punch drunk

Floyd Mayweather throws weight behind ZANU-PF, even though he can’t vote

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This article is part of the dossier:

Zimbabwe votes

By Veneranda Langa

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Posted on August 7, 2023 10:37

Residents of Mabvuku, a high-density suburb in Harare, Zimbabwe, waiting for former World Boxing Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr at a rally to drum up support for ZANU-PF. (Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)
Residents of Mabvuku, a high-density suburb in Harare, Zimbabwe, waiting for former World Boxing Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr at a rally to drum up support for ZANU-PF. (Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

Floyd Mayweather Jr flew in by private jet and wore the Mnangagwa scarf. But after the thrill is over, Mabvuku residents still have no water.

When Floyd Joy Mayweather Jr said “yes” to his invitation, Pedzai ‘Scott’ Sakupwanya had reason to punch the air.

The parliamentary candidate for Mabvuku-Tafara brought the American retired boxer, winner of 15 world championships, to Harare in July to attract crowds for his political campaign.

Mayweather arrived in a private jet and wore the scarf popularised by President Emmerson Mnangagwa during his visit, a symbol of endorsement of the Zimbabwean leader’s rule. “The president is unbelievable,” the American boxer said at State House after visiting Mnangagwa.

“He is for the people, and I told him he has my support 100%, so we need him brought back here [to State House]; for a great cause, for the people,” Mayweather said.

Mayweather’s booking fee for an appearance is reported to be in the range of US$500,000-$750,000. While not confirming the exact dollar amount it had spent on the event, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) spokesman Christopher Mutsvanga told the local press that the boxer’s visit “projected Zimbabwe across continents”.

People thought I was lying when I said I would bring Mayweather, but here he is

Mayweather was on the continent as part of his ‘Motherland Tour’ where he visited several other African countries to meet his fans, including South Africa. Sakupwanya, a gold dealer who was named in the Al Jazeera documentary Gold Mafia, met Mayweather in Dubai in 2021 and told Zimbabweans he would bring the fighter to Zimbabwe.

“People thought I was lying when I said I would bring Mayweather, but here he is.  This shows that what I promise in this election will come to pass,” he said.

Mabvuku’s water shortage

Hundreds of Mabvuku residents turned up to watch the American boxer performing a short workout and a few boxing bouts on a punching bag. He also signed autographs.

He was brought to Mabvuku, one of the poorest suburbs in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, by a convoy of vehicles branded The Money Team (TMT), his company name. But after Mayweather left, Mabvuku, with an estimated population of more than 30,000, remains impoverished.

The neighbourhood is made up of predominantly jobless youths living with their ageing parents. Mabvuku’s perennial water shortages affect the population. In 2021, Human Rights Watch noted that the neighbourhood suffers from a lack of potable water, with dilapidated pipes and vandalism an additional part of the problem.

Some households in Mabvuku have spent more than 10 years without potable water.

Some residents are questioning Sakupwanya’s priorities of spending millions to bring Mayweather to a struggling community, while others are mesmerised that they saw the boxer.

Mixed views

Mabvuku has been an opposition stronghold since 2000, and Sakupwanya is spending thousands of dollars in his campaign to wrest it from the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC).

“He is fixing the roads, assisting poor people with school fees, and paying funeral expenses for poor families. People were also happy to see Mayweather, and this might win Sakupwanya some votes,” one of his supporters, Asiat Willie, tells The Africa Report.

But Mabvuku resident Aaron Mwale says Sakupwanya’s priorities are wrong.

He isn’t some pan-African ideologue. He’s just another mercenary out for a payday

“To a certain extent, he will get some votes from the people that he has assisted. But the money spent on Mayweather could have gone to other projects,” he says, further criticising the move to give money and small gifts to the elderly there.

“In Mabvuku we need water, and Sakupwanya could have spent the money to rebuild the archaic water infrastructure or drill more boreholes. I do not think I will vote for him because the money he spends in Mabvuku is from questionable activities,” Mwale says.

In one of his campaign posters, Sakupwanya introduced four buses for the Mabvuku to Harare central business district (CBD) route.  The four buses will ferry residents to work for free ahead of the 23 August elections.

Projects to empower people

One of his political rivals, CCC candidate Phibion Hakutizwi Munyaradzi, tells The Africa Report that the roads and other infrastructure that Sakupwanya claims he is fixing in Mabvuku-Tafara are government projects.

“Sakupwanya has been misleading people, saying he is the one fixing roads in Mabvuku-Tafara, yet those are government funds, says Munyaradzi, adding that billboards on the roads under construction mention that they are being fixed by the Ministry of Local Government and the Zimbabwe National Road Authority.

“He is now using government projects to gain political mileage,” he says.

Munyaradzi says he is not worried about competition from Sakupwanya, as the CCC is promising people projects such as the completion of Kunzvi, Muda and Musani dams, which will be used to pipe water to Mabvuku-Tafara.

“Young people in Mabvuku are not moved by projects implemented towards elections. Most of them are unemployed and they want jobs. As CCC, we cannot afford to give people food hampers, but we are promising them projects that will empower them, and we are doing door-to-door campaigns.”

Mayweather exposes inequality

Political analyst Vivid Gwede tells The Africa Report that bringing in sports personalities to improve politicians’ tarnished reputations is a strategy used by many undemocratic regimes and their backers.

“It may entice a few, but the day Mayweather left Mabvuku, people went back to grappling with their daily challenges,” says Gwede. “Instead of guaranteeing support to those who flaunt wealth, the Mayweather event could actually work in the opposite direction for Sakupwanya,” he adds.

Vote-buying gimmick

For Nairobi-based political analyst Tinashe Gumbo, the millions spent on Mayweather’s trip could have been used to develop Mabvuku.

“Opposition CCC still has a lot of support in Mabvuku – it will be a tight contest for Sakupwanya and Munyaradzi,” he says.

“The fact that he is well-known for irregular gold business activities will not be forgotten by voters in Mabvuku. Most of them know he is using irregularly acquired wealth to buy their votes and they are unlikely to vote for him,” Gumbo says.

Independent legislator for Norton, Temba Mliswa, also mocked Mayweather’s visit in a viral video where he says there was nothing to learn except the manner in which he pronounced the name ‘Scott’ in an American accent.

“They don’t do anything for free. He isn’t some pan-African ideologue to glow over. He is just another mercenary out for a payday. You want him to come here; you pay – to meet him, you pay,” Mliswa told the media during the boxer’s visit.

“It’s not like he believes in anything about this country or is conscious of any ideological agenda that he wants to support. No! He is simply making his money.”

While Mayweather visited Harare and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, it is in South Africa where he spent his money, with media reporting that he spent $7m at a Gucci store in Johannesburg.

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