DURING the countdown to the 2000 general election President Robert Mugabe told a rally in Bindura that people from Mbare were totemless elements of alien origin and mocked them for supporting the opposition MDC.
Five years later, Mbare was the first residential suburb to bear the brunt of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order and just a fortnight ago Mugabe described one of his three challengers in tomorrowâ€™s presidential election, Simba Makoni, as worse than a prostitute from the same suburb.
â€œA prostitute from Mbare is better than Makoni because she had regular clients,â€ Mugabe said at a campaign rally in Mvurwi, Mashonaland Central.
Mugabe will square up with Makoni, the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and little-known independent candidate Langton Toungana.
Despite having a low opinion on people from Mbare, Mugabe was last Saturday in the township to drum up support from the same â€œtotemlessâ€ electorate at Chashawasha Grounds, while Makoni had a rally in Chitungwiza the previous day and Tsvangirai had his on Sunday at Glamis grounds in the capital.
The presidential, legislative and council elections campaign entered its last week last weekend with parties and independent candidates lining up numerous rallies throughout the country in a last attempt to garner support
The real race, everybody believes, will be the presidential election.
At Mugabeâ€™s rally in Mbare, the party had to use Zupco buses to ferry people from neighbouring residential areas to beef up the crowd.Â About 10 000 people had to wait in sweltering heat for Mugabeâ€™s arrival five hours after the rally was scheduled to start.
Of importance to the electorate who gathered at the grounds was how if Mugabe secures a sixth term would he solve the countryâ€™s economic crisis as persistent water, electricity and transport problems haunt urbanites.
However, when Mugabe took to the podium he repeated his now customary tirade against the opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai, Britain and the few white people still in Zimbabwe.
The 84-year-old Mugabe said the MDC was committing treason by assisting former colonial master Britain to effect a regime change.
â€œIt is treasonous for the MDC to continue to help the British so that they have any influence here,â€ he said before vowing that the opposition would never rule Zimbabwe.
Mugabe said: â€œThey want to rule this country. That will not happen as long as we are still alive, those of us who fought the liberation struggle,â€ Mugabe said.
Mugabe threatened to take over British-owned companies in retaliation to targeted sanctions against his cabinet and senior Zanu PF and government officials.
â€œThey want to deport sports people like Benjani Mwaruwari yet they have 400 companies here, but we didnâ€™t take them. After the election we are going to do something,â€ Mugabe said.Â
Few economists believe there are still 400 British companies operating here. Most put the figure at half that. Mugabe said that his government would implement in full the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act, which require all foreign-owned companies to cede 51 % ownership to blacks.
The president accused business people of increasing prices of basic commodities as a means to frustrate the urban electorate so they vote for the opposition.
â€œThese companies are joking, they donâ€™t know us. We ask them, are you with us or you are you working for someone else?â€ Mugabe asked.
He said the companies have been getting â€œcheapâ€ foreign currency from the Reserve Bank to import raw material and spares.
â€œThe business people are lying to us about the high cost of production yet they are getting foreign currency from the Reserve Bank in return for them not to increase prices.â€
Mugabe said at the rally that the cantral bank had helped government to acquire new ambulances, generators and scanning machines for all major hospitals in the country.
He also presented 10 buses as part of the 35 buses donated by government to Harare Province as part of the â€œPeopleâ€™s Busesâ€ government project. The generator project is called â€œThe Presidentâ€™s Lightâ€.
The RBZ was represented at the handover ceremony by Dr Millicent Mombeshora, a divisional chief and one of Governor Gideon Gonoâ€™s advisors.
The president declined in his speech to address the issues of urban poverty, unemployment and poor service delivery, which are part and parcel of the daily lives of Mbare residents.
Unemployment is currently above 80% while a substantial number of urban people now depend on food aid
Large piles of stinking uncollected garbage which was evident at Matapi flats, a few metres from where Mugabe held his rally, are a clear indication of poor service delivery by the government.
At the Chitungwiza rally, Makoni – who addressed close to 3 000 people â€“ said Zimbabweans should vote for him if Zimbabwe is to get out of the economic woods.
He said his opponents, Makoni and Tsvangirai, do not have plausible manifestos to extricate the country.
Makoni dismissed as a joke a promise by Tsvangirai that his party would bring normalcy to the countryâ€™s economy within 100 days of being elected to power.
â€œThose who promise that things would become normal in 100 days after they win are daydreaming,â€ Makoni said. â€œZimbabweâ€™s problems cannot be resolved in such a short period of time. We need a united Zimbabwe to work together and find solutions to our problems. Tsvangirai and Mugabe have no capacity to do so.â€
The former Sadc executive secretary said Mugabe had played his part in liberating the country in the first 15 years of Independence. He added that Mugabe should retire to his Zvimba rural home.
â€œWe are saying to Mr Mugabe you have played your role. Your time is up. You should retire and go home to Zvimba and tell tales to your nephews,â€ Makoni said amid ululation.â€
The ex-Finance minister said he had the support of most Zimbabweans and was not worried by Zanu PF claims that no bigwigs from the ruling party were behind him.
â€œMr Mugabe and his party have gone vulgar insulting me. Some are challenging me to show them the bigwigs behind me,â€ Makoni said. â€œLet me make it clear, the bigwigs are the people of Zimbabwe who thronged voter registration centres after I announced my presidential ambitions on February 5. The people of Zimbabwe yearning for change are the bigwigs.â€
He said he had support in the Zanu PF central committee and politburo.
â€œEven in the MDC (Tsvangirai formation) national executive I have people backing the Dawn/Mavambo/Kusile project,â€ Makoni said. â€œWe are not alone in the project as Mr Mugabe is claiming.â€
The former Zanu PF politburo member explained hisÂ policy on land reform and foreign policy.
He said if he wins he would institute a land audit that would see multiple farm owners evicted. He categorically denied that he would return the land to its former white owners.
â€œThe land belongs to Zimbabweans. We will make sure that the land is equitably distributed. There is no room for multiple farm owners and lazy farmers. We should ensure productivity on the land,â€ Makoni said. â€œIn the early 1990s we used to feed ourselves, but we are now importing maize from countries like Malawi and Zambia. Is our government not ashamed of its poor policies that has reduced its citizens to beggars when they could feed themselves 12 years ago?â€
Tsvangiraiâ€™s rally on Sunday was attended by close to 30 000 people.
He told his supporters about what his party would do if it wins the elections. Among the things he promised is the restoration of the impartiality of security institutions which he says have become partisan in seeking to protect Mugabeâ€™s rule.
â€œLet me say to the police, the civil service, the military and to the CIO, you have nothing to fear. We are going to be a government that will respect national institutions,â€ Tsvangirai said. â€œThere are some people in the civil service who vow I will not be president of Zimbabwe. â€œI am not imposing myself as president. I am going to be elected by the mandate of the people of Zimbabwe. Therefore, any amount of threats, any amount of intimidation and any amount of threatening death will not be the issue.â€
Tsvangirai vowed his party would resist any attempts by Mugabe to rig the elections.
Â â€œWe expect the enemies of justice to engage in every trick in the book,â€ he said. â€œWe are ready for them; all of us. We are ready for all those who would like to subvert the peopleâ€™s victory. We are ready for all those that would like to subvert the will of the people of Zimbabwe.â€
Â He said the threats by the countryâ€™s service chiefs to block his presidency was not the common position among all the security forces.
Â â€œI have been assured that in spite of individual utterances by individual members of the security forces, the army, the police and the CIO are behind the people.â€
The MDC last week alleged that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had devised ways to rig the elections on behalf of Mugabe. The party alleged that ZEC had printed nine million ballot papers when the country has 5,8 million registered voters. It also alleged that it printed 600 000 postal votes ballot papers when about 20 000 were expected to vote through postal voting.
By Constantine Chimakure and Lucia Makamure