Following the MDC’s dizzying electoral defeats at the hands of ZANU PF in March 2013 and July 2018, the opposition outfit lost most of its traditional Western funding as donors turned off the funding taps after realising that the party lacked the capacity to unseat ZANU PF. From that point onwards, the party in its various factions and formations has had to rely on its members and well-wishing donors especially from the diaspora.
This, however, has not been without its attendant challenges. During the era of funding by Western donors of bottomless pockets, the party’s leadership became accustomed to dipping into the cookie jar without restraint and admonition from anyone. The same tradition continues unabated to this day.
A tradition of funds abuse
and carefree spending
During the days of the Government of National Unity (GNU), which ran from 2009 to 2013, the MDC received so much funding that the party’s leader, the late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, literally ran a parallel government through the Office of the Prime Minister which was awash with foreign funding. Someone once said that abundance of money does not change one’s character, but magnifies an already existing one.
As soon as Tsvangirai began receiving limitless funds for both his party and parallel government, his real character began to emerge. He became what Zimbabwe came to know as the “legend of the seas” as he changed women like shoes and lived large at some of the world’s most expensive tourist resorts. At the time his name was linked to over five women. In November 2012, he defied tradition by marrying one Locadia Karimatsenga during that sacred month. Within weeks he attempted to ditch Karimatsenga for Elizabeth Macheka, but not without a fight from the former.
Karimatsenga sued for maintenance to the tune of almost US$30 000 a month and Mr Tsvangirai, teeming with donor money, chose to pay her a go-away settlement of US$300 000. Interestingly, at the time Mr Tsvangirai was not known to run any business and his monthly salary as the Prime Minster of Zimbabwe was US$2 000. The source of Mr Tsvangirai’s money was everybody’s guess — the party’s coffers. No wonder MDC’s foreign donors withdrew funding. This divided the party as those who did not benefit directly from donor funds complained.
Purse tightening times
With the West’s purse strings tightened into an unforgiving and miserly knot, this marked the MDC’s new means of survival – asking for donations from local and foreign based well-wishers. By 2016, Mr Tsvangirai was asking senior party members to contribute towards the party’s finances in exchange for promises of being allocated uncontested seats during the 2018 harmonised elections. The tough financial times seem to have taught him some measure of frugality which he sought to enforce by ensuring direct control of the party’s finances. It is, therefore, not surprising that one of the resolutions passed by the MDC’s October 2014 congress was to move the finance oversight function from the secretary general’s office to Mr Tsvangirai’s office through tinkering with the party’s constitution.
Upon Tsvangirai’s death in February 2018, Chamisa seized a broke party with a lot of creditors such as the City of Harare bills, party workers’ salary arrears and numerous other service providers. Having learnt at Mr Tsvangirai’s feet, he inherited his predecessor’s habit of murky handling of the party’s finances and dipping into the MDC Alliance financial cookie jar. His secretary general, Mr Chalton Hwende, became his enabler and also stands accused of aiding and abetting the misappropriation of donor funds and the Political Parties (Finances) Act proceeds from the Government.
It is, therefore, not surprising that as the party was burning financially, The Independent weekly newspaper’s March 6, 2020 edition reported that some senior members of his executive were pushing for his arrest over allegations of abuse of $2 million in party funds.
The paper quoted an MDC Alliance official who said “the case in which $1, 9 million was stolen and used for other purposes other than party activities has been a major issue in the party since the case was made public and some are saying arrests should be made.” The matter died a natural death on the back of promises of an audit of the party’s finances. Chamisa could not audit himself out of power and into prison.
The crowdfunding initiatives
Under Chamisa’s watch, Mr Tsvangirai’s donate-to-secure-your-seat mantra was replaced by crowdfunding initiatives pushed by his allies in the Diaspora who were targeting fellow diasporians.
Crowdfunding is the practice of mobilising funding for a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount, normally using the internet.
One of the foremost MDC Alliance crowdfunding projects was carried out ostensibly to raise funds to pay for the legal costs of Chamisa’s Constitutional Court election petition of August 24, 2018, which he lost.
The project, which was initiated and driven by the United Kingdom- based lawyer and MDC founding member, Mrs Yvonne Mahlunge-Gwashavanhu, was dubbed “Zimbabwe Citizens Legal and Medical Costs” as it was ostensibly also meant to cover the medical costs of those who Mahlunge-Gwashavanhu said had allegedly been tortured during the election by people that she failed to identify.
What is most interesting about the project is that on January 19, 2019, she wrote on its gofundme.com account , thanking those who had made donations and went to inform that “all the money was submitted to the Nelson Chamisa Foundation and used to cover the legal costs.”
If the funds were really meant for a party leader’s expenses incurred in the line of party duty, why were they not transferred to a party legal bank account where they could be audited and accounted for instead of a private foundation? As at September 20, 2021, a total of £22 343 had been raised from 1 100 donors.
Transparency has neither been appreciated nor practised in the MDC factions and formations. No donor or potential donor would wish to donate to an organisation which uses murky and questionable foundations to evade accountability.
In April 2021, United States-based activist, Freeman Chari, initiated a crowdfunding campaign to “raise money for political prisoners.” Some of the party’s activists who had been arrested at the time included Lengwani Mavhunga and Munyaradzi Mafararikwa. Despite MDC Alliance deputy chairperson, Job Sikhala, posting images of himself receiving goods and funds at journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono’s house on social media, when the two activists were released on bail in May 2021, they narrated harrowing stories of neglect by their party leaders raising the question of where the donated funds went.
The two activists’ spoke of how MDC Alliance youth assembly leader, Obey Sithole, who had been arrested a few days before their release, was using his open palm to wash his face owing to lack of toiletries. The party quickly arranged a window dresser visit to Sithole to cover up for the apparent misuse of donations.
There were reports of the party neglecting its activist, Makomborero Haruzivishe, who is doing time for inciting citizens to commit acts of public violence. His relatives complained that his party was not doing enough to care for him while the MDC Alliance leadership argued otherwise. The final arbiter on the matter was a social media image of an emaciated and visibly neglected Haruzivishe appearing at the Harare Magistrates Court in relation to a case in which he held hostage Impala Motor Spares workers in their shop in central Harare in October last year.
Enough of your thieving ways
The MDC Alliance finally got its books audited and treasurer general, David Coltart, announced in October last year that his party’s executive had been absolved of the charges of funds abuse, but many were not convinced. They even questioned the identity and integrity of the auditors, Auditax International, and how they were selected.
Even G40 kingpin, Professor Jonathan Moyo, who partly bankrolled Chamisa’s 2018 election campaign and provided him with political counsel in the fervent but misplaced hope of using him to get back at President Emmerson Mnangagwa, seems to have lost trust in the MDC Alliance. After realising that many donors no longer trust the party with their funds, Hwende recently appealed to well-wishers to sponsor or adopt the party’s polling agents for 2023. Prof Moyo responded by tweeting on September 12, 2021 that he would support all opposition polling agents in addition to training 44 000 polling agents for 11 000 polling stations.
It is important to note that when Prof Moyo funded the MDC Alliance in 2018, he did not publicise the gesture. This time around he made a full disclosure with no indication that the opposition outfit will receive any money. That is instructive. Although Prof Moyo seems to believe that he can still use the hopeless Chamisa and the MDC Alliance to exact revenge against President Mnangagwa, he obviously has had enough of the outfit’s habit of thieving donated funds. He has chosen to donate paid services instead of cash. He has learnt his lesson.
In view of the MDC Alliance’s chequered record when it comes to handling donated funds, it is important for Zimbabweans to think twice before making any donations to the opposition grouping.
Citizens should be wary of feathering MDC Alliance leaders’ nests in the name of donating to the party. It is not by coincidence that most of the leaders acquired huge real estate and business portfolios in the past few years after gaining access to party funds as senior leaders.
The Constitution provides for the right to association, but it is up to individual citizens to jealously guard themselves against the wiles of political snake oil salesmen in the opposition who use the emotive subject of politics to fleece them of their hard earned financial resources.