Chinotimba’s ‘war vets’ Disrupt Constitutional Conference

IT was never going to be a great success, this First All-Stakeholders’ Conference: any gathering of 4 500 people will fail to achieve very much except provide a spectacle, and the logistics are mind-boggling!


Trouble started last week when the conference was postponed — it was scheduled for the weekend of July 11-12, then Zanu PF announced it was postponed indefinitely “due to lack of funds” or some such, and the Parliamentary Select Committee had to put its foot down and announce that it would take place on July 13-14 instead.  There was a rush of last-minute preparations: lists of delegates and full-page announcements in the press, organisations running around trying to get their delegates on the list, etc, and it was only on Saturday evening or Sunday morning that most of us knew registration would take place on Sunday!

Registration was a nightmare, and very few of us managed, despite being there the whole day and half the night.  It was supposed to start at 8am; I first went there at 9.45am and they weren’t yet ready, so I returned at 2pm, by which time hordes were already gathered and struggling to get past the first hurdle –— registration on the first form.  That was nothing, however, compared to the next stage: the photo-identity card to get in to the venue.  There were literally thousands of people milling around pushing and shoving and being told (or actually physically pushed) to get into different queues going this way and that way for number, signature, photo — it reminded me of the scrum when sugar arrived at the supermarket a couple of years ago!  A policeman kept walking up and down and in and out of rooms with bundles of what looked like completed accreditation forms, complaining that he was not responsible for accrediting people, but doing absolutely nothing to control the chaos!  
This alerted me that there was a parallel process going on, especially when I saw a queue going into the photo room at the back of the Secretariat room next door, and Nyasha Chikwinya slipping in and out — memories of elections and the nonsense at some polling stations.   Somewhere at the back of the photo room one or two people were doing photo-identities, but by 4pm they had only processed 87 people!  Most of us gave up, but for the three thousand or more coming from out of Harare, there was yet another nightmare: allocation of food vouchers and accommodation.  
I was very pleased with myself on Monday morning for managing to swan into the main auditorium without any fuss whatsoever (no mention of photo-ID cards!).  As I chose a seat, war veteran Joseph Chinotimba greeted me from behind: “Hello, Stevenson!”  He seemed to find it very amusing that I was seated so close by.  Gradually the place filled up, and soon the singing and dancing started; Zanu PF songs, especially, “Hondo! Hondo yeMinda!”  with much shaking of fists (slogans expressly forbidden in this process) and marching up and down.  I noticed that Chinotimba was directing groups to start, move, stand up, move back, etc and joining enthusiastically at times.  Most of the people downstairs were joining in this, while upstairs groups responded with the open-palm MDC slogan and waved their placards.  
It seemed quite good-natured, and no one was particularly worried, although we were very tired of waiting by mid-day when there was still no sign of the opening ceremony starting.  The co-chairpersons of the Select Committee did appeal to groups not to use their slogans, but they soon started again.  Eventually the top table filled up, the Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma announced that the principals would come later but we would start the proceedings.  We started with a prayer, and this caused noisy complaints from the “war vets” shouting “National Anthem! National Anthem!”  
The Clerk appeared not to hear, called for the Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo to give his opening address, then the crowds started singing the National Anthem.  This was OK, we all stood up and sang — and it was quite a moving moment.  Then Moyo started speaking, and immediately the rowdy thugs around the room started singing and shouting and shaking their fists again, drowning Moyo, who however carried on with his speech.  The war vet crowds danced into the centre of the auditorium, egged on by Chinotimba, and started throwing water around over the delegates and moving forward en masse so that the seated delegates had to stand up and move away.  Moyo gave up speaking and the top table moved out — the signal for everyone else to go, also.
I kept looking around for the police to do something but the few present just stood idly by — or got out themselves!  Eventually most people had left the auditorium, my colleague Chamunorwa was trying to take me out but we first moved across to Finance minister Tendai Biti and a few others who were sitting firmly in their places, determined not to budge. Then more missiles came flying through the air, Chinotimba was dancing on a table — and I decided it was time to go!
The” war vets” were singing and dancing on the steps outside, and delegates were trying to skirt around them to get away: I followed a group of women behind the pillar and through the flowerbeds!  There was a bit of a traffic jam as those of us lucky enough to have vehicles drove off — but most of the 4 000 genuine delegates were standing around traumatised, not sure what they could or should do.
We have decided that we must not give in to this thuggery, so we would re-convene the next day (Tuesday).  We heard that the three principals, including Robert Mugabe himself, would come.  I felt if they didn’t come on time and join together to stop this insanity, this constitution-making process —and the inclusive government — is finished.
=Trudy Stevenson is former Harare North MP and MDC-M national executive member

BY TRUDY STEVENSON