HARARE - Dozens of light commercial trucks usually used to carry tobacco from Hurungwe to auction floors in Harare dragooned perhaps a thousand people to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rally at Kajekache Primary School in this rural backwater last Sunday.
It was a quasi-military operation in which the party and security force personnel controlling it exuded menace
The Zanu PF campaign was punctuated by belligerent liberation war rhetoric, flags, posters, neatly dressed cops in blue cardigans and white gloves, and menacing men with automatic weapons.
By the time Mnangagwa arrived around 11am at the Kajekache Primary School in his black Range Rover and a fleet of white Ford Rangers, the ruling Zanu PF party’s slick campaign machine had produced a crowd of about
1 000 at the dilapidated school where Mnangagwa scoffed at criticism being hurled at the ruling party by independent Hurungwe West candidate Temba Mliswa, a former ruling party provincial chairman excommunicated for being a key ally of former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
“Imbwa inoita sei? Inohukura,” Mnangagwa said. “Zhou inoita sei? Inoramba ichingofamba, ichingofamba, yard ichingohukura, ichingohukura; iyo ichingofamba, ichingofamba, yard ichingohukura (A barking dog cannot stop an elephant).
“Zanu PF inzou inoramba ichingofamba, ichingofamba, imbwa dzichingohukura, iyo ichingofamba. Zvino unevukama here neunongohukura, kana neunongofamba, achingofamba.
“Ini ndinoda vukama neanongofamba, achingofamba, nyangwe akavukugwa, anenge achingofamba, achiinda kwaanoda (Zanu PF is an elephant that cannot be distracted by a barking dog),” Mnangagwa chanted in a derogatory reference to Mliswa, attracting deafening ululations from the women seated on the ground in the scorching heat at the school’s assembly.
“Ikozvino anenge achitaura Mliswa kuti kwahiHurungwe West ndeyangu, ndakaibata nechanza, imi mobatwa nemunhu one? Regai ndikuvudzei, Zanu PF musangano mukuru wakapararira nyika yose. Zanu PF inongova ne one champion, one champion Zanu PF. Ndiyani iyeyu? VaMugabe, the president, that is the only champion we have in Zanu PF (Mliswa is a nobody, our only champion is President Robert Mugabe),” Mnangagwa added.
Earlier, the dirt-poor village was awash with the Zanu PF’s advance team. Lorries constantly disgorged people, many of them in Zanu PF candidate Keith Guzah’s new white campaign T-shirts.
Nearly every home, shop, beer hall and school within Hurungwe West from Marenga to Magude Beerhall were deserted. Primary school children in red uniforms cheered when Mnangagwa’s 10-vehicle motorcade arrived.
But soon afterwards, the holiday atmosphere evaporated. The area was suddenly swamped by soldiers, secret police, and aides who scurried around Mnangagwa as he made a perfunctory tour, wearing a Zanu PF baseball cap.
The women at the receiving party broke into song: “Vaudzei vavhotere paMasvingo kuvhara hondo. Huya uzoona hurumende maworesa. (Tell them to vote for Zanu PF to avert war).”
When Mnangagwa speaks, it is to recount the liberation struggle, promise free seed and fertiliser, as much seized white-owned land as anyone wants and delivering water from tributaries running across this unbearably hot hamlet.
On the podium, Mnangagwa delivered bizarre denunciations, insinuating a British plot to overthrow Zanu PF.
Earlier, Zanu PF’s administration secretary Ignatius Chombo, hurled clumsy abuse against Mliswa, calling him “KaTemba.” (Little one)
“VaMugabe woyeee, Dr Grace Mugabe woyee, Pamberi naKeith Guzah. Pasi, pasi, pasi, pasi naTemba Mliswa; pasi, pasi, pasi, pasi naTemba Mliswa. Pasi nevanotambira mabhasikoro ake (Forward with Zanu PF candidate Keith Guzah, down with Mliswa and those who have received his bicycles),”Chombo chanted.
Saviour Kasukuwere, the Zanu PF political commissar — described by Mnangagwa as “mai vemusangano (mother of the party)” — accused Mliswa of “kutanda botso”, or beating up your own mother and the subsequent misfortune befalling the errant son.
“Rusvava runotandwa pamusha nevabereki,” Kasukuwere said in hard-line rhetoric against the diminutive Mliswa.
“Ndiko kakatanga kutandwa. Kanga kanyanya kunhuwira musha wose. (Mliswa was chased away from Zanu PF because he was stinking).”
With only six days before the hotly-contested by-election on June 10 and Zanu PF pumping out its simple campaign message that Mliswa’s campaign was being bankrolled by Americans, the Zanu PF leadership, described by Kasukuwere as “hutekwa-tekwa”, has not stopped repeating it anyway.
The country’s parlous economy is the result of the “state of war” with Britain, which is using opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is boycotting these elections until fundamental electoral reforms are enacted, to take land belonging to black people away from them, he said.
The call he has been making lately for peaceful elections gets an airing, two sentences of it in English, for the apparent benefit of the few whites in Zanu PF regalia present.
“Runyararo gunotanga neni, runyararo gunotanga newe, runyararo, gunotanga nesu. Tanga iwe kuda vamwe ugodiwavo. Tanga iwe kuva nerunyararo, vamwe vose vagova nerunyararo. Hatidi violence, we are members of a revolutionary party. We don’t want to hear about violence. Yei violence? You have the power, you have the majority, we don’t need any violence. No! Toda a peaceful election, a peaceful campaign, ndozvatoda izvozvo, ndozvinodiwa neZanu PF, ndozvinodiwa naJehovha. (No violence, we have the majority vote).”
This call was met with loud guffaws from the crowd of tough-looking, well-dressed men sitting near the podium. The presence in the front row of Ziyambi Ziyambi, the Zanu PF acting provincial chairman, sends a chilling message.
He is dressed in a stiff, new uniform of the ruling party youths, the brutal militia whose members are conducting the final phase of voter-orientation before the election.
The new vernacular songs just taught to the crowd contradict Mnangagwa’s appeal for peace.
The programme, repeated almost identically in each election campaign since independence in 1980, has the effect of conferring a sense of invincibility on Mugabe’s Zanu PF, and undermines any hope that Zimbabweans will be able to rise above the violence and repression inflicted by him.
Mliswa cannot match the resources of Zanu PF, which has no qualms about plundering the state coffers, as well as using almost every branch of the civil service and security forces to ensure its continued rule.
A rally that Mliswa was to have held in the western part of Hurungwe had to be abandoned when ruling party youths took over the pitch the night before.
Mliswa on Tuesday dragged Guzah, Chombo and five traditional leaders to the Electoral Court, seeking the postponement of the by-election, arguing the military have set up bases in schools around the constituency and that there is now widespread fear among voters in Hurungwe West, rendering a free and fair election impossible.
The Electoral Court has three days to respond.
On his way from the Electoral Court around 1500hrs on Tuesday, Mliswa was stopped at a road block between Magunje and Karoi and arrested on charges of tearing down Zanu PF posters as well as disrupting meetings. However, Mliswa has been cleared of the charges.
But across the constituency, it is Mliswa’s posters that have been pulled down.
It was just his second arrest following another one on January 31, on theft and possession of firearms charges. He was acquitted on May 14 on both charges.
Again on April 12, Mliswa was arrested at Sengwe Business Centre and charged with disrupting a Zanu PF meeting.
At a Zanu PF meeting held at the Magunje Rural Council meeting on Sunday, speaker after speaker expressed concern that Mliswa had full control of the ruling party district structures. It was then resolved that the party would expel the entire top district leadership.
Members of the Women’s League surreptitiously refer to Mliswa as “bhuru remusha (man of the house)”, a moniker that has angered the top leadership.
Zanu PF also indicated it was pulling out all the stops to ensure Mliswa’s campaign is crippled. At the meeting, Chombo demanded to know from the officer commanding Hurungwe police, chief superintendant Justin Mandizha, why Mliswa was being allowed to brandish some documents that show he got authorisation from police to campaign.
Mandizha explained that Mliswa had initially obtained authorisation to stage rallies from the police, but cancelled all the meetings out of his own volition.
Mandizha told Chombo that they asked Mliswa to put his new position in writing.
“Musamuregedza achipinda muno (Don’t allow him in here),” Chombo bellowed.
The minister then tasked an inter-district committee to conduct “mock elections” on Friday, to ensure the villagers are up to speed with how they must vote on June 10.
Chombo emphasised that headmen must shepherd their subjects to vote, and ensure there is a systematic manner in which they cast their ballots, which should be traceable through serial numbers.
A Zanu PF youth warned that those who failed to learn from the brutal campaigns perpetrated in the past by the party, would be taught a lesson.
There is a comfortable kind of consistency in this kind of finish to the campaign, because that’s the way all the rest of Zanu PF’s campaigns have been wrapped up.
Dexter Nduna, the Chegutu Zanu PF MP, suggests abducting Mliswa’s perceived allies on polling day and disenfranchising them from the vote.
Recording the reality of this incredibly volatile by-election campaign has been intriguing, what with a horde of thugs clubbing Mliswa’s supporters.
Many innocent people have suffered at the hands of drink-maddened youths; beaten stupid with whips.
As Mliswa has defiantly hit the campaign trail, he has infuriated the ruling party. Just before the arrest on Tuesday, he had his car stoned by Zanu PF youths led by Nigel Murambiwa — the youth activist who allegedly led the farm invasion of Mliswa’s Spring Farm.
As the campaign enters the home stretch, there is no doubt there is fear and loathing of Mliswa.