A STORM is gathering over Zanu PF's estimated US$6,5 million state-of-the-art conference centre - expected to be the biggest in the country - currently under construction in the Midlands province ahead of the party's annual conference in Gweru, amid growing speculation on who is funding the project.
The project - widely condemned and now labelled "Zanu PF's Hall of Shame" - and the party's US$20 million 2012 presidential agricultural input scheme as well as the US$14 million splashed on 500 campaign vehicles, have raised suspicions over where the money is coming from.
This comes at a time speculation is rife the funds being used to finance these activities are part of Zanu PF's secret war chest built from diamond revenues to contest the next crucial elections. At least US$2 billion in diamond revenues is said to have been plundered by official corrupt networks.
The conference centre, discussed at last week's politburo meeting in Harare, has divided the party as some members of the decision-making politburo are opposed to the project spearheaded by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who harbours ambitions of succeeding President Robert Mugabe.
Sources said members of the rival faction led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru view the development as a structure designed to serve Mnangagwa's succession ambitions more than Zanu PF's campaign agenda in the next elections.
"The project has now become political and very controversial because the (two main Zanu PF) factions are divided on it. The issue was discussed at the politburo meeting last week in the context of the forthcoming annual conference and one could see that some people view it with suspicion," a senior politburo member said.
Another politburo member said the project was being funded by the Chinese and was probably a "money laundering scheme" as its promoters sought to take advantage of the conference to launch it even though the complete development, including chalets, would be finalised later.
The construction of the huge convention hall, along the Gweru-Mvuma road, is not only expected to be a monument to the "positive" legacy of Zanu PF, but of Mnangagwa in particular.
The centre, officially being funded by the Midlands Development Association, is expected to have offices for the Zanu PF presidium, a gigantic stage, amenities, state-of-the-art public address system and modern electronic gadgets and a 5 000-seater convention hall.
"We expect the centre to be complete on time for our annual conference from December 4-9, although there are some suggestions that we can postpone the event to December 9-14 if it has not been completed," one party official said.
"It's an imposing project because we expect it to be in the mould of the Durban International Convention Centre in South Africa, one of the most advanced conference facilities in Africa and in the world."
A Zanu PF committee is said to have been appointed after last week's politburo meeting to assess progress and see whether it would be necessary to delay the conference if construction is not completed on time.
Controversy is growing over the source of funding for the project. Some say the money came from diamond proceeds, while others say it was from the Chinese and local donors, including banks.
A Canadian non-profit-making human rights organisation, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) says in its latest report titled, Reap What You Sow: Greed and Corruption in Zimbabwe's Marange Diamond Fields, at least US$2 billion in revenues had been lost through corrupt activities in the past four years.
It was "the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes", PAC said, referring to a British colonial mining magnate who was the founder of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. The "theft" at the Marange diamond fields was perpetrated by Zanu PF officials, international gem dealers and criminals, the report says. It says the scale of looting was "mind-blowing illegality" although authorities have described this as "totally false".
"Conservative estimates place the theft of Marange goods at almost US$2 billion since 2008," the report insists. Finance Minister Tendai Biti has been complaining that diamond revenues were being pillaged.
As the Zimbabwe Independent has consistently reported, Zanu PF is preparing for massive election campaigns and its mobilisation committee has been meeting to come up with plans for development projects, while the military has been manoeuvring in the countryside to lay the ground for the electoral assault. The convention project is being supervised by Midlands Development Association chaired by Mnangagwa's ally and Zvishavane-Runde MP, Larry Mavhima.
Mavhima is currently in China where he is shopping around for the centre's furniture, microphones, headphones and transcribing equipment. However, it is the source of funds for building such a modern conference centre that is baffling many people.
Zanu PF is refusing to divulge the source of funding for its activities and its spokesperson Rugare Gumbo yesterday said the convention centre is a provincial project and no funds were disbursed from the party towards its construction. "The centre is a Midlands Development Association project and nothing was disbursed from the national structures towards its construction," Gumbo said.
Sources said CBZ, BacnABC and FBC were asked to raise US$1 million. However, FBC MD John Mushayavanhu said his bank did not make any donation to Zanu PF.
"We did not donate anything to Zanu PF and whichever branch that could have been approached by the party did not send the request to us," he said.
BancABC's head of marketing, Cynthia Chizwina said: "Our policy as a bank is that we do not finance any political party. Therefore, if such a request were received we would be guided by this policy in our actions," she said.
Efforts to get comment from CBZ group CEO John Mangudya were unsuccessful.
Political parties and civic leaders have called for an investigation into the opaque funding of Zanu PF activities.