How opposition MDC-T lost everything

08 Oct, 2013 - 00:10 0 Views
How opposition MDC-T lost everything Mr Tsvangirai

The Herald

Mr Tsvangirai

Mr Tsvangirai

Jos Martens
Since the first preliminary results of Zimbabwe’s  July 31 2013 harmonised elections emerged, talk in Western circles has been about whether or not the elections were free, fair and credible, with the main bone of contention being the alleged rigging of the voters roll. Little has been said about the voting behaviour of the Zimbabweans per se, why – apart from the alleged rigging – still so many voted for Zanu-PF and Cde Robert Mugabe, who has been leader since 1980.

Nobody expected this monstrous victory for Mugabe-Zanu-PF, but virtually everyone I spoke to in the past year expressed their doubts whether Tsvangirai would have made it in the elections. Their feelings were that MDC-T had made too many blunders in the past five years, while Zanu-PF and President Mugabe had been working tirelessly and cunningly to regain lost ground.

The 2008 elections had been a massive protest vote against the total economic collapse under Zanu-PF rule resulting in the formation of the inclusive Government. However, only four years later in 2012, the Washington-based Freedom House, not a friend of Zanu-PF, published the results of a survey showing that among “survey participants who agreed to state their political choice, trust in MDC-T, in particular, dropped from 66 percent to 39 percent while trust in Zanu-PF rose from 36 percent to 52 percent.

Which factors contributed towards this turnabout? What were the main events that common Zimbabweans have seen unfolding over the past five years and that changed the minds of so many? Once MDC-T leaders and legislators tasted the comfort of parliamentary seats and its emoluments, many of them quickly forgot by whom and why they had been elected and, instead of making a serious effort to change things, they occupied themselves with enjoying their turn to eat the cake. While a 2012 United Nations Development Programme report stated that “65 percent of Zimbabwe’s current MPs require intensive training in legislation and budget analysis as they are not skilled and competent to perform their tasks”, the MPs turned out to be very capable of looking after their own interests.

Among other conditions, they each demanded and received a US$1 400 base monthly salary, a write-off of their U$30 000 car loans and a once-off U$15 000 sitting allowance bonus. In May 2012 MPs demanded residential stands at subsidised prices in “respectable suburbs”, thereby literally revealing how much they had distanced themselves from their constituencies.

A major bone of contention in the 2013 parliamentary discussions about the new Constitution was the height of the daily allowances MPs were to receive during the consultation process. Of course in these matters Zanu-PF MPs behaved similarly, but had the MDC-T MPs not promised to do away with such practices? After initial relief with the introduction of the US-dollar in June 2009 that stopped Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation overnight, the economy failed to recover and grow as quickly as expected by many people, leaving little room for improvement.

While Finance Minister Tendai Biti from MDC-T, claimed he had little success in claiming the proceeds of the Chiadzwa diamonds, he did receive U$1 billion in humanitarian aid and in 2009, U$500 million in Special Drawing Rights from the IMF.  In response, he, among others, cut the Government budget in half and abolished price controls. In February 2009 the Ministry of Finance led by Patrick Chinamasa (Zanu PF) had started paying civil servant “salaries” in vouchers good for US$100, regardless of seniority.

As this was still extremely low, teachers threatened to strike at the beginning of the school term in May 2009. In July 2009, the Finance Ministry announced a 20 percent increase in the public service wage bill, some of which was used to introduce some progression into the salary structure, from US$150 to US$250 per month.

But in both 2010 and 2012 Biti froze civil servants’ salaries, while he capitulated to salary increases in other years though only under pressure of threatened or actual strikes. This contrasted sharply with his fulfilling the excessive wishes of the MPs. Tsvangirai did not always concur and sometimes even clashed with Biti, but in the eyes of the public it was “his” MDC minister who was responsible for the continuous clash with the workers.

President Mugabe took advantage of the discord by – inconsequentially – supporting calls for salary increases. By 2013 the majority of civil servants earned a salary of between US$250 and US$300 while, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, a family of six needed about US$570 to lead a normal life. Unemployment also remained staggeringly high, as in 2011 only 31 percent of the economically active men were in paid employment and only 14 percent of the women.

The informal sector, which had grown explosively during the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy, remained the only alternative for millions of Zimbabweans. While many barely managed to survive (think for example of sellers of air time), others like cross-border traders, owners of small shops, small entrepreneurs in agro-processing and craftsmen sometimes fared better. Small-scale farmers had also scant reason to be happy with the MDC-T.

The parastatal Grain Marketing Board, failed year upon year to pay farmers in time for their maize, blaming this on the late release of funds by the MDC-T Minister of Finance. Moreover, floor prices for maize, set by the Ministry of Finance-funded GMB, were generally considered unviable. As a consequence, farmers were forced to bypass the GMB and market their grain to commercial traders who paid cash but offered lower prices. This subsequently cost them qualification for the GMB input provision programme.

In the meantime Zanu-PF started its own parallel Presidential Agricultural Input Scheme. In 2011 the Communal, Resettlement and Small Scale Farmers Union, ZFU, issued a statement saying that 560 000 households had benefited from the presidential programme, surpassing the Government scheme.

“We have made our own assessments and we have realised that only a few households benefited from the GMB Scheme and the President’s programme was put to good use and any good harvests are likely to be attributed to his timely intervention,” said Paul Zakariah, ZFU’s executive director. Of course we should not discount the fact that the ZFU can be considered a Zanu-PF mouthpiece, but stil . . .

While MDC-T was quickly losing credibility with workers and small-scale farmers, it also managed to alienate many of its urban supporters in towns like Harare, Chitungwiza, Bindura and others where it scored massive victories in the 2008 elections and had taken over control of councils. In March 2009 Transparency International Zimbabwe called for an urgent forensic audit into rampant corruption by the senior staff of the Harare Municipality. Although some half-hearted attempts were made to address the problem (eg in June 2009 the Harare City Council adopted a report that probed illegal cattle sales and farming operations on its farms) the new councillors proved unable to contain their officials as, in particular, corruption in allocation of stands festered.

Only in November 2012, after a directive by Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo, was an internal probe mounted to address these matters. Service delivery of water and sanitation that the MDC-T had convinced people that they had turned abysmal under Zanu-PF (remember the cholera outbreaks of 2008-2009), continued to deteriorate resulting in a typhoid outbreak in Harare in January 2012. At the same time, residents received unrealistically high bills for services that often had not been rendered and were even threatened with eviction, resulting in demonstrations and, in November 2012, a petition to the mayor and the minister to write off debts incurred by residents.

Other MDC-T dominated urban councils like Chitungwiza and Bindura were equally riddled with cases of graft and non-delivery of services.

In 2013 the Combined Harare Ratepayers Association demanded from MDC-T that candidates for upcoming elections be selected by virtue of competence and not having been involved in corruption. Although MDC-T heeded such calls, for example Tsvangirai fired the entire Chitungwiza council and 12 others involved in corruption and also started screening prospective candidates before the MDC primaries, the damage had been done. In contrast, Zanu-PF embarked on a populist-nationalist charm offensive. Of course, Zanu-PF politicians at all levels had not transformed into saints overnight, on the contrary.

But, whereas MDC-T remained plagued by internal power struggles, Zanu-PF became more and more united and focused (“bhora mughedi”). Zanu-PF also surpassed MDC in keeping its deeds under the radar, assisted by its continued absolute dominance over the media. This enabled it to promote its nationalist agenda and widely report real or perceived gains to the masses.

Not only had Zanu-PF managed to keep a tight grip on the media and security forces, it also controlled the country’s natural resources within the agriculture and mining sectors through the GNU-allocated Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Mining.

In sharp contrast to its actions in Chiadzwa, the Zanu-PF-led Ministry of Mines, after initially clamping down on illegal mining in 2008 (Operation Chikorokoza Chapera/Isitsheketsha Sesiphelile), set out to legalise and support artesanal mining throughout the country. This apparently earned the party considerable goodwill among small-scale miners as the Zimbabwe Artesanal and Small-Scale Mining Council (ZASMC), representing 25 000 registered small-scale miners (out of a potential 1,5 million), described Zanu-PF’s victory as a welcome development in the country’s economic revival efforts.

The formal mining sector in the meantime grew rapidly, from less than 3 000 workers at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis to some 43 000 in 2013, thereby providing much sought-after employment opportunities.

Then, in January 2010, the Zanu-PF Minister of Youths Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere, stepped up the indigenisation drive by publishing regulations requiring companies operating in Zimbabwe to provide specified information, including an indigenisation implementation plan, by April 15, 2010. After a prolonged battle, in January 2013 Impala Platinum (Implats), the world’s second biggest producer of platinum, complied with Government’s demands and ceded 51 percent of its shares to black Zimbabweans.

According to the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act of 2007 “Community Share Ownership Schemes or Trusts shall be established by businesses involved in the commercial exploitation of natural resources, including minerals . . . ”, whereas “10 percent shareholding in qualifying businesses shall be reserved for the Community Share Ownership Schemes or Trusts”.

The same Act allocated another 28 percent of the shares to an Employee Share Ownership Scheme, of which a maximum of 5 percent points had been set aside for managerial staff. The setting aside of shares for employees and communities raised the hopes of many a worker and rural dweller to at least get some of the pickings.

In contrast, MDC-T former chief of staff in the office of the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mr Crispen Mbanga, stated unequivocally during the election campaign in July 2013 that if elected into power the MDC-T would remove policies such as indigenisation.

The land redistribution exercise that had been delayed for the first 20 years after Independence showed similar nationalist and black empowerment trends.

While many aspects of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (the violence, the Zanu-PF – connected elite getting the juiciest spoils, etc.), have been rightfully though one-sidedly criticised, the latest figures show that not only had the elite benefited but also around 200 000 communal farmers had been resettled on new land. Even though so far little support has been given to the resettled farmers, one can imagine that these farmers would not be happy having to return their more fertile land to the former owners.

In 2011 the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association registered 67 000 tobacco growers, who were resettled on former white-owned farmland.
According to FAO-data the acreage under tobacco almost doubled, from 52 000 in 2003 to more than 100 000 immediately after the introduction of the US dollar in 2009. In other words, life for these settlers has improved considerably.

In 2001/02 there were an estimated 360 000 smallholder cotton growers in Zimbabwe, mostly located in the North-West and Northern areas of Gokwe, Sanyati and Muzarabani.

Small-scale cotton production increased steadily from the eighties, throughout the liberalisation period of the nineties and even under the Fast Track Land Reform Programme with all its associated problems.
Although cotton farmers face a host of problems, not least being depressed prices, still many resettled farmers will have set their eyes on improving their lives through cotton earnings.

Not surprisingly then that the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, claiming to represent 1 million communal, resettlement and small-scale farmers, and the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union representing mostly black large-scale commercial farmers, endorsed Zanu-PF’s victory in early August stating that it would ensure the continuity and maintenance of people-driven programmes and policies.

Although in 2006 MDC-T had formally stated that it did not want to reverse land reform, it generally failed to convince small-scale farmers otherwise and Tsvangirai had to placate his rural audience in this respect time and again even during his 2013 election campaign.

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