Mugabe's Zanu PF builds $6,5 million election monster

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu party is splashing a massive $6,5 million on the construction of a conference centre in Gweru ahead of its “people’s conference” in December, the Daily News can reveal.

The party — reportedly buoyed by diamond money — is bankrolling the construction of the monstrous structure 15 kilometres on the Gweru-Mvuma Road.

With the facility at roof level, the 5 000-seater convention centre is not only conspicuous by its size, but has also raised eyebrows about the source of its funding.

While Mugabe’s Zanu PF is expected to use the facility for its 13th annual conference in early December, its construction has also come at a time the Midlands city is grappling with serious de-industrialisation.

For instance, the cost of its erection is more than two thirds of the money needed to recapitalise Bata Shoe Company.

With the five-day annual gathering expected to map Zanu PF's strategies to stay in power after next year's polls, critics say the $6, 5 million is likely to turn into another "white elephant".

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since Independence in 1980, will be endorsed as the party's presidential candidate at the annual feast, where food and drink will be in free flow.

According to party insiders, land and broad-based empowerment will remain Mugabe’s trump card and rallying point to woo a restive electorate, which has seen steadily rising incomes since the inception of a coalition government in 2008.

Zanu PF, which suffered electoral defeat in March 2008 and was forced to form a “unity” government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC and a smaller MDC faction headed by Welshman Ncube, will be expecting that the conference strengthens the party’s campaign thrust.

Between 5 000 and 10 000 visitors will be in Gweru.

Zanu PF politburo member and ex-Midlands’ governor Cephas Msipa, who is part of the organising committee, said indications pointed to the largest conclave in the party's history.

"It will be one of the best conferences, everyone is looking forward to it," Msipa told the Daily News.

"We are building a special conference centre. We want to be the first to build that kind of conference centre. We are well prepared."

Msipa said the politburo will meet tomorrow to finish arrangements for the reception of dignitaries and the vast crowd of the party's rank and file which will turn out for the national people’s conference.

Aides were also paying close attention to the distribution of provincial tickets to the convention hall.

Spearheaded by Midlands Development Association (MDA) chairman Larry Mavima, the association is reported to be planning a gallery demonstration for Mugabe which they hope will make a lasting impression.

Standing on a 60-hectare piece of land on the outskirts of the so-called “city of progress”, a massive stage 20 metres long and 12 metres wide is being erected for speech making.

The intention, convention organisers say, is to convey a certain level of warmth and intimacy inside the 5 000-seater arena, while also creating a “wow factor” that will impress with state-of-the-art technology.

The conference centre, with a red tiled roof, is impressive; with a futuristic design being put up by Chinese contractors.

The conference centre will include offices for the Zanu PF presidium - comprising the first secretary Mugabe, his two second secretaries Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo and the national chairman Simon Khaya-Moyo - and several other amenities.

The huge auditorium has been arranged to seat 10 000 delegates.

Organisers say it will be a "celebration of gathering" with open walkways and plenty of space. Massive screens and headphone speakers will be available for all the delegates, with translations in most vernacular languages.

The thousands who will attend the convention events in person, and all those tuning in across the country, “should be ready for quite a show,” Msipa said.

He contested the notion that Zanu PF was bigger in style than substance, saying each party strategically constructed a stage to convey its own unique style and “image”.

The ex-Midlands governor described the centre as a legacy project. Meanwhile, most Gweru hotels expect brisk business during the five-day conference.

Local hotel managers say they are double checking their systems, sprucing up rooms and talking over access and security with their employees. - Gift Phiri

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