Cabinet minister ‘faces dismissal’ over power-cuts

HARARE – Embattled Energy minister and acting Zanu PF chairman for Manicaland, Samuel Undenge, is in danger of being booted out from both his Cabinet and party posts, as Zimbabwe’s crippling electricity blackouts and the ruling party’s brutal factional and succession wars worsen.

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By Fungi Kwaramba

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UNDENGE

Energy minister and acting Zanu PF chairman for Manicaland, Samuel Undenge

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Sources told the Daily News yesterday that Undenge’s political enemies within the bitterly-divided post-congress Zanu PF were using the current debilitating power shortages afflicting the country to bay for his blood — in a fraught political environment where the minister is already under pressure in Manicaland.

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And as an indication of the trouble that Undenge is in, the country’s usually cautious State media, when it comes to reporting on the government and its leaders, have been unusually forthright and critical about the power shortages and the lack of resolve to deal with the crisis by the minister and his permanent secretary, Partson Mbiriri.

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“I fear for Undenge. His enemies are sharpening their knives using the power cuts to agitate for his dismissal, arguing that he is doing nothing to mitigate the long-standing national crisis.

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“They are also saying that he is clueless about the matter, to the extent that he is even supposedly afraid to pronounce himself on it, leaving bureaucrats to try and give direction to the nation.

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“The reality, however, is that this argument is both false and expedient. It also exposes the terrible divisions and anarchy that are tearing the movement (Zanu PF) apart. I mean, what ministry or government function is not dealing with multiple crises in this country and so why pick on him?

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“The fact of the matter is that everyone knows that power cuts are not new and that Undenge was given a hospital pass when he was assigned to this ministry. This is a long-standing problem for which he is not to blame,” a senior Zanu PF official close to Undenge said.

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The minister has been under sustained attack in Manicaland — a politically-unstable province where he is interim ruling party chairperson — and where he stands accused of fanning factionalism by his high-ranking detractors there.

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Two months ago, combative Zanu PF national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, was compelled to reverse a vote of no-confidence that had been passed against Undenge and after the Energy minister was booted out of the party’s provincial executive.

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At about the same time, the beleaguered Undenge also launched an astonishing public attack on politburo member and Manicaland godmother Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, whom he described as both power hungry and “a sell-out”.

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Muchinguri-Kashiri was said to be one of the party bigwigs who wanted to see the back of Undenge, amid further allegations at the time that the Water minister had been recorded on tape plotting the downfall of the Energy minister and other Zanu PF leaders in the province such as Provincial Affairs minister Mandi Chimene.

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Undenge claimed that Muchinguri-Kashiri and others wanted to replace him with central committee member and former provincial chairperson Mike Madiro, saying further that the push to boot him out was being fronted by people who did not understand the ruling party’s constitution.

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“That is another form of Gamatox which we need to fight. We have caught the people who want to do a coup, but Zanu PF doesn’t operate that way. Zanu PF doesn’t hold a clandestine meeting like the other one where Cde Muchinguri was recorded … If you go outside the party constitution to do illegal meetings, then that is part of selling out,” he said.

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While efforts to speak to Undenge himself yesterday, to get his views on the power cuts and the push to oust him were fruitless, as he was not answering his phone and did not respond to messages sent to him, analysts said the bloodletting within Zanu PF was costing the nation dearly on many fronts.

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Economist Vince Musewe told the Daily News that the punishing power outages could not be blamed on an individual, but on the culture of “reshuffling ministers constantly” to balance Zanu PF’s factional interests.

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“We have had different ministers in the past years and this is what happens when you change ministers every time. Instead of doing their jobs, they will be busy protecting their turf,” he said.

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Asked who then was to blame for Zimbabwe’s myriad problems, Musewe said President Robert Mugabe was ultimately the man to be taken to task as he led government and did not appear to plan for the future.

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“If there is anyone to blame then it is the president, not the ministers or the tender process or the Zesa board. Mugabe is the CEO of the country and he must accept that.

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“The cost of the power cuts is significant. Workers are sitting at work doing nothing and yet they have to be paid, which raises the cost of production. Imagine a big company that wants to invest in Zimbabwe, how would they come in? The cost is a big chunk of the country’s domestic production,” Musewe said.

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Renowned economist, John Robertson, buttressed Musewe’s views saying the country’s already comatose economy was going to contract further due to the massive load shedding.

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“This year’s GDP is going to be less than last year’s. The economy is going down and that is a contradiction to what the president said,” Robertson said.

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He added that the reality was that the country would record negative growth of at “least five percent” due to among other factors, policy discord, factionalism and power cuts.

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“We have so many things happening against us some of them natural but most of them man-made. They have been talking about building power stations for the past 20 years. You cannot blame a single person,” Robertson said.

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Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said “blackouts are symptoms of a lack of vision in the higher echelons of power”.

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“This has nothing to do with the minister but the government that is in power in totality. Beyond that, the lack of power also shows you the lack of light in the opponents of this government.

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“I have not seen any organised group demanding accountability and the mitigation of the decay in government. It is not good enough to say that this government is bankrupt without mentioning the opposition. There is a bankruptcy of ideas all round,” Ruhanya said. – Daily News

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