Roadport, and the adjacent bus rank, is home to a motley band of informal traders — from money changers to airtime traders, hairdressers and even caterers trying to eke out a living from hordes of people passing through daily.
While parked next to the bus terminus, and close to the crowd of informal traders, several men wearing familiar T-shirts appeared. They were dressed in white Zanu PF regalia ubiquitous during the last elections which boldly proclaim “100% Empowerment, Total Independence”, together with an image of party leader President Robert Mugabe.
One of the men, a strapping figure with a menacing look on his face to complement his imposing frame, was going around reminding the traders that they were expected at a Zanu PF meeting —- due to start shortly — to discuss the next elections. The tone of his voice left no doubt that he would brook no objection, and warned of repercussions for those who failed to turn up.
I would have wanted to ask him to explain how his party could “100%” empower the hapless traders by forcing them to close shop and frog-marching them to their meeting. However, the instinct for self-preservation got the better of my curiosity. Meanwhile, the Zanu PF bouncer’s orders threw the traders into helter-skelter, with some speaking in hushed tones while others appeared to be debating whether to attend or lie low somewhere until the coast was clear.
A stone’s throw from the Roadport terminus, and in clear view, was the Zanu PF Harare Province Headquarters where some of the traders were gathering in the searing afternoon sun. There they were led into singing party songs by a brazenly energetic female cadre — precursor to a session of “political education”.
With elections imminent, Zanu PF’s trump card remains unchanged: Coercion. Old habits notoriously die hard, and for Zanu PF, pre-poll harassment and intimidation have been the modus operandi since 1980. With the spectre of losing power in the next elections looming large, the temptation to resort to harassment and violence to assure victory would be too hard to resist for the party. This is all despite Article 10 of the Global Political Agreement clearly stating “… the Parties have agreed that there should be free political activity throughout Zimbabwe within the ambit of the law in which all political parties are able to propagate their views and canvass for support, free of harassment and intimidation”.
Memories of the traumatic experiences of the 2008 presidential poll run-off — characterised by a brutal campaign largely blamed on Zanu PF — remain fresh in the minds of many. If events on the ground are anything to go by, some will be forced to relive that ordeal as Zanu PF goes all out for victory at all costs — including life and limb.
Ironically, during his Independence address on Wednesday Mugabe called for Zimbabweans to be allowed to join political parties of their choice. “Membership is not forced and should never be forced. People should belong to the party of their choice,” he said.
Suggesting that political violence was a closed chapter, Mugabe added: “We must take care and caution that the past is buried.” He could not have been further from the truth. The past remains alive in those that have been traumatised by poll violence but have received no assistance or compensation while perpetrators walk scot-free. The past is also alive in the form of Zanu PF members such as those at the party’s Harare provincial office forcing vendors to attend meetings or risk reprisal.
And, if those forcing long-suffering Zimbabweans to attend their political rallies wear Zanu PF T-shirts bearing Mugabe’s image, the people are bound to believe that their tormentors are acting with Mugabe’s blessing.
By Stewart Chabwinja