A number of individuals and companies have fallen victim to unscrupulous Zanu PF officials using First Lady Grace Mugabe’s name to extort money, but the ruling party’s reaction to the scandal leaves a lot to be desired.
Zanu PF Harare provincial youth chairperson Godwin Gomwe is currently on trial for allegedly extorting over $46 000 from housing co-operatives in Harare’s Glen Norah suburb using Grace’s name.
Indications are that his case is just a tip of the iceberg if revelations made at a meeting between ministers led by Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Caledonia residents on Wednesday are anything to go by.
The poor settlers on the outskirts of Harare told Kasukuwere’s delegation that named Zanu PF officials had made them pay over $70 000 after claiming that a school in the area had been taken over by Grace.
The settlers said Zanu PF officials were in the habit of demanding cash from them, which they claimed was being collected on behalf of the First Lady.
Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo told journalists after the politburo meeting on Wednesday that Kasukuwere had been tasked with investigating party officials implicated in such scams, not only in Caledonia, but throughout the country.
Khaya Moyo’s statements indicate that Zanu PF is aware of the extent of the rot, but will not allow the police to do their job.
Harare has suffered the most from the mushrooming of illegal settlements where people linked to the ruling party parcel out land to home seekers after taking advantage of the government’s chaotic land redistribution programme.
Zanu PF has all along been reluctant to act on the chaos because the disorder benefited it during elections especially in urban areas.
In the 2013 elections, the ruling party was accused of using people from the illegal settlements around Harare to boost its support base after failing to topple the opposition from urban areas for some time.
Zanu PF officials thrived in the chaos and some became filthy rich from illegal land sales.
The land barons were untouchable because they belonged to the right Zanu PF faction and this is why it is hypocritical for the ruling party to start behaving as if this is a new phenomenon.
The criminal activities have not been confined to Harare as there are several reports of Grace’s name being used to extort money from struggling Bulawayo companies.
According to reports, the Zanu PF Bulawayo youth provincial executive was recently ousted after officials demanded money from city companies on the pretext that they wanted to attend meetings convened by the First Lady.
The youths reportedly demanded different amounts of money from companies who blew the whistle after the requests for cash became routine.
The rogue executives certainly learnt the extortionist culture from the party’s modus operandi where businesses are routinely coerced to fund activities such as the party’s congresses and conferences.
Companies are also subtly forced to bankroll President Robert Mugabe’s birthday celebrations that are held annually.
To nip the growing band of extortionists in the bud, Zanu PF has to relook its fundraising mechanisms that are open to abuse by greedy party officials.
The party also has to allow law enforcement agents to do their work.
Once it is established that some party officials make land-hungry villagers pay money on the pretext that it is for the First Lady, the next step should be to rope in the police.
It is not the duty of ministers to investigate criminal activities, but that of the police.
The only way Zanu PF can deal with land barons it has nurtured over the years would be to promote transparency and the rule of law.