The battle for the control of Harare’s lucrative parking business has apparently set two of President Robert Mugabe’s close Cabinet allies on a collision course. The conflict is seen as yet another manifestation of how the ruling Zanu-PF — which has intensified calls for elections this year – and several bodies and organisations affiliated to the party are gripped by an internal power struggle.
The two allies, Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere (41) and Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo (59), are both senior members of Zanu-PF’s politburo. They have been linked to internal battles in a youth empowerment group with strong links to Zanu-PF, Upfumi Kuvadiki, the leadership of which is locked in a bitter wrangle for control of the organisation.
Upfumi Kuvadiki, which means “wealth to the young people”, has threatened to use violence to take over the City of Harare’s parking business. The militant organisation has now forced Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda to reverse a parking joint venture with South African firm Easipark.
Upfumi Kuvadiki is poised to take over Easipark’s 40% stake in the business and it is the expected windfall from the central business district parking that has caused rifts in the organisation amid strong indications that Kasukuwere is playing a pivotal role in the ongoing power struggle. Employees at Easipark said it generated $10 000 a day.
Asked about the reversal of the deal, Zimbabwe Easipark’s Pegius Dube said: “You can find out about that from the town clerk. I cannot speak about this, the town clerk knows better.”
But new information points out that the two parties — Easipark and City of Harare — have reached a deadlock over the cancellation of their Harare car parking partnership and have agreed to appoint an independent arbitrator.
Minister wanted to elevate alllies
Knowledgeable sources confirmed to the Mail & Guardian this week that the young empowerment minister wanted to elevate people close to him to the leadership of the empowerment lobby group. Upfumi Kuvadiki is likely to benefit from a range of other possible empowerment deals and Kasukuwere has intensified his war with foreign firms to force them to set up empowerment schemes with local groups.
The power struggle in the organisation has culminated in the axing — because of “gross ill-discipline” — of Alson Darikai as chair of Upfumi Kuvadiki and the elevation of Tatenda Maroodza, the organisation’s secretary general, to the position. The latter is said to be Kasukuwere’s uncle. “Kasukuwere wanted to elevate his uncle to become the new chairman of the organisation,” said a source with knowledge of the developments. “He wants to gain control of the organisation because there are empowerment deals that could come along the way.”
But information at hand suggests that Darikai enjoys close ties with Chombo. M&G sources said this was likely to “put Kasukuwere on a collision course” with Chombo, who is considered senior to the youth minister.
Chombo referred all questions about the power struggles in Upfumi Kuvadiki to Kasukuwere, saying he could “comment only on issues to do with local government”.
Kasukuwere was not reachable on his cellphone and Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo had not called back by the time of writing, after initially saying he was in a meeting for the greater part of Thursday.
Although sources in Upfumi Kuvadiki said that Darikai had been fired to pave the way for the elevation of Maroodza, it has emerged that the expected partnership with the Harare City Council could have sparked the bitter stand-off because arguments centred on the formation of a company that would partner Harare.
Darikai confirmed the power struggle for control of the organisation and argued that he was still chair of the youth empowerment lobby group. But Maroodza has since denied the existence of the chairmanship of the organisation, insisting that Darikai, who emphasised that there was a powerful hand behind his axing, was a mere spokesperson for the group.
“My secretary general just wrote me a letter claiming I had been dismissed from Upfumi Kuvadiki even as a member,” said Darikai when contacted for comment. “The issues why I am being dismissed are around Easipark — the meeting we should have with the mayor next week to finalise the Easipark deal and talk about other opportunities.”
Maroodza insists that the decision to expel Darikai stands and that all stakeholders should take note of the development.
Organisations allegedly involved in shady dealings
Inside sources claimed that some members of the organisation were involved in underhand dealings aimed at setting up a separate company through which they wanted to acquire the city’s parking business. However, some are said to oppose this because it will tarnish the image of the organisation and raise questions about corruption in it.
“The secretary general has a company which he wants endorsed to take over Easipark, but we have been saying no to that,” said one of the sources in Upfumi Kuvadiki.
Analysts agree that there could be powerful politicians behind the latest power struggle in the youth empowerment organisation, which they said mirrored the state of affairs in Zanu-PF. They said wealthy officials with close connections to Zanu-PF and the government were eyeing the business opportunities offered by the deals the empowerment group could land.
Lawrence Mashungu, programme officer of the Zimbabwe Youth Agenda Trust, warned the youth in political parties to resist fighting the wars of senior politicians.
“The youth must resist being used as a tool for violence by an elderly leadership that cares little for its long-term benefits.”
There is fear that Mugabe’s health could deteriorate and incapacitate him politically, hence the renewed calls for early elections while he is still fit enough to roll out campaigns premised on the empowerment policy — a policy that has sparked concern among the investment community over the future of Zimbabwean operations.
Although Mugabe relies on Chombo, as local government minister, to maintain a tight control on urban centres in which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is growing in popularity, Kasukuwere is believed to be closer to the elderly statesman.
In fact, the highly vocal Kasukuwere is reported to be a close confidant of Mugabe, representing a small clique of young politicians in Zanu-PF that Mugabe trusts to uphold his policies. Kasukuwere caused a stir after he said earlier this month that companies failing to comply with the indigenisation law would be taken over by the government without compensation.
The controversial policy has already sparked a flight by investors, placing in doubt Zimbabwe’s ability to attain economic growth. Moreover, Zanu-PF is regarded as using the policy as a measure to win crucial votes from the country’s youth, which analysts say now represents more than half the voting population.
The African Development Bank warned recently that the indigenisation law, which will force foreign-owned firms to surrender majority stakes, was likely to diminish foreign direct investment and growth prospects in 2012.