MDC gets on the gravy train

Controversy over state funding for Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s mansion has added to growing questions among opposition activists about whether their leaders are growing too comfortable in power.

Police are investigating whether Tsvangirai received state payments from two different departments for his new Harare mansion and whether a close relative embezzled some of these funds.

Tsvangirai denies any wrongdoing and his supporters see it as part of a campaign to discredit him. But the case has drawn attention to frustration among some of his supporters, who criticise their party leaders for allowing themselves to be plied with state privileges.

Tsvangirai continues to live in his private home nearly three years after he was sworn in as prime minister. His officials say he refused to move into Zimbabwe House, which President Robert Mugabe used to occupy when he was prime minister. Mugabe has also vacated his official State House residence for his private mansion.

According to officials of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Tsvangirai secured the property from a wealthy associate, said to be a major funder of his party, although it would be paid for by the government.


Police are now investigating whether Tsvangirai accepted two payments of $1.5-million each from both the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the treasury for the same property. It is alleged that the bank payment may have been embezzled by Hebson Makuvise, a cousin of Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Germany.

Tsvangirai’s office has dismissed the claim and refused to discuss it further.

Continuing probes
The double-storey mansion, built against a hill and protected by high walls, is located in one of Harare’s wealthiest suburbs, Highlands. It is now being renovated and several new wings are being added. Tsvangirai’s officials say he needs the larger property to be able to perform his duties as premier.

The Tsvangirai investigation is one of several continuing probes by police against senior members of the MDC.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti faces a police investigation into whether he signed off on unauthorised foreign trips for members of staff, including a woman whom state media claim was his mistress. Five officials in Biti’s office were arrested recently on allegations of fraud related to the case.

Biti is appealing to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe against a high-court order allowing police access to his cellphone records, which they say hold evidence of improper use of state funds.

Ironically, Biti has criticised the government’s high spending on foreign trips. “Foreign travel remains high compared to other items such as education, health, water and sanitation,” Biti said when he presented a budget review statement earlier this month.

“We have spent more than $30-million on foreign travel and I have made an appeal to the leadership of government to deal viciously and boldly with this disease called foreign travel.”

Mugabe blew the biggest amount on travel by spending $20-million, which is well above his annual travel budget of $15-million. Most of his trips were to the Far East, where he has been receiving medical attention.

Although Tsvangirai has spent much less than Mugabe, his office spent the biggest proportion of its budget — 42% — on foreign travel.

In total, the government’s foreign-travel bill accounted for 0.4% of gross domestic product, Biti said.

Amid this controversy, the Mail & Guardian has also learnt that ministers have authorised the purchase of more than 100 new SUVs for themselves and other senior officials.

About 130 vehicles have been acquired through the central mechanical engineering department, which procures vehicles for the state.

They comprise 40 “limited edition” 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees, each bought at close to $35 000, which will be given to Cabinet ministers. Their deputies will get 40 Land Cruiser SUVs with V8 engines, and 50 Toyota Prados were imported for permanent secretaries.

The car purchases have been criticised by unions representing government workers, but government officials’ reactions to these car acquisitions suggest just how many politicians want to profit from office: MPs on both sides have responded by demanding their own consignment of SUVs.

Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, who chairs the MPs’ welfare committee, said they wanted new vehicles because their existing cars had been “damaged” in extensive travel during the government’s constitutional outreach programme.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Jason Moyo
Guest Author

Related stories

The Trump era is over. But the fight for democracy is just getting started

A respected and robust United States — with all of our flaws, mistakes and missteps — can be good for the defence of democracy, not least in Africa

Citizens tired of being played for a fool

The use of a South African Air Force jet by ANC officials without the minister following the required procedures is one such case — and more questions arise on examination of that case

Remembering Patson Dzamara

Remembering Patson Dzamara, the Zimbabwean activist who never stopped searching for his brother

Why do presidents cling to power?

Four former heads of state speak about what being president is actually like

What is happening in Mali is a coup. We must call it that

Zimbabwe called its coup a military-assisted transition to sidestep sanctions. Mali is doing the same. But failing to call power grabs by their name makes it harder to defend democracy

State of democracy in Africa: Changing leaders doesn’t change politics

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index Africa Report 2020, A Changing of the Guards or A Change of Systems?, suggests that we should be cautious about the prospects for rapid political improvements
Advertising

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

Eusebius McKaiser: Mpofu, Gordhan caught in the crosshairs

The lawyer failed to make his Indian racist argument and the politician refused to admit he had no direct evidence

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance

Public-private partnerships are key for Africa’s cocoa farmers

Value chain efficiency and partnerships can sustain the livelihoods of farmers of this historically underpriced crop

Battery acid, cassava sticks and clothes hangers: We must end...

COMMENT: The US’s global gag rule blocks funding to any foreign NGOS that perform abortions, except in very limited cases. The Biden-Harris administration must rescind it
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…