EMBATTLED President Mugabe, reeling from waning support and a restive urban population ahead of next weekâ€™s harmonised elections, tests his support in Bulawayo this weekend where he is scheduled to address three rallies.
At the time of going to press there were doubts that the rallies would go ahead because of poor planning and haphazard mobilisation by party officials.
President Mugabe, who has been on a whirlwind tour of rural areas since he launched his election campaign last month, will hold his first star rally at Mandwandwe Secondary School in Nkulumane before proceeding to Stanley Square and Inkanyezi Primary School in Lobengula.
In the past President Mugabe has held election rallies at White City Stadium which can take in 13 000 supporters on the stands and on the main turf. Stanley Square in Makokoba is estimated to take in a maximum of 5 000 people when packed.
The rallies in Bulawayo, perceived to be opposition strongholds, will be the first President Mugabe will hold in urban areas since he launched his election campaign in Harare last month.
But the move to hold the rallies at smaller venues across the city could indicate the insecurity and fears of drawing a smaller crowd at White City Stadium compared to opposition contestants who have drawn large crowds at their star rallies.
Over 7 000 people attended Tsvangiraiâ€™s star rally at White City Stadium while about 4 000 attended independent presidential candidate Simba Makoniâ€™s rally at the same venue three weeks ago.
Matabeleland-based political analyst, Gorden Moyo, said Mugabeâ€™s coming to urban areas was just a formality he was fulfilling since he has counted himself out by going to smaller venues in the city.
â€œMugabe has already counted himself out by avoiding a rally at White City Stadium,â€ said Moyo. â€œThe meetings he will be holding in schools are solely aimed at getting school children to attend in order to boost numbers and to add onto the numbers of people who will be bused for the rallies. He doubts himself, his own party and support for his party in urban areas.â€
Zanu PF secretary for information and publicity in Bulawayo, Effort Nkomo, however said the star rallies will be held at smaller venues and spaced out to allow more people to attend but could not vouch that the rallies will go ahead as planned and referred further questions to Zanu PF political commissar, Elliot Manyika.
Nkomo however refuted claims that Mugabe was moving to smaller venues because of a declining support base in Matabeleland.
â€œThe rallies are set for smaller venues to enable more people to attend; we have been holding other small rallies to build up for the rallies to be addressed by President Mugabe but for other details you can contact Manyika for comment,â€ Nkomo said.
By Loughty Dube