FINANCE and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube boycotted the Zanu-PF politburo on Wednesday, where the party’s top brass spent hours discussing the dire state of the economy and how the Covid-19 pandemic had left it grounded.
Ncube had been invited to give a presentation on the state of the economy, but opted instead to attend the question-and-answer session in the National Assembly.
The decision to summon him to the meeting comes amid mounting fears among Zanu-PF bigwigs that the party could lose the 2023 general election owing to the catastrophic economic decline, which they fear is angering the population and alienating it from voters.
“He had been invited to give a presentation on the state of the economy in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has impacted on economic performance, but he failed to turn up without even officially excusing himself. We only learnt later that he was actually in parliament,” a senior party official who attended the meeting said.
“What we really do not understand is why he could not come in the morning since the meeting started at 10am. He could have just come and made his presentation and then gone to parliament since the question time only kicks off at 2.30pm. What is clear here is that he really wanted to avoid this meeting given what happened the last time he was there,” the source said.
The last time Ncube attended the politburo member, in June last year, guns were trained on him when he told glum-faced Zanu-PF bigwigs that the economy was in terrible shape and he had no magic wand to rescue it overnight.
Since his appointment in 2018, some party heavyweights have been unsettled by Ncube’s economic policy thrust, which saw year-on-year inflation ballooning to 742% in July 2020 amid severe exchange rate volatility. Incomes and savings have been eroded, condemning most citizens to untold poverty.
Senior party officials have been unhappy with Ncube, accusing him of sabotaging the party through economic mismanagement. Ncube’s policies, espoused in the now discarded Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), are widely blamed by Zanu-PF hardliners for the deteriorating economy.
He has been tiptoeing around political landmines at every turn, having introduced sweeping policy changes which have not improved the fortunes of a devastated economy
But Ncube enjoys the unqualified support of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who recruited the economics professor from Europe where he was running a consultancy firm, and deployed him as a technocrat with solutions to fix the ailing economy.
Sources said that during somber discussions in the politburo meeting on Wednesdaythis week, the party bigwigs expressed fear the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, which has virtually grounded their party and left it in operational paralysis, could lead to crushing defeat in the 2023 general election.
Senior officials who attended the meeting said the three main presenters, chairperson Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, secretary for administration Obert Mpofu and national political commissar Victor Matemadanda, all expressed concern about how the party was failing to conduct its normal activities because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“The meeting was held amid a very sombre atmosphere. Much of the time was spent on condolences on party cadres whom we lost to Covid-19 since our last politburo meeting last year. Then comrade Muchinguri, the chairperson, gave a very sad report detailing how the pandemic was wreaking havoc in our communities and even within the party. Everyone was contrite about it,” the source said.
“Then the national commissar, comrade Matemadanda, spoke about how the party has been left virtually paralysed because of the virus. He specifically said the DCCs (district coordinating committees) had not met since they were reconstituted last year.
“He also said this was affecting the party’s programmes in a major way and could negatively affect its chances of winning the 2023 elections,” the source said.
“Comrade Mpofu then suggested that the annual national conference which we normally hold in December should be rolled back to October and this was adopted by the meeting, which means from this year onwards, our conferences will be held in October,” the source further said.