Bussing for Hall of Shame

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF is poised to avoid the danger of the octogenerian leader accepting his party’s nomination before a partially-empty, new $6,5 milllion convention centre in Gweru by bussing in thousands of supporters.

The Mugabe campaign has been working desperately to ensure that the 5 000-seater convention centre located 13km out of Gweru along the Mvuma Road would be filled to the rafters.

Buses for supporters from across Zimbabwe have been arranged and the conference will be attended by members of liberation movements in the region.

Footage of rows of empty seats at the Gweru convention centre — when Mugabe speaks on Friday — would be politically disastrous.

It would be an enduring image of his devastating electoral defeat in March 2008 and his struggle for re-election in 2013.

Nothing has been left to chance, with a mop-up accreditation of delegates opening in Gweru yesterday and expected to end today.

The conference will be preceded by a politburo meeting today and a central committee meeting tomorrow, prior to the official opening on Friday.

The only controversy at the 13th Zanu PF national people’s conference — to be held under the theme
“indigenise, empower, develop, create employment” — was whether the rain would dampen the fun.

The mood in the Midlands city is one of anticipation. After listening to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai hammer the President last week at the launch of his economic blueprint Juice, Zanu PF says it is now their turn in the spotlight.

Mugabe toured the facility last Saturday to get a feel of what he will see on Friday when he officially opens and speaks to the convention. His presence in Gweru was one reason why security around the convention centre was tight.

As officials prepare to open the Zanu PF convention on Friday, there are strong indications that Mugabe’s endorsement as presidential candidate is a foregone conclusion.

Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said the agenda of the conference will revolve around the constitution and election before quickly adding a major caveat.

“I believe in politics that crucial issues are always political which are the readiness of the constitution; are we in terms of the constitution likely to hold a referendum and after that referendum, are we going to have the much-awaited for harmonised elections in March next year?” Mutasa said.

“I think those are the main three issues but again in politics, there are bread and butter issues, we are preparing for the summer season.

“Do many of us have the necessary inputs required agriculturally? Will we need to sustain those who are finding themselves hungry at the present moment? As government, we have set aside food for those who may need it.”

Mugabe soared to a bigger-than-expected victory after garnering endorsement from all the 10 provinces and the women and youth leagues, surviving the latest test of his 32 years in power.

From the conference, he will be seeking another five-year mandate to rule the mineral-rich nation.

The conference is expected to flesh out a proposal by a cabal of so-called “Young Turks” who have dreamed up the strategy to retire the old guard, and have been frantically trying to sell the idea to Mugabe ahead of the national people’s conference.

The attempt to get rid of the old guard could break many traditions in the party, including paying respect to former leaders.

In itself, it is a dangerous strategy; but the implementation of the strategy is becoming even more disastrous, insiders say.

In order to succeed, an extraordinary number of deals with factions and sub-factions has to be done to make it happen — with subsequent favours having to be returned in the form of seats.

In the end, rather than “generational change”, a political bloodbath is likely to take place at the Zanu PF primary elections soon after the conference, a move that risks exposing the fault lines in the succession battle.

According to Zanu PF insiders, the so-called “Young Turks” are pushing for a clinical clean-out of party dead-wood.

But those opposed to the plan say the old guard risk being replaced with party hacks and talentless candidates whose only claim on a seat is being able to provide branch members to factional warlords.

A Mugabe victory in the forthcoming general poll will come as a disappointment to the EU and US, who are hoping for an end to the Zimbabwean leader’s virulent anti-Western speeches and his close alliances with US and EU opponents like Iran and Russia. - Gift Phiri, Politics Editor

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