Mugabe's last supper

GWERU - President Robert Mugabe today addresses his last Zanu PF conference as a President of the current government, with next year’s election leaving no guarantee that his party will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year still in power.

Having been endorsed by the party as its presidential candidate for next year’s election against arch rival and coalition partner Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe is hoping to use the conference as a last ditch effort to galvanise the fragmented Zanu PF around him.

Turning 89 in February, next year’s election is almost certain to be Mugabe’s last and the prospect of tumbling from a liberation war hero who lost his way at the end, haunts the veteran politician who has managed to crush dissent and remain at the helm of Zanu PF for close to four decades now.

Here, Zanu PF supporters are not mincing their words about Mugabe being their man for the future, never mind the age.

At the conference, Zanu PF will make their case for Mugabe’s re-election, looking to draw a sharp contrast with MDC’s Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai won the March 2008 election before pulling out of a subsequent run-off citing violence.

Mugabe ran solo in the run-off but was forced by the African Union to accept Sadc mediation for the formation of a coalition government.

The three-day gathering that Mugabe will officially launch today will close with another Mugabe speech tomorrow at a brand new 5 000-seat conference centre just outside Gweru.

The convention gives Mugabe a chance to recapture the political spotlight from Tsvangirai and the MDC, who used their economic blueprint launch last week to repeatedly attack the President’s economic leadership.

Monica Mutsvangwa, Zanu PF Women’s League spokeswoman said the conference will clearly demonstrate why Zimbabwe needs to keep Mugabe in the Munhumutapa Building.

“This 13th conference is a watershed conference,” Mutsvangwa said. “We are now charting the economic future of the country.”

The task for Mugabe and his allies will be to persuade voters disappointed by his 32-year rule that things will be better going forward, while portraying the budget-slashing economic remedies offered by the MDC as unacceptable alternatives.

While Tsvangirai focused on attacking Mugabe and helping voters get to know their new economic blueprint Juice, Zanu PF’s goal will be to keep up voter enthusiasm for their incumbent in tough economic times.

They will highlight Mugabe’s successes — from ordering the ditching of the Zimbabwe dollar and introducing a multi-currency regime that has stabilised the economy, to the empowerment programme — while reminding voters of the agrarian revolution that has seen the redistribution of land to the black majority.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai are running close in opinion polls before the forthcoming election, but Mugabe hopes to get more of a conference “bounce”.

A Mass Public Opinion Trust poll has shown both candidates in a statistical dead heat. There will be character witness for the Mugabe to address how he has made decisions as the nation has confronted challenges.

The Mugabe campaign also plans to use the convention and his speech today as an organising tool in a battle that he lost in 2008.

With the Zanu PF conference in full swing, the MDC stayed on the offensive, criticising Mugabe for partisan distribution of his $20 million farm inputs scheme at a time 1,6 million Zimbabweans face starvation.

For ordinary Zimbabweans, the prospect of Mugabe winning the next election is likely to be unsettling.

Almost two-thirds of Zimbabweans were born after the revolution and have known no other leader.

Mugabe’s legacy is a mixed one. Zanu PF’s revolution swept to power deposing the ruthless British-backed racist dictatorship of Ian Smith. He used his power to bring sweeping social changes and instituted widely admired healthcare and education systems in the early years of his rule.

But he never brought back democracy; and economic mismanagement coupled with sanctions, has left Zimbabwe desperately poor.

The last decade has also seen the disappearance of Western sponsors and since then Zimbabwe has relied heavily on tourism and mineral revenues and the hard currency sent back by its exiles.

Yet predictions of the rapid end of Mugabe’s hold on the southern African country are likely to be premature. - Gift Phiri, Politics Editor

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