INDEPENDENT presidential candidate Simba Makoni on Saturday launched his election campaign in Bulawayo as cracks in Zanu PF widened with the defection of politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa to back the former Finance minister.
Apart from Dabengwa, former parliamentary speaker Cyril Ndebele joined Makoni at White City Stadium to announce his support for the expelled former Finance minister.
Earlier on Dabengwa and Ndebele had flanked Makoni when he met the business community at Large City Hall and outlined his election manifesto and programme.
Makoniâ€™s convoy entered the stadium to a n enthusiastic reception with supporters chanting his slogan â€” “Simba Kuvanhu”, “Amandla Ebantwini” and “Simba to the People”.
Accompanied by his wife Chipo, Makoni returned the gesture of the clasped hands raised above the head to the cheering crowd.
But the focus of the crowd later turned to Dabengwa.
He told the 6 000-plus crowd that he chose to dump Zanu PF after President Robert Mugabe resisted leadership renewal and a smooth transition of power in the party.
“For a very long time we had tried to work with fellow politburo members to facilitate a smooth transition of power after realising that the Zanu PF leadership was getting old but Mugabe betrayed us and made a u-turn on his pledges to retire,” Dabengwa told the crowd.
He said their intention was not regime change, but leadership renewal.
Dabengwa said party faithfuls had hoped Mugabe would open up the presidential selection process at last Decemberâ€™s special congress, but that did not happen.
“We were defeated and ended up with a presidential candidate we felt should be replaced,” Dabengwa said.
“We came up with this rescue operation (of bringing in Makoni) to say we could not have our leadership failing to the likes of (the MDCâ€™s Morgan) Tsvangirai, which will see us going back to the Zambian situation where out of desperation they replaced Kenneth Kaunda with Frederick Chiluba.”
In his address, Makoni said his movement would pursue a national re-engagement and create an enabling environment for Zimbabwe to begin its road to recovery.
“This is a response to the failure of national leadership. We want renewal and re-engagement,” he said.
The former Finance minister said he appreciated the backing he received from the MDCâ€™s Arthur Mutambara faction in his presidential bid.
“We have welcomed and appreciated the Professor Arthur Mutambara MDCâ€™s endorsement of our candidature and we are appealing to those in Zanu PF and Tsvangiraiâ€™s MDC who have not done so to support the independent candidate,” Makoni said.
He added that he enjoyed support from many people in Zanu PF and the Tsvangirai MDC.
“All these people have realised the need for concerted effort in achieving the goal of national reintegration that I have been talking about,” Makoni said.
He denied being used by Zanu PF to split the opposition vote.
“There are those that believe that I am being used by so and so to further certain agendas. I again state that I am Simba Makoni and shall always remain Simba Makoni,” he said. “I will not be used by someone to further their political agendas because I believe that I have a role to play in determining the destiny of this country.”
The following day, Makoni took his campaign to Harare where he told over 7 000 people who gathered at Zimbabwe Grounds, Highfield, that the time was nigh to remove Mugabe from power.
“The status quo has abandoned the policy of working for the people. They are now following corrupt and self-centered policies,” Makoni told the cheering crowd.
“Our country is in a serious crisis. We live in fear. Fear has been instilled in our people and those who differ from Mugabeâ€™s point of view are labelled enemies and sellouts. We need to reclaim our power and have a new dawn.”
Speaking in the vernacular, the former Sadc secretary-general said Zimbabwe was now a basket case despite that in the late 1980s the country could feed its people and export surplus food to the region.
He said poor policies and lack of zeal to implement robust programmes resulted in the collapse of the countryâ€™s agricultural sector.
“What we now see on the farms is sora (grass) beans,” Makoni said. “It is difficult to imagine because by 1986 we were able to feed ourselves and export excess food.”
Makoni said if he is elected he would implement prudent land reforms that would see multiple farm owners and lazy farmers removed from farms.
He decried the general deterioration of the countryâ€™s infrastructure and also bemoaned the slump in the health and education systems.
“We want to reclaim the peopleâ€™s power. Zimbabwe must work again and that is why we appeal to you to vote for me,” Makoni said.
“We are going to be servants of the people, not the other way round. You should elect leaders who work for you, not suppress you.”
He said he decided to challenge Mugabe after it became apparent that he had lost the spirit and the principles of the liberation struggle.
“In 1980, Mugabe made a great statement of reconciliation, but is he adhering to that principle? Are we still following our liberation struggle principles?” Makoni questioned amid cheers and ululation from the crowd.
Makoni was stopped from continuing with his address after police officer commanding Harare South District, Chief Superintendent Thomsen Jangara, went up to the podium and told him that his time was up.
The police ordered Makoni to hold his rally between 9am and mid-afternoon as they intended to deploy their officers to monitor the international soccer match between Dynamos and Royal Leopards of Swaziland. He told supporters to disperse in an orderly fashion.
Speaking at the same rally, former Zanu PF secretary general Edgar Tekere said he had been appointed Makoniâ€™s principal campaigner to remove Mugabe because “we do not want leaders who want to die in power”.
Meanwhile, the Mutambara faction launched its election campaign and manifesto at a rally held at White City Stadium the same day.
About 3 000 people attended the rally that was addressed by Mutambara and vice-president Gibson Sibanda, among others.
Mutambara in his address spoke on the land issue in the country and his partyâ€™s association with Makoni.
“Because we want to give an opportunity to deliver change, we agreed to work with Makoni, that is why we tried to reunite with the Tsvangirai side, but he made it impossible for that to happen,” Mutambara said.
On the land issue, Mutambara said there would be no land that will be repossessed from blacks to whites if his party wins the elections.–Loughty Dube/Constantine Chimakure