By Joram Nyathi
ZIMBABWE’S ruling Zanu PF party has just lost a crucial by-election. It can be argued that the loss of Norton, a small town 40 kilometres west of the capital Harare, is a bad omen given watershed elections scheduled for mid-2018, except that the party requires fewer omens than decisive action in tackling the scourge of corruption and seemingly terminal internal factionalism, before it can reorient voters’ sentiment.
Since the July 31, 2013, elections, which left the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party led by Morgan Tsvangirai disoriented, Zanu PF led by President Robert Mugabe had not lost any of the 29 by-elections. But equally true is that for a long time, the ruling party has not fought internal factionalism or corruption, it has only paid lip service to the twin evils, much to the chagrin of the voter.
It is not an implausible conjecture that in the Norton by-election, people expressed their sentiment and frustration with corruption through the ballot.
That frustration against the ruling party’s seeming failure to deal with internal factionalism and corruption manifested in a wide margin against Zanu PF in the fiercely contested and highly-charged Norton by-election on Saturday. An independent candidate, Temba Mliswa, a former provincial chairman of the ruling party – who was expelled more than a year ago, polled 8,927 votes against the Zanu PF preferred candidate, Ronald Chindedza, who received 6,192.
Mugabe and one of his deputies Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa have recently gone on a campaign to denounce both corruption and factional politics in the party. Their exhortations have apparently gone unheeded, and no action has been taken. Now even the army, which for all its political consciousness has generally reserved its comment on political matters, spoke out loudly this week.
Speaking barely two days after the Norton loss before a parliamentary committee on defence and security in Harare, army Chief of Staff (Administration), Major General Douglas Nyikayaramba, accused senior government officials of undermining the country’s economy through corruption. He said the defence budget was far less than what the army required for food, training and salaries and that this was affecting morale in the uniformed forces. Much of this was due to corruption, he said. He said the army required US$554 million but was allocated far less.
“Corruption is a cancer, which is taking the nation backwards, thereby causing insecurity to the nation,” said Major General Nyikayaramba. “…This is mainly because as a nation we continue to ignore critical issues that will bring stability and confidence to investors who would want to bring business to this country.”
He said corrupt people were using factional politics as a shield from the law and that ordinary people were watching with growing anger as the culprits seemingly went unpunished.
“It (corruption) is now a security threat because it is causing people to create mafias or alliances where if one is accused of being corrupt, he quickly asks for the help of other big names to protect him or her,” continued Maj Gen Nyikayaramba. “The ordinary citizens expect authorities to address these issues, but then if they see nothing happening to the alleged criminals, they will end up being ungovernable and creating problems for the defence forces.
“Development is being derailed so that individuals can benefit at the expense of the whole nation.”
In the lead up to the Norton by-election, national discourse was dominated by reports of corruption allegations against Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo. He was accused of diverting just under US$500,000 under his ministry meant for manpower development to Zanu PF and personal programmes.
The minister has not denied diverting the funds. Instead, he argued that he acted like Robin Hood, taking from the rich to help the poor in his Tsholotsho constituency in the western part of Zimbabwe.
This has angered many people, who believe it is enough evidence of corruption and that the minister must resign at the very least, and be arrested and tried on corruption charges.
One of the Vice Presidents, Phelekezela Mphoko, and a coterie of cabinet colleagues have reportedly taken sides with Professor Moyo and, in a strange twist, accused those who want him arrested of trying to undermine President Mugabe, to destabilise the country and the ruling Zanu PF party. The party’s political commissar and Local Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, said the party was handling the issue of Moyo’s alleged corruption internally.
Those campaigning for the ruling party candidate in Norton last week, including Kasukuwere, supportedProfessor Moyo. They accused those who wanted him arrested of selling out, treachery or of not being bona fide Zanu PF members.
Potential voters must have read in this arrogance, a refusal to own up and a blatant defence of corruption and a perfect manifestation of the ugly face of factional politics in the ruling party.
Unfortunately, Professor Moyo’s case is not unique. He could not, as alleged by the army, by diverting less than half-a-million dollars, be guilty of undermining the development of a whole nation. His is only one of many reported instances of alleged corruption or abuse of state resources, which have gone unpunished over the years, hence the anxiety in the military.
In what can be described as a rude verdict, the people of Norton, though not collectively nor in isolation, seem to have warned Zanu PF ahead of the 2018 harmonised elections: if you do not deal with the rotten eggs in the party we shall deal with the party as a whole. We shall not choose who is corrupt and who is not.
“Do not look at the face of the individual or their positions when dealing with corruption because that will lead to disaster,” Maj Gen Nyikayaramba told the parliamentary committee on Monday. “If ordinary people see that nothing is being done to corrupt individuals, that will lead to disgruntlement and eventually instability,” he warned. It is candour of a rare kind.