The portrait is conspicuous on entry because it hangs at an elevated position. A sticker celebrating the 2000 chaotic fast track land reform programme is pasted on the elevator wall.
Outside the building, the sun burns mercilessly.
But a handful of Zanu PF youths keen to get accreditation last Friday for the youth conference beginning in an hour at the Harare City Sports Centre are undeterred and jostled to get it.
Disgruntled youths saunter rather aimlessly around the premises. Some from Harare province are not happy after being turned away because the metropolitan province of the party is not eligible to vote.
A short dreadlocked girl cannot hide her frustration after being turned away.
She declares: “Isusu mashefu emusangano muHarare tonzi hatipinde muconference. Wanozopinda ndianani? Zanu haina varidzi (I am an important official of the party. if I can’t attend the conference then who will? No one owns Zanu PF).”
In her group, her outbursts are mutual.
After 10 minutes, the same youths from Harare are told to queue and follow an older party official for accreditation.
Once accredited, they make way for the gate and trail the important official in a rather disorderly fashion.
Trendy SUV’s can been seen from a distance parked outside the Harare City Sports Centre.
At the gate, plain clothed and uniformed officers conduct thorough body searches aided by metal detectors. A security official, won’t let the Zimbabwe Independent news crew in because she argues, although the team has been accredited by the party, some of its members could have press cards from the defunct Media and Information Commission.
A few phone calls to senior Zanu PF officials establish that our team could cover the event.
But even so, a heavily built official insists she needs an ice-cream before she lets us in.
With the clock ticking, we part with R5, enough for a chocolate encrusted ice-cream.
During the conference, youths from Zanu PF will elect their own leaders after months of political jockeying and scheming ahead of the annual conference.
All delegates from the party’s 10 provinces are clad in red, green, and yellow party regalia, except those from Harare.
Unlike the past youth conferences of Zanu PF, leaders will have to be 30 years or below. In the past leaders in their 50’s could still qualify as youths; like the late Vice Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai, who served the youth league in his 50’s.
This time, most delegates are indeed youthful and for a party, whose political star has stopped shining among the electorate –– particularly among the younger voters –– Zanu PF surprisingly still has a decent following among the youths.
“Youth in Defence of National Sovereignty and Promotion of Economic Empowerment for a Brighter Future,” is the theme of the meeting, and not much departure from Mugabe’s policies. Mugabe believes he is defending Zimbabwe’s sovereignty which is under siege from the West. He is also pushing for black economic empowerment and the youth league has been led down the same path.
No fresh ideas, it seems, will likely come from the youth league while Mugabe is alive as the wing seems bent on pleasing the 85-year-old leader alone.
A message on a T-shirt reads: “President, The Liberator!” and another says: “Pachibhakera (Behind the Fist).”
The youth wing’s allegiance to Mugabe is evidently unflinching and occasionally explodes into an ecstatic wave of cheering and shouting whenever there are slogans like “Pamberi navaMugabe! (Forward with Mugabe!).”
The youths shout praises at Mugabe, hailing him as their life ruler. Loyalty and love for Mugabe is all around the conference. After attending the conference and basking in new found glory, the aged leader told the BBC that he is “still young.”
Although the youth gathering is not a national event, it looks like one. The entire presidium is there.
A few hours into the conference, a Zanu PF youth from Harare claims to know who is going to win and who is not.
“The Manicaland guy is going to take the top job. The Midlands girl is not going to win,” the youth avers.
On Thursday night, the youths had camped outside the party’s HQ braving the late night cold singing revolutionary songs and dancing the night away aided with alcohol right under the nose of the police.
By the end of the conference on Sunday, one of the aspirants would be catapulted into the politburo, the supreme decision making body of the party.
“Tsvangirai is a traitor! He wants to sell Zimbabwe to the West!” the youths shouted.
The youths’ idolisation of their leader, Mugabe, was beyond doubt judging from their excitement.
The youth wing is a strategic arm for the party and party strongmen like Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and retired army general Solomon Mujuru, want control of the youth league and other party structures such as the women’s league.
A Harare youth opens up. He says: “It’s important to understand that the election is a charade. Those with the strongest political backing will win at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter who gets many votes. Mnangagwa people and Mujuru people will share the positions among themselves. Harare is a troubled province at the moment and I doubt if we will get a seat. We don’t even have party regalia like other provinces and our vote really is not eligible.”
On the surface, the party presented a united front. Party chairman John Nkomo presided over the election and ordered all delegates to leave the room during voting and counting. Even observers, were not spared the boot. But this did not raise much eyebrows because Zanu PF does not play even by its own rules.
As the results came in, it became clear that Mnangagwa had pulled the rug off his political foes’ feet. Edison Chakanyuka from the Midlands province became deputy secretary for youth ahead of widely tipped Anastancia Ndhlovu, a Mujuru nomination for the same position.
The secretary for youth is appointed by Mugabe when he selects members of his politburo. Midlands had accepted the post of deputy secretary once held by Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere but rejected Ndhlovu as their candidate.
Ndhlovu’s name had mysteriously vanished from the original list of prospective leaders and she is said to have appealed to Mnangagwa before her name reappeared on the initial list again.
Although the youths appeared immune to party fights and are strongly behind Mugabe, the outcome and divisions along factional lines exposed the youths’ susceptibility to manipulation by either the Mujuru or Mnangagwa factions.
At the end of the day, Mnangagwa’s candidates from Masvingo, Matabeleland South and North, Midlands and Manicaland got posts in the leadership.
John Mushai, Lesley Ncube, Khumbulani Mlilo, Bekezela Sibanda, Kudzani Chipanga, Cleopas Magwizi and Yeukai Simbanegwi. Joshua Sacco scored a first by becoming the first white to hold a position in the Zanu PF youth league.
He is now deputy secretary for production. On the same day, the youth league endorsed Mugabe and Zanu PF leadership, an icing on top for the aged leader still haunted by the reality of last year’s election defeat.