Source: ZANU-PF colossus rolls into Masvingo town | The Financial Gazette December 22, 2016
A GROUP of awestruck teenage boys, enjoying a schools vacation, gathered around an enormous custom-made Toyota Land Cruiser with posters of President Robert Mugabe pasted on it.
With not so many of such monstrous machines coming to this ancient city of Masvingo, the excited boys had obviously seen something to boast about to schoolmates when schools reopen in the new year.
Several other big cars belonging to Cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament and well to do individuals were rolling into the normally deserted Masvingo Agricultural Show grounds for the ruling party’s annual people’s conference, giving the lads even more spectacle to ogle at.
Such a display of power and wealth was last witnessed in the city 10 months ago when the nouveau rich, otherwise collectively known as ZANU-PF, last visited en-mass during celebrations to mark the party leader, President Mugabe’s 92nd birthday.
This time around, the who is who in ZANU-PF were here for the ruling party’s annual conference: It will not be any time soon that the colossus returns to the province, given the party’s culture of rotating the show around the country’s 10 political provinces.
Punctuated by pomp, fanfare and extravagance, last week’s Masvingo conference served as a reminder that ZANU-PF is an inflexible political powerhouse, which has no intention of relinquishing power any time soon.
Never mind the divisive factional fights that are threatening to rip the party into shreds. Fight they will, but when it comes to staking out their political claim the people making up ZANU-PF will pretend all is well to the world.
In Masvingo, the party proved that it was a master of the game of smoke and mirrors and its stranglehold on power was so palpable that any opposition would have turned green with envy.
And that has kept it in the driving seat for the past 36 years.
With the party’s political craft having been proved wanting many times since the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party in 2000, the ruling party has largely relied on its vice-grip on State power and instruments to remain in control.
When one looks at how the Masvingo conference was staged and structured, it is evident that apart from fulfilling its constitutional requirements, ZANU-PF wanted to exhibit its clout, and that it is not looking back.
Despite their in-house squabbles, all ZANU-PF members at this conference were clearly bound by one common desire: To win the 2018 general elections at any cost.
Factionalism has always been with ZANU-PF since its founding 53 years ago and so it would be naive for anyone in the opposition family to pin their hopes on the tiffs in the ruling party to help them tilt the scales.
Ruling party leader, President Robert Mugabe, had some harsh words for the hopeful opposition in his official opening remarks last Friday afternoon.
He declared that his party had no slight intention of leaving power anytime soon.
Not even much later.
“The party remains strong, there is no doubt about that; in fact, very strong and formidable by any account,” he emphatically thundered.
He then mocked opposition parties that are plotting a coalition to try and upstage ZANU-PF in the 2018 general elections.
“They are sponsored to cause regime change in the country, but there has not been regime change and there won’t be any regime change.”
Indeed, to anyone following the proceedings in Masvingo, his words sounded as realistic as can possibly be, for ZANU-PF descended on the city with an unparalleled show of power and dominance.
In as much as the atmosphere was spectacular, there was a sense of fear that gripped the city as secret State security agents, uniformed police officers and soldiers patrolled the city.
Residents of the city could frequently be heard in supermarkets and eateries expressing their fear of the party, especially when huge ministerial vehicles rolled along the streets, often preceding the several motorcades of service chiefs, vice presidents and that of the President himself.
This was the might of ZANU-PF on show, a party which has the means and will to inspire fear down the spines of many.
Even Masvingo City Council might have been prejudiced of good money in vehicle parking fees because several vehicles could be seen parked on its streets without the parking discs and the city officials could not dare clamp them, in case they belonged to some “untouchable”.
All one needed, to avoid a municipal parking ticket, was a ZANU-PF sticker or poster pasted on any part of the car or an accreditation card loosely dangling inside the car.
The parking marshals could be seen looking timid and forlorn.
Another aspect which was on open display was that this party, whether by hook or crook, is a mean mobilising machine, which has the capacity to bring in the numbers it wants to paint the picture of popularity.
Arguments have been that it coerces and buses people to come to its events and threatens violence. While these appear very valid in some instances, what cannot be denied is the fact that when ZANU-PF wants numbers, it gets them.
One classic historical example was what the whole world witnessed ahead of the 2013 general elections: The party held well-attended star rallies across the country.
As a show of its commitment to remain in power, the party had over 100 buses carrying delegates from all over the country.
And, despite 4,1 million people facing starvation across the country, there was more than enough food for all the 7 000 delegates – a sure testimony that this party can, in addition to mobilising people, also amass resources for its cause, one area which its opponents heavily struggle.
To its advantage, ZANU-PF is able to use the authority of the State and the fear it inspires to mobilise both voters and resources. And the evidence was there for all to see.
Another remarkable feature at the conference which proved ZANU-PF’s supremacy was the ability to manipulate popular culture and tradition to its advantage.
There was a huge contingent of traditional chiefs whom it kept reminding that they needed to tell their subjects to be grateful to the party and its supreme leader, who has managed to source food in the times of famine and feed the entire nation.
And then there were a number of church leaders from Masvingo province, most notably the leader of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC), Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi, who was asked to give a sermon and pray for the success of the conference.
The cleric has massive following in the province. In his prayer, he thanked God for allowing ZANU-PF to rule the country and asked the Almighty to make sure that the party rules “forever and ever”.
Seated next to this reporter in the tent was a man in a navy blue suit with a ZCC badge pinned on the breast. He leapt for joy in response to the man of the cloth’s prayer as soon as he said: “Amen!”
Soon after the prayer, a clearly elated Saviour Kasukuwere, ZANU-PF’s secretary for the commissariat, asked the ZCC Mbungo stars orchestra to let out their popular Ndire ndire hit, which had the tent erupting into song and dance.
The long and short of it all is that ZANU-PF went to Masvingo — as it does in other places year after year — to show that it is an enormous political powerhouse which can hardly be moved.
Opposition parties certainly need to raise their game a thousand fold if they fancy their slightest of chances against this colossus: This was the clear and emphatic message that ZANU-PF sent out last week.