WEEKEND rallies by independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni and the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC at Mucheke Stadium in Masvingo revealed that the two rivals have almost similar manifestos on land, health, education, the economy and foreign policy.
The rallies also exposed the former Finance ministerâ€™s lack of mass appeal and his campaign shortcomings.
Makoni addressed over 4 000 people on Saturday while Tsvangiraiâ€™s rally the following day was attended by about 7 000 people at the same venue. In his speech, Makoni promised that if elected he would revisit the land reform programme embarked on by President Robert Mugabeâ€™s government in 2000 and weed out multiple farm owners.
â€œThere is a crisis on the farms. Mugabe appointed several land commissions whose findings were never made public,â€ Makoni said. â€œWe will revisit the reports of the commissions and let me say to those with multiple farms that there will be gnashing of teeth,â€ Makoni said.
He denied that he would evict beneficiaries of the land reform programme to make way for former white owners.
Tsvangirai also promised to carry out a land audit and end multiple farm ownership.
â€œMugabe goes around telling lies that when I am elected into power I will return the land back to the whites, but that is not true,â€ he said. â€œThose not using the land productively and also multiple farm owners would face the music.â€
Makoni and Tsvangirai lamented the deteriorating health services and the plummeting of education standards. They separately said they would strive to improve the health delivery system and the education sector with Tsvangirai saying primary education would be free. Both said Zimbabwe would rejoin the family of nations as it tries to revive its flagging economy.
â€œThe health delivery system has collapsed and all social services have been ruined. Our country has been traumatised, brutalised and destroyed by Mugabe. The only means to get out of this mess is to vote for the MDC at the end of this month,â€ Tsvangirai said.
While the levels of the address by the former Sadc chief executive officer and Tsvangirai were high, it is the lack of wide appeal by Makoni and his organisation that analysts said could see him lose the presidential election.
Unlike the Tsvangirai campaign team, which had road shows throughout the city calling upon the electorate to attend their rally the following day, Makoniâ€™s team had only a few posters announcing their meeting.
This probably explained the relatively low turnout of about 4 000 at Makoniâ€™s rally compared to 7 000 at the MDC meeting. A third of the people at Makoniâ€™s rally were children.
The MDC, on the other hand, employed a convoy of vehicles that toured the cityâ€™s high-density suburbs of Rujeko, Mucheke, Sisk, Majange, and Runyararo East and West, while Makoniâ€™s group tried to follow suit a few hours before their rally.
There was no entertainment at the rally and the public address system was inadequate. Calls by some members of the campâ€™s provincial coordinating meeting to the people to sing went unheeded and even the arrival of Makoni and his entourage did not cause the anticipated applause.
When the rally kicked off, the master of ceremony, Ray Muzenda, had to ask â€œanyone from the audienceâ€ to come forward and pray and it turned out that the person was inebriated, but nevertheless went ahead and prayed.
It was only when Makoni toyi-toyed on the podium to a song by a group of youths from Kwekwe that the people livened up. Addressing the rally, Makoni, as has become his trademark, said he was happy with the turnout because the people were not bused to the venue.
â€œI thank you for coming. You were not bused or forced to come to this rally like what happens with other candidates,â€ Makoni said. â€œNo shops and markets were closed for you to be here. Some of you decided not to rest, to enjoy the company of your families to come and listen to us.â€
However, analysts argue that Makoni lacked sufficient grassroots support or financial backing despite reports that his campaign was well-funded.
The analysts said Makoniâ€™s entry into the political fray was late and brought with it scepticism as to whether he was a genuine contender. Makoni had a ready answer to such assertions.
â€œI am not a puppet of Zanu PF. Mugabe did not send me. I donâ€™t deny that I worked with Mugabe before, but we have parted company,â€ Makoni said. â€œI have left Zanu PF and I am looking forward.â€
He also denied allegations made by Zanu PF and the Tsvangirai-led formation of the MDC that he was working with the West.
An aspiring House of Assembly member who intends to contest under the Makoni banner in Masvingo said their poor organisational capacity was a result of lack of funds.
â€œWe are using our monies to organise rallies in the province,â€ the would-be legislator said. â€œWe are not sure when we are going to get campaign funds, but with less than two weeks before the elections we are likely to go it alone.â€
There are very few campaign posters for candidates under the independentâ€™s banner in Harare and Masvingo. On the other hand, Tsvangiraiâ€™s rally followed a clear programme and supporters were treated to the partyâ€™s campaign jingles explaining the oppositionâ€™s manifesto.
Â If the crowds attending recent opposition rallies were to translate into votes on March 29 Tsvangirai seems to have the upperhand over Makoni. But, observers say, the race is still wide open.
By Constantine Chimakure