Political parties in the red

Morgan and Joice

MDC -T leader Morgan Tsvangira and ZPF president Joice Mujuru

ZIMBABWE’S major political parties are in the red, as the economic hardships which have swept over industries and the general population take a toll on their operations.
This threatens to make the political elections in 2018 a matter of survival of the fittest.
ZANU-PF is so far the only party in good stead — by virtue of its proximity to State coffers — to position itself much more strongly ahead of its political opponents.
But this is little consolation as it is in debt.
Pressure is ever being piled on its traditional financiers to dig deeper into their pockets to save the party from financial ruin.
The harsh economic environment means that smaller political parties, which have recently mushroomed, unless backed by deep pockets, may not even be around for the 2018 plebiscite.
Those agitating for a coalition of the country’s opposition political parties also list financial considerations in addition to the advantages of the combined human capital and grassroots support as compelling reason to join hands against ZANU-PF.
Under the Political Parties Finance Act, political parties in the country are barred from receiving funding from foreign donors.
In terms of the Act, a political party that secures at least five percent of the total votes cast is entitled to receive funding from government.
Following the July 31, 2013 general elections, ZANU-PF was entitled to receive about US$2,3 million annually while the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), led by Morgan Tsvangirai was eligible to receive US$700 000.
Obert Mpofu, the ZANU-PF secretary for finance, said this week the ruling party was yet to receive its allocation for the current financial year from Treasury.
“We haven’t received anything for this financial year, that’s something which Treasury can best comment on. I can’t comment on that,” Mpofu said.
He said ZANU-PF members were making monthly contributions in order to meet the running expenses of the party.
“That’s a party constitutional requirement and all our members are aware of the requirement to pay for their subscriptions,” he added.
Treasury itself is hamstrung by the widespread cash shortages and slow economic growth in the country,
Poor commodity prices and a strong United States dollar have also reduced the country’s revenue streams.
The Financial Gazette this week canvassed several political parties which admitted that the failing economy was scuttling party programmes.
To keep going, parties are now surviving on the benevolence of party leaders who are subsidizing them as well as efforts of volunteers.
Many of the political parties also make reference to the July 17 ruling made last year by the Supreme Court that allowed employers to fire employees on three months’ notice.
Estimates place the number of people that lost jobs as a result of this judgement at over 20 000. Some of the affected employees can no longer afford to maintain their membership of political parties through the payment of subscriptions.
A senior official in the MDC led by Welshman Ncube gave a grim picture of the party’s financial position, which he said had been compounded by the elective congress it is scheduled to hold this year.
Half-way into the year, the party still has not announced a date for the elective congress, which is reflective of the difficulties the MDC could be encountering in mobilising resources for the indaba.
“The situation is really bad. The majority of party members including some in the national executive are failing to pay subscriptions forcing top leadership and elected officials to subsidise expenses. It is one of the reasons that congress scheduled for this year is delaying to kick off,” said the MDC official.

ZANU-PF secretary for finance, Obert Mpofu.

ZANU-PF secretary for finance, Obert Mpofu.

The party is also understood to be struggling to pay utility bills and salaries at its five provincial offices, which have an average of between one and two permanent employees each.
Kurauone Chihwayi, the MDC national spokesperson, however, downplayed the financial squeeze saying preparations for the MDC’s elective congress were at a “very advanced stage”.
“The party’s National Council met last month and received a comprehensive report from Treasury to the satisfaction of everybody. The secretary-general was given the green light to prepare for congress. Bad economy or good economy, subscriptions or no subscriptions the party will hold its congress this year and very soon,” he said.
ZAPU, led by Dumiso Dabengwa, has battled a cash crunch since last year that forced it to postpone its elective congress to this year.  The date for its elective congress is yet to be announced. An estimated US$200 000 is required to hold the congress, and the party has only managed to raise US$80 000 so far.
The People’s Democratic Party national spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, said all the political parties were in trouble because of the economy.
“We move on through a spirit of volunteerism that has been the hallmark of Zimbabwe and like the Spartans of old, we fight a great struggle with the barest of supplies in the genuine belief that light always defeats darkness,” he said.
MDC-T treasurer, Theresa Makone, refused to comment on the financial position of the country’s largest opposition political party.
“I don’t discuss treasury issues of the MDC-T with the press unfortunately,” she said.
Political commentator and media scholar, Khanyile Mlotshwa, said it was a matter of time before the economic hardships cascaded down to the political parties.
“I believe it serves them right…Municipalities are struggling to provide services and this has been shown by the recent spate of accidents…Political parties should be the last of our worries, especially considering that most of them are donor funded. If they can cancel the whole political party funding from the Treasury, they would have done this country a great service,” he said.
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