“CHOKWADI mudhara akasiya basa vamwe tinofa nenzara (truly speaking, if the old man retires, most of us will die from starvation),” mused a visibly distressed colleague, Tonde, dejectedly shaking his head as he approached this writer who was warming himself in the generous African sun while waiting for a guaranteed hefty salary at the end of the month from his nebulous job at an information rights non-governmental organisation where he had a limited contract that was sadly terminated at the end of 2012 due to ‘severe donor fatigue’.
This was during the final year of Zimbabwe’s coalition government that was supposed to run for an 18-month period leading to elections, but was to overrun the deadline by more than three years.
Tonde was obviously saying this apropos of an announcement by veteran opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai — then Prime Minister in the coalition government — that time was ripe for Zimbabwe to hold elections to choose a substantive government.
Tsvangirai was confident to win the upcoming election, having placed first — ahead of President Mugabe — in the harmonised elections of March 2008, the subsequent run-off of which he pulled out citing violence against his supporters.
Instead of them rejoicing — rubbing their palms and bellies in gleeful anticipation — Tsvangirai’s announcement had instead triggered the collywobbles in the bellies of many among the habitués of Zimbabwe’s supposedly pro-democracy opposition and non-governmental organisations.
Tonde’s serious concerns were not coming from his deep love for the man nor were they induced by any patriotic feelings, but because over the years President Mugabe has become an unfailing source of livelihood for tens of thousands of Zimbabweans . . . people employed in the anti-Mugabe industry, a multi-billion dollar industry partly funded (inadvertently) by Western powers that have been seeking to topple him.
As African traditional wisdom enjoins, when a village gathers under a tree to pray for rain, the same village should also budget for mud. But it is this mud that some Zimbabweans do not want to even think of.
For the above-mentioned colleague and many of his ilk the most cataclysmic event that can ever happen in Zimbabwe is President Robert Mugabe losing an election. For them, seeing the back of the veteran leader would bring sure financial ruin.
This is a community of activists that have become rich beyond the dream of Croesus riding joyfully on the lucrative anti-Mugabe crusade.
Apart from the opposition proper, Zimbabwe has thousands of opposition-aligned NGOs that come in all hues, shapes and sizes . . . from broader human rights, to voter education, to media and information rights, to women’s rights, to land and property rights, to sexual and reproductive rights, to legal rights, to animal rights, right to HIV and Aids issues . . . you name it, they are all there.
A real motley, if there is ever any. The common denominator is that they all claim to be pro-democracy. And the democratic space is what they say they lack under the current government of President Mugabe.
But the unvarnished truth is that a majority of players in this industry, though publicly professing their desire for ‘regime change’, secretly and silently pray that nothing untoward happen to President Mugabe, a man whose name has grown into a multi-billion business that dutifully puts food on many a table.
Over the years, President Mugabe’s name has become a handy Open Sesame to many Zimbabweans eager to wheedle easy money from the deep-pocketed Western powers that are desperate to see a regime change in Zimbabwe.
This ‘industry’ has drawn people from all professional disciplines…lawyers, journalists, teachers, doctors… anyone who would want to make a lot of money from minimal work.
Opposition and NGO officials are readily there at each and every local, regional, and even international forum where Zimbabwe can be smuggled onto the agenda.
And such advocacy campaigns naturally bring rich pickings to the back pocket. Ask what could life be like without President Mugabe, many of them naturally get stranded, as some of them have known no other productive work since graduating from both local and foreign tertiary institutions decades ago.
If anything, all they need to earn their upkeep is to master what is commonly known as ‘donorlese’, the unique language that the ears of Western donors are trained to hear . . . that President Mugabe’s days are numbered. But before this is accomplished, they are quick to point out, a few tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of greenbacks have to be made available.
Ballpark figures suggest that US$2,6 billion from the West found its way to Zimbabwe this way in the last four years of the coalition government, giving the country’s moribund economy the much-needed oxygen of life.
In its manifesto for the 2013 harmonised elections, President Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party claimed there were more than 3 000 aid organisations operating in Zimbabwe.
“Virtually all these NGOs have been found and funded by the same countries that have imposed illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe for purposes of effecting illegal regime change outside the constitutional and democratic processes,” the party said. “Particularly egregious in this regard is the fact that over the last four years during the life of the GPA (Global Political Agreement) government, some US$2,6 billion has been poured into these NGOs to support nefarious activities that have been camouflaged by the sanitised language of humanitarian and development assistance to cover up sinister regime change intentions. The US$2,6 billion has been disbursed via opaque parallel budget channels that are not accountable and which have been used to damage national accounts and Treasury processes.”
Possibly small wonder Tsvangirai was so sure the time was ripe for elections to crown him king.
Agrees journalist Charles Rukuni, the publisher of The Insider: “The West and its media created a lie that Mugabe was hated by his people so much that he was hanging on by force and through rigging elections. (That) the country had collapsed because of his economic mismanagement, not sanctions. They slowly started believing their own lie until it was passed on as a fact and repeated over and over again.
“The independent media and NGOs, that receive the bulk of their funding from the West, joined the queue. It paid to be anti-Mugabe. Aid became one of the biggest industries in Zimbabwe,” Rukuni said.
He said the dilemma, however, is that most of the aid organisations depend on President Mugabe’s continued stay in power for their survival because they were specifically created to solve problems that he purportedly created. “There is even a joke that they want Mugabe to go during the day, but spend the night praying that God allow Mugabe to stay so that they could get their daily bread,” said Rukuni.
The bulk of Zimbabweans are beneficiaries of President Mugabe’s largely free education who appear to have decided not to waste this education.
For more than a decade and a half, this has been the story that has been repeated with so many embellishments while some of the best mansions in the world have been mushrooming up in some of Harare’s most affluent suburbs, with some of the latest car models in the world hitting Zimbabwe’s potholed roads within months of their release.
Tsvangirai is currently plotting his next move while ensconced in a mansion reportedly worth a cool US$4,5 million. So blessed is the man that in the recent past he has reportedly had the luxury of affording to palm off a pesky girlfriend with a cool US$300 000.
All these ‘blessings’ for having the chutzpah to take the fearsome President Mugabe head-on! Not too bad a ‘blessing’ for a man who started his working life as a semi-literate miner!
Analysts say the continual fragmentation of the opposition has very little to do with disagreements over the best democratic route to take, but more with who gets what share of the funds from the oppositions’ deep-pocketed Western funders.
That the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the major share of which Tsvangirai still leads, was going to disintegrate at some point was long predicted by many, including some Westerners on the ground.
Writing in his 2001 book, Degrees in Violence, former Daily Telegraph Correspondent. correspondent to Zimbabwe, David Blair, concluded: “If Tsvangirai takes power, he will find himself in the centre of a minefield.
The MDC is a disparate coalition, stretching from urban workers to poor township dwellers to employees of shambolic state industries to white landowners to black farm-workers to well-heeled businessmen. The one thing that unites all these people is opposition to Mugabe. Take him out of the equation, and put the MDC in power and the party could fragment.”
This is not confined to Zimbabweans at home.
Many have seized President Mugabe’s name with alacrity to justify their flight from Zimbabwe, in the full knowledge that the countries they are destined for would welcome them with open arms.
‘Because of Mugabe’ there are an estimated four million Zimbabweans—nearly a third of the country’s population—who are living and working in different countries around the world.
It is from the comfort of these countries whence these wily Zimbabweans have been able to remit home not less than US$1,4 billion — obviously a surplus from their day-to-day needs — in the last two years alone.
“The majority of these Zimbabweans reside in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, the United States of America and Canada. The veracity of these statistics lie in the fact that it was the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe that announced them with the caveat that such remittances show confidence in the national economy,” wrote Zimbabwean analyst Takura Zhangazha on his popular blog.
Though not all the cases are patently false, the bulk of the cases are not just exaggerated, but sophisticated forgeries. The good thing is that they have ready takers who are more than willing to cough up.
In July this year, award-winning Zimbabwean author, Chenjerai Hove, died in Stavanger, Norway, where he had been holed up since 2001, claiming his life was in grave danger because of his acerbic attacks on President Mugabe and his government. But some of his colleagues laughed cruelly, arguing that he was more attracted by the financial rewards that constituted part and parcel of his asylum package than genuine fear for his life.
The up to US$2000 per month stipend reportedly given to a writer in hiding in any of these Nordic countries can translate to nearly a year’s take-home salary of an ordinary government employee back home. For a country like Zimbabwe where books—no matter how good—hardly sell as a preponderating majority survives on less than a dollar per day, this is surely a riveting temptation.
In a scathing obituary, fellow writer, Alexander Kanengoni, claimed there was an element of opportunism in Hove’s going into self-imposed exile.
“Everyone knew that maligning the name of Robert Mugabe and bad-mouthing Zimbabwe had become a fully-fledged money-making and fame-seeking business venture. Thousands of people benefited from it one way or the other.
“That was how the element of dishonesty crept into the narrative of the Zimbabwean story and it lost its credibility, but the West was always standing close-by, providing moral courage, ready to reward those who had the courage to tell the lies. Hove died a miserable man. He had lost the argument against his conscience a long time ago.”
Added Kanengoni: “Hundreds of false asylum seekers in the UK and Australia cannot come to bury their mothers or fathers because they are afraid nothing will happen to them and lose their political refugee status!”
Not only has Mugabe’s name has magic effects for his opponents and detractors. Even his supporters are feasting from a bounteous harvest. Opportunistic members of his party and government as well as common criminals do not hesitate to evoke Mugabe’s name for financial blessings to flow their way.
In April, a local weekly, reported that rogue ZANU-PF members could have pocketed as much as US$13 million they almost effortlessly milched from the country’s businesses while claiming to be fundraising for President Mugabe’s 91st birthday bash that took place in the resort town of Victoria Falls in February this year.
According to the paper, the scam involved setting up a parallel bank account where most of the cash donations from companies were diverted to, leaving the official account to receive a measly US$700 000.
While ZANU-PF officials said US$6 million was deposited by corporates into the parallel account, some angry members of the party’s Youth League claimed that the amount that had been diverted and could not be accounted for was as high as US$13 million.
“The name of the authentic account run by the youths was “21st Feb Movement”, account number 01122084930021, (CBZ Bank) Kwame Nkrumah branch while the name for the parallel account was “21st Feb Mugabe Movement”,” the paper reported.
It is believed this has been happening every year when party members go out to fundraise for the president’s lavish birthday bash.
Last year, police busted a daring criminal syndicate that had for several months mounted an illegal check-point near State House where they demanded cash from motorists who they accused of compromising President Mugabe’s security by passing through the area.
State House is the official residence of the President of Zimbabwe and therefore a high security zone where a curfew for both pedestrians and motorists is in effect from dusk to dawn.
Between January and August last year, the criminal gang, posing as members of the feared Presidential Guard, mounted the illegal checkpoint in broad daylight where they threatened some motorists—most of whom were accused of talking on their mobile phones while passing through this security zone—with torture and even disappearance if they refused to pay hard cash for their “transgressions”.
In one incident, detectives arrested some of the criminals outside a bank where one of their victims was about to hand over the US$3000 ransom money that he had been forced to withdraw from the bank.
Last month, (September 2015) minister of State for Provincial Affairs, Martin Dinha appeared in court for extorting US$60 000 from a white commercial farmer, Guy Frank Dollar, in ‘protection’ fees against eviction from his farm, which money he falsely claimed to have forwarded to ‘higher offices’.
Police detectives also nabbed members of a criminal syndicate that was trying to extort US$2000 from a white mine owner, James Duguid, claiming they were from the President’s office who needed to clear his name in political circles so that his mine would not be seized.
Another gang was arrested after cornering another white businessman and farmer, Koert Scheepers, demanding US$10 000 using the same modus operandi.
Currently more than 8 000 criminals are being investigated for fleecing Zimbabwe’s desperate home seekers in a scam involving the sale of state land as residential stands while claiming to be working on instructions from President Mugabe or his increasingly powerful wife, Grace.
While it might not be possible to calculate exactly how much the name Mugabe is worth, what is certain is that over the years it has faithfully put food on many tables.
“The love of money in the process of our democratic struggles is the route to our collective dehumanisation,” said Zhangazha.