ZIMBABAWEâ€™S harmonised election campaigns are slowly turning dirty with presidential aspirants now involved in mudslinging.
Two rallies lined up at Mucheke Stadium, in the southern city of Masvingo, on Saturday and Sunday by independent presidential hopeful Simba Makoni and the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC saw the candidates trading insults in a bid to woo voters.
While insulting opposition leaders has been President Robert Mugabeâ€™s trademark since Independence in 1980, Makoni and Tsvangirai in the current race had largely distanced themselves from scorning opponents.
But on Saturday, Makoni and his campaign entourage took off their gloves to attack Mugabe and Tsvangirai, as the countdown to next weekâ€™s presidential, legislative and parliamentary elections gathers momentum.
First to make a jibe at Mugabe was retired Major Kudzai Mbudzi, Makoniâ€™s campaignÂ head, who described the first secretary of Zanu PF as a â€œuseless geriatricâ€ bent on clinging to power until kingdom come.
Speaking in the Shona vernacular, Mbudzi lashed out at â€œgrandfatherâ€ Mugabe saying he should have quit politics in 1998 when it became apparent that he was â€œgetting tired and running out of new ideasâ€.
â€œIn 1998 it was clear that the old man was frothing at the mouth, he was tired,â€ Mbudzi said amid applause from the over 3 000 people who converged on Mucheke Stadium.
â€œBut he deliberately declined to pass on the relay baton to young blood as suggested by the late veteran politician Eddison Zvobgo. Instead, the grandfather ran away with the baton into the bush.â€
Mbudzi, a war veteran, said it was out of realisation by Makoni and his colleagues in the politburo that Mugabe would not go that they decided to launch what he termed a â€œsurgical operationâ€ to remove the octogenarian leader.
â€œAfter the opposition MDC failed to remove Mugabe in 2002 we came up with the Makoni project â€” a surgical operation. Ours is a caesarian operation to dump the old man Mugabe,â€ Mbudzi said.
â€œIf we donâ€™t remove Mugabe, the old man intends to outlive us all. He is â€˜90â€™ and life expectancy in this country is 37. We will all dies and leave him to continue ruling this country.â€Â Â
He said it was apparent that Mugabe wanted to die in office and would probably be replaced by another â€œold man from the politburo like Nathan Shamuyarira (who is now in his late 70â€™s).â€
Mbudzi asked what miracles Mugabe wanted to perform in the next five years, which he failed to implement in the past 28 years.
â€œMugabe should not gamble with Zimbabweansâ€™ life. We know that in Masvingo, Mugabeâ€™s sidekick Walter Mzembi is harassing people on behalf of the old man. Let me ask him (Mugabe), is it us who make people old? The enemy of Mugabe is the economy,â€ Mbudzi said.
Â â€œMzembi should have elections in his family and I can assure you that his children will vote for Simba Makoni instead of Mugabe. Mugabe will not rule this country again.â€
When Makoni went to the podium, the stage had been set by Mbudzi to take pot shots at Mugabe, but the former Finance ministerâ€™s sting was not as sharp as Mbudziâ€™s.
Makoni told the gathering that he respected Mugabe as an elderly man and would not want to insult him in line with traditional values.
â€œMr Mugabe is older than me. In our tradition we are not are allowed to insult our elders. It is taboo,â€ Makoni said amid jeers from the people who were yearning for an outright attack on the Zanu PF president.
However, Makoni labelled Mugabe a liar for claiming that the former Sadc executive secretary did nothing for the party when he was its representative in Europe during the liberation struggle.
â€œI was the partyâ€™s representative in Europe and I personally accompanied Mugabe to Austria, Italy, Sweden and other countries where people who wanted to assist us were based,â€ Makoni said.
â€œI sourced vehicles from Germany for the party. For Mr Mugabe to say I did not play a role in the liberation struggle is a mockery.â€
He said what Mugabe was doing was tantamount to exposing his dirty armpits.
â€œNdapota musafukura hapwa. Zvinozobuda imomo hazvina kunaka. Chibhakera chavenyundo yekupwanya nyika.â€
He said Mugabeâ€™s clenched fist had become a reckless hammer destroying everything in its wake.
Makoni described claims by Mugabe and Tsvangirai that he was being used by the West as rank madness.
On Sunday, it was Tsvangiraiâ€™s turn to hit out at his opponents before an audience of more than 7 000 people that cried out for more.
The MDC spokesperson, Nelson Chamisa, said the Makoni project was doomed from the onset as he could not renew anything with former Zanu PF members like Edgar Tekere, Margaret Dongo and Fay Chung.
â€œWhat renewal is Makoni talking about with Tekere-Two-boy, and Dongo and our bleating cousin Mbudzi (goat)? A baboon is a baboon even if you apply skin-lightening cream to it. It will remain a baboon even if you replace an old one (Mugabe) with a young one (Makoni)â€.
Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, upped the insult tempo in his address when he launched a vicious attack on Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and Mugabe.
The feisty lawyer accused Gono of working hand in glove with Mugabe to rig the March 29 elections.
He said Gono was the principal author of the countryâ€™s flagging economy that has seen inflation spiralling to over 100 000% from 598% in December 2003 when the central bank czar made his maiden monetary policy statement.Â Â
Biti accused Gono of bankrolling a project to rig the polls in favour of Mugabe and the ruling Zanu PF.
â€œGideon Gono is an accomplice in the on-going exercise by government to rig the elections in favour of the ruling party. You give people tractors at a time when they are preparing to vote, meaning that you are also part and parcel of the rigging process through funding the exercise,â€ Biti said.
â€œYou give out buses with Zanu PF colours for what reason? We are going to make Gono account for his actions.â€
Turning to the ailing economy, Biti said Gono was the problem.
â€œGono is the number one enemy of this country, not inflation. He has been stoking the fires of inflation through quasi-fiscal activities,â€ Biti said.
â€œIn other countries if a central bank governor admits to printing money he will face the firing squad. Gono is the number one economic saboteur, terrorist and Al Qaeda. Gono has assumed the position of the Minister of Finance on behalf of Mugabe.â€
Tsvangirai said the electorate should be wise enough not to vote for Mugabe who has plunged the country into economic doldrums.
â€œMugabe is now very old. Can we have an 84-year-old leader to misrule this country for the next five years? No!Â We need new blood in the mould of those whose blood still runs hot, like me, Tsvangirai. The old man is tired, his party has nothing to offer except poverty,â€ Tsvangirai said.
The MDC leader did not insult Makoni as Chamisa did and the largest part of his address was on the partyâ€™s manifesto.On the other hand, Mugabe has since February 29 when Zanu PF launched its campaign been attacking his presidential opponents Makoni and Tsvangirai as stooges of the West bent on reversing the gains of Independence, especially the land reform programme.
The three presidential hopefuls, however, have not yet said anything on another aspirant, little known Langton Towungana.
Towunganaâ€™s campaign is still a matter of conjecture as he is yet to hold a rally.
By Constantine Chimakure