- Southern Africa
- Politics - Governance
Mugabe dishes out tractors, food, money
to buy election votes
Veteran leader Mr Robert Mugabe will tomorrow further loosen the purse strings by parceling out farm machinery to hand picked land owners in a desperate bid to overcome the double threat from a former ally and an old foe who have promised to defeat him in elections at the month-end.
from our correspondent in Harare
Mr Mugabe (84), still adored by some on the African continent but equally loathed by many over rights abuse charges, will dish out tractors, motor cycles, combine harvesters, generators, small farm implements and cows to beneficiaries of his controversial land seizures.
Central bank funding
The farm equipment programme is being funded by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, who is accused by critics of raiding the central bank’s coffers to prop up an unpopular regime.
Traditional chiefs, who have publicly backed Mr Mugabe’s candidacy, have also seen their financial allowances raised while soldiers woke up last month to find billions of Zimbabwe dollars in their accounts.
Mr Mugabe on Wednesday told striking teachers they would soon get a pay rise. "Teachers, we understand your concerns and we are addressing them," Mugabe, 84, said at a campaign rally in Mahusekwa, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital Harare, ahead of general elections on March 29.
"But we are against this idea of you going on strike. Children must attend school without disruption. We cannot guess what is bothering you, but you can make your recommendations to us.
"Yours is the noblest profession. There is no engineer, doctor or nurse who just became what they are without passing through the hands of a teacher. You boycott your work like ordinary factory workers." said Mr Mugabe a former teacher himself.
Teachers in Zimbabwe’s state-run schools launched a strike on Friday to press for better salaries saying recent increases were overtaken by inflation.
While political analyst says the hand out of farm machinery been going on for some time the timing leaves no one in doubt that Mr Mugabe is trying to buy votes.
Mr Mugabe could face his sternest political test in a presidential race against expelled ruling ZANU-PF party politburo member Dr Simba Makoni and old rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.
Sad turn of events for Mugabe
Only a month ago, pundits were predicting an easy win for Mr Mugabe against a divided opposition but the entrance of Dr Makoni seems to have re-energised voters, analysts say, adding that Mugabe was now fighting for his political life.
Dr Makoni’s bid was boosted last weekend when he won the backing of ZANU PF politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, but it remains to be seen whether this would be enough to weaken Mr Mugabe or make Dr Makoni a serious contender for the presidency.
"From all this, you can understand why Mr Mugabe is resorting to the national purse even as he knows it has a great cost to the economy. I suppose the end justifies the means really. He desperately needs votes," said Dr John Makumbe, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and bitter critic of Mugabe.
Zimbabwe is facing a devastating economic crisis that has sent inflation spiraling beyond 100 000 per cent, fanned unemployment and resulted in shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency.
Mr Mugabe’s critics are quick to blame the meltdown on the seizures of white-owned farms to resettle blacks, many of who lack commercial farming skills and have battled with shortages of inputs in the past five years.
In the current farming season, the government could only supply 10 per cent of the fertilizer required by farmers.
Mr Mugabe admited that the country is facing starvation and hence he is seeking to rush in maize imports from southern African states,
“Maize is there (in Zambia) ... but we are having problems moving it,”
“We sought permission from the Zambian government to send our people to load the maize into trucks because we have already paid for it,” said Mr Mugabe. “We have 150,000 tonnes in Zambia".
Some farmers have in turn sold inputs like fuel and seed on a thriving black market, where they realise quick returns.
Gono has acknowledged the rampant abuse of government inputs, even blaming it on Mr Mugabe’s senior lieutenants, but no one has been brought to book.