President Robert Mugabe last week gave war veterans over a dozen top-of-the-range cars in yet another clear demonstration that the long-time ruler is only interested in retaining power at a time the economy has hit rock bottom.
Comment: The Standard Editor
The cars, which included two twin cabs valued at $55 000 each and 11 single cabs that cost $49 000 each, were handed over to war veterans minister Tshinga Dube by Mugabe at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare.
The choice of the venue for the handover ceremony removed any doubts that the vehicles were bought to advance any urgent government programmes.
Mugabe (92) has already set his sights on the 2018 elections where he would be seeking yet another term in office despite his spectacular failure to fulfil promises he made in the previous elections.
Zanu PF is battling to woo back the former liberation war fighters after their spectacular fallout over Mugabe’s succession earlier this year.
War veterans announced that they would not campaign for the veteran ruler in future elections as they accused him of being a dictator and ruining the economy.
Before the spectacular divorce, the former fighters were a vital cog in Mugabe’s previous re-election schemes that included extreme violence against his opponents and the destructive land reform programme.
Their relationship had nothing to do with national interest but was cemented by greed and Mugabe’s desperation to hang on to the presidency until he dies.
The war veterans, who fought gallantly for this country’s liberation, were reduced to a band of mercenaries and their Damascene moment, although long overdue, was most welcome.
However, the life presidency is so important for Mugabe that he would not stop at anything to win back the affection of war veterans, including splashing cash on luxury vehicles that the government can ill-afford.
There is no doubt that the money to buy the cars came from Treasury, which has been battling to fund basic government programmes.
Major government health institutions such as the United Bulawayo Hospitals and Harare Hospitals — the biggest referral health centres in Zimbabwe — have had to suspend major operations in the last two months owing to lack of funds.
The government has not been able to release adequate funding to hospitals this year because its purse is empty.
It is not only the health sector that is being choked by lack of funding, but many government programmes are at a standstill for the same reasons.
The country’s foreign missions have become a laughing stock as many embassies abroad are failing to pay rentals and diplomats are going for several months without salaries.
Millions of Zimbabweans are starving and they are losing livestock due to the drought, yet Mugabe believes bribing war veterans with luxurious cars is a priority.
A day after the presentation of the luxury vehicles, it was revealed that the War Veterans ministry owed various schools over $37 million in unpaid fees for the former fighters’ children.
The government only released a paltry $3 million to settle that debt and this means schools being forced to take these children are suffering serious prejudice as a result of the outstanding fees.
It would certainly have made more sense to use the money to alleviate the plight of the former fighters rather than buying cars that would only benefit Zanu PF functionaries.
Mugabe might be in the twilight of his political career but it is never too late for him to put the country first and stop his obsession with power retention.