.
A beneficiary of the programme, Rutendo Hove, who received $500 towards her poultry-rearing business, said that “if you are a Zanu-PF member and have a [party] card, there is no need for collateral”.
Tongai Matutu, the Movement for Democratic Change-linked deputy minister of youth development, indigenisation and empowerment, said this week that “there are strong indications that Zanu-PF is not being sincere when it comes to the issue of empowerment and the loans are benefiting its people and sidelining everyone else.
Zanu-PF will use anything as bait for the purposes of getting votes next year.” This year’s budget allocations for the youth and women’s ministries, Matutu said, stood at $400 000 apiece.
The funds have to be distributed across the country’s 10 provinces, generating fierce competition among people “scrabbling to get the little that’s there”. For the past decade in Zimbabwe election campaigns have included widespread vote-buying and the politicisation of food relief.
The human rights group Zimbabwe Peace Project noted in a report this year that “cases of politicisation of food aid and discrimination along party political party lines still remain high”.
At the height of the country’s economic meltdown in 2008, Zanu-PF notoriously conducted a “No [party] card, no mealie meal” campaign in rural areas, in which chiefs and tribal leaders gave food only to holders of Zanu-PF membership cards in the areas they controlled.
In the 2008 election there were widespread media reports of vote-buying. The Reserve Bank was accused of paying for farm implements such as bags of maize seed and equipment, including ploughs and tractors that were given only to Zanu-PF card-holders before the election.
Political observers fear that the newly discovered diamond wealth in Zimbabwe’s Marange area could be harnessed for the empowerment programme, as Zanu-PF enjoys tight control of mining operations.
“Everything about Marange has been done in secrecy. Even the diamond sale held last month was facilitated by military men,” said a government official who requested anonymity.
In July the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme allowed Zimbabwe to sell off part of a stockpile of five million carats of diamonds in two auctions.