A car-guarding business in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, some 30km south of the capital Harare, thrived for about four months - until Zimbabwe's acrid party politics intervened.
Maxwell Dzama, 26, along with 10 of his friends, turned two acres of land into a community enterprise that guarded commuters’ cars overnight. At a time when unemployment levels stood in excess of 80 percent, the business provided participants a daily income of US$50 each.
But the business ended in August 2012 after youths - allegedly linked to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party - assaulted three guards, torched the guard house and tore down the perimeter fencing.
“The youths who destroyed our car-guard business told us that they would not tolerate any project run by people from the Movement for Democratic Change [MDC]. They were sent by their leaders, who are jealous that the MDC is making attempts to help poor people earn a living,” Dzama told IRIN.
“What they are doing is very unfair and inhuman. Our business had brought us much hope as we could afford to earn decent wages. As you can see, we are now back in the streets with nothing to do,” he said.
Ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, the sabotaging of businesses and projects affiliated with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party has grown increasingly widespread. The polls are scheduled for 2013, but no date has yet been set.
The unity government of the MDC and ZANU-PF was formed in 2009 following the violent and disputed elections the previous year.
Politics of destruction
In another Chitungwiza suburb, beneficiaries of an MDC supported poultry project allege ZANU-PF supporters closed the operation down.
“About 100 residents were each given 50 day-old chicks to rear and start their own poultry projects. The MP also helped us build fowl runs at our places of residents or on land sourced from the council, but when the ZANU-PF activists learned about it, they came and violently took away the chicks from all of us," said Nancy Foroma, 30, an unemployed single mother.
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“These people enjoy seeing us suffer. There is so much poverty here, and it was hoped that the poultry project would help youths and families fend for themselves. What kind of politics is it that thrives on seeing people starve or beg?” she said.
This is the second time in a year that Foroma has fallen victim to commercial sabotage. She said ZANU-PF members also closed down a piggery project in rural Seke District, about 40km south of Harare, where she and others had been rearing 25 pigs for sale.
The incidents have been reported to the police, and the names of the perpetrators disclosed, but no arrest have been made.
Thabani Nyoni, spokesperson for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), an umbrella organization for about 350 NGOs, said the disruption of self-help projects was “rampant and tragic”.
“It is extremely disturbing that politics is being used to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. We are aware of many cases whereby humanitarian and development interventions by NGOs, politicians and civil society are being disrupted because those that attempt to do the livelihood-promoting projects are deemed agents of regime change and enemies of ZANU-PF," Nyoni told IRIN.
Piniel Denga, the MDC parliamentarian for Mbare, one of Harare's most deprived areas, told IRIN spending the $50,000 constituency-development grant was difficult because of the threat of sabotage.
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“I have a number of projects, ranging from water and sanitation, education to healthcare, that I have been intending to carry out since 2008 when I became MP of Mbare, but [the] Chipangano is frustrating my efforts.”
The Chipangano is alleged to be a ZANU-PF-supporting youth militia in Mbare. They are said to extort money from vendors and public transport operators with apparent impunity.
“I know that the terror group is being used by my political rivals in ZANU-PF who do not want me and the MDC to get credit for developing the constituency. Community members are the real victims,” Denga said.
Mbare has been affected by water-borne disease in recent years, but after five boreholes were drilled, the Chipangano took control of two and vandalized the other three, Denga reported.
They have hoisted Mugabe's party’s flag over the two working boreholes, where they provide water to residents with ZANU-PF membership cards. Those without are charged $1 per bucket.
Denga said, “These people in ZANU-PF are celebrating poverty. They do not care about development but their own political power. They fear being exposed if real development takes place. Mbare is one of the poorest suburbs in the country, and some people would rather have it that way because it makes them stronger.”
The ZANU-PF national spokesperson Rugare Gumbo told IRIN, “I am not aware that our members are sabotaging other’s people’s projects. However, as a party, we urge people to tolerate each other and live harmoniously.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions