9 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Can Mpofu Save Zanu-PF?

As the New Year sets in, Obert Mpofu the Minister of Mines and Mining Development has vowed to turnaround ZANU-PF's fortunes in the Matabeleland region, where the party has fared badly in the last decade.

Mpofu, ZANU-PF's secretary for economic affairs, wants his party to win the watershed elections this year by a huge margin.

To achieve that feat, Mpofu has a huge mountain to climb.

Since 2000, Matabeleland has been a stronghold of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

In the 2008 elections, ZANU-PF lost dismally to the combined MDC formations. In Matabeleland North, where Mpofu is cutting the figure of a political godfather, ZANU-PF won only three out of the 13 seats in Parliament.

The party's losses were heavier in Bulawayo, where ZANU-PF failed to gain a single seat.

Mpofu has been defying odds, thrashing those who dare stand against him in elections.

He is one of the few bigwigs in ZANU-PF who have been able to win consistently in their respective constituencies. Kembo Mohadi and Sithembiso Nyoni, both ZANU-PF politburo members, are among the few ZANU-PF heavyweights whose presence in the legislative assembly is not through President Robert Mugabe's benevolence.

As part of his grand plan for a ZANU-PF comeback in the region, Mpofu has rolled out a charm offensive, using his influence to campaign for his party.

Said to be among the country's richest businesspeople, Mpofu has been the most visible big spender ahead of the elections.

While there are questions around his source of wealth, with some alleging that he has benefited from the country's controversial Marange diamonds, critics have failed to find something that could stick.

Mpofu has dismissed allegations that he amassed his wealth irregularly, saying he was a businessman of note in Zimb-abwe.

Of late, he has be-en able to catapult his lieutenants to positions of influence.

Richard Moyo, who was elected ZANU-PF chairperson for Matabeleland North is said to be one of Mpofu's protégés.

Following reports that MDC-T Vice President Thokozani Khupe might shift her political base to Bubi, in Matabeleland North, Mpofu has been fortifying the incumbent there, Clifford Sibanda of ZANU-PF, who recently expressed his gratitude for the support he is receiving from the Mines Minister.

Critics say Mpofu wants to extend his influence beyond Umguza district into the whole of Matabeleland region and later nationally by having his protégés in influential positions.

He has also roped in his wife, Sikhanyisiwe Mpofu, a ZANU-PF Central Committee member and councillor for Umguza rural district council to mobilise women and youths to participate in projects being sponsored by her husband.

This has allowed Mpofu to use the gender card as his wife tackles gender issues in the district by promoting gender equality and the development of women.

The focus on youths is also seen as bait to gain the elusive youth vote.

Last year, Mpofu splashed a whooping US$100 000 on his 60th birthday party in Umguza.

Political analysts said the birthday party was aimed at bolstering his credentials. Now, Mpofu has also been parcelling out food in the Umguza district, which he has denied is an election gimmick.

Mgcini Moyo, a political analyst, contends that ZANU-PF's poor showing in the region would not merely fade away in the minds of the people because of the food handouts.

"ZANU-PF has a bloody history in the region, if he (Mpofu) wants to save the party he should direct his efforts towards dealing with the real issues like the atrocities that happened in the country and should stop just giving people food handouts that will continue to put the region in a poverty trap", said Moyo.

Michael Ndiweni, a political strategist of the MDC-T, accused Mpofu of monopolising everything under the name of ZANU-PF at a time when people are pushing for democracy.

". . . instead he is contributing to democratic decay, he is busy conducting public affairs for private advantage. Everyone knows that he is trying to buy his ascendency", said Ndiweni.

Support for ZANU-PF is at its lowest in the Matabeleland provinces as the party's efforts to win votes in that region prove futile.

Since a united MDC first entered the electoral race in 2000, only a handful of parliamentary seats in Matabeleland North and South have gone to ZANU-PF, with the party failing to get any seats in Bulawayo province.

Reacting to the waning fortunes, President Mugabe's party including members of the party's politburo have come up with initiatives aimed at making inroads in those regions, but if statistics on the party's membership card sales in all the country's 10 provinces is anything to go by, ZANU-PF still remains unpopular in those territories.

According to a report on the party's membership card sales by October 31, 2012, the least number of members were recruited in Matabeleland North at 4 480, followed by Bulawayo at 7 577 and Matabeleland South at 10 433.

This is in sharp contrast with Mashonaland East, which had the highest number of membership cards sold at 97 936 followed by the Midlands province at 63 500.

In 2011, the three provinces also recorded the lowest recruits with 6 651 and 7 948 membership cards sold in Bulawayo and Matabeleland North respectively, while Matabeleland South had 11 425 new membership card sales.

During that same year, the Midlands had the highest membership card sales at 161 394 followed by Mashonaland East at 100 565.

Outside the country, there were attempts to reach out for new members in South Africa and the United Kingdom, but nothing was sold in the UK for the two years while last year only 119 new membership cards were sold in South Africa, with no sales at all in 2011.

The same report said last year the party realised nearly US$120 000 from card sales while well wishers made a further US$2 million donation.

"Membership fees -- US$ 119 947, 00. As at the end of October 2012 a total of US$119 947,00 had been raised from the sale of membership cards and subscriptions. It is imperative for provinces to double their efforts in mobilising card sales in order to boost both our membership and revenue," reads part of the report.

"The party received US$ 2 561 746, 00 in donations from friends and well- wishers. This has helped the party significantly."

During the country's first ever election in 1980, ZAPU emerged the dominant party in the three provinces, but following the unity accord that united the two parties in 1987, ZANU-PF has rema-ined unpopular, a development attri-buted to the disturbances that rocked the region.

Patrick Mathe-ma, a university student based in South Africa, said Mpofu might continue to win in Umguza beca-use no other person would give them free food and clinics. But he said Mpofu's party would not dominate Matabeleland because people no longer vote for parties but individuals.

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