WITH President Robert Mugabe hinting in a High Court application concerning by-elections that he wants elections held in March next year, Zanu PF is rapidly swinging into full electioneering mode as its provincial chairpersons recently in China returned to a series of marathon meetings, while senior officials are trying to recruit worshippers and use empowerment activities to garner support.
Report by Brian Chitemba
As part of its wider election strategy, Zanu PF heavyweights, including Mugabe, his deputy Joice Mujuru and Information, Media and Publicity minister Webster Shamu, have visited the Apostolic church sect targeting over two million members to boost their party’s support base.
In a bid to build support from the apostolic sect Mugabe, clad in a white robe, praised polygamous church members while attacking homosexuality in July 2010.
Not to be outdone Shamu last year urged a Johanne Masowe we Chishanu Apostolic Church congregation at Jurani-Firi Santa in Chitungwiza to rally behind Mugabe.
Destiny of Afrika Network founder and Zanu PF sympathiser Obadiah Msindo, who enjoys publicity in the state media especially towards elections and plays a shadowy role around the party, recently handed over 1 200 residential stands in Mutare in an attempt to entice voters ahead of elections Mugabe desperately wants held as soon as possible while his health and old age still permit.
Msindo, whose organisation and reputation have been tainted by controversy, told the stand beneficiaries: “How many of you are ready to vote for Zanu PF? Every one of you should bring at least five people to vote for Zanu PF in the next elections and make sure that we win.”
The party is also using the controversial indigenous empowerment drive to drum up support among the youth –– seen as a key constituency in the next elections –– as the Zanu PF-aligned Zimbabwe Youth Council dishes out US$1 million to youths in each province.
Zanu PF is further using music and associated inducements to target the youth.
Community share ownership schemes launched by Mugabe are also part of Mugabe’s campaign to secure enough votes to cling to power.
It is also said Zanu PF has built a war chest using the Marange diamonds to fight the next do or die elections. The party is already reportedly buying cars and other important material for campaigning.
On top of state broadcasters which support Mugabe and his party, two new Zanu PF-linked radio stations have been licenced ahead of elections. Zimpapers, the state-controlled publishing group, also backs Zanu PF against its public mandate.
The army, behind the brutal 2008 presidential run-off campaign that saw Mugabe retain power following MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s pull-out citing to violence, is playing a critical role in the Zanu PF poll strategy with soldiers reportedly holding “orientation meetings” with chiefs and rural masses.
Traditional leaders are given material benefits and are in turn expected to mobilise their subjects and coerce them to rally behind Zanu PF.
The heavy presence of the army in rural areas, including Nyanga and Mutoko, has already sent shivers down the spines of an electorate still traumatised by the 2008 bloody presidential runoff. The MDC-T claims 200 of its supporters were killed while hundreds were maimed and injured by Zanu PF militia during the violence.
Senior army commanders have come out openly supporting Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces chief-of-staff, Major-General Martin Chedondo, has openly declared his allegiance to Zanu PF and urged the military to throw its weight behind the party despite the constitution stating that security forces, particularly soldiers, must not dabble in partisan party politics.
Undeterred by the constitution, Chebundo recently declared: “As soldiers, we will never be apologetic for supporting Zanu PF because it is the only political party that has national interests at heart,” adding he was saying so “because I was part of the liberation struggle”.
Major General Douglas Nyikayaramba and Major General Trust Mugoba –– who together with Chedondo are part of the top chain of command –– have also came out support Zanu PF.
Besides, Zanu PF is also reportedly employing dirty smear campaign tactics against its political foes, with suspicions that state security agents took advantage of Tsvangirai’s sex scandals to create drama around his recent marriage and tarnish his reputation. MDC-T secretary-general Tendai and MDC leader Welshman Ncube are also targeted through Pius Ncube-style sting operations.
To show Zanu PF is desperate to win the next elections, the party recently dispatched its chairpersons for a two-week visit to China where they were trained on strategies to mobilise support for the party which a recent survey said is gradually regaining lost ground.
The chairpersons’ trip to China followed a visit by a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) delegation in June which met politburo, central committee and district coordinating committee members and advised the party to address relevant issues facing the electorate to win votes.
Zanu PF Matabeleland North acting chairperson and Governor Sithokozile Mathuthu who led the delegation to China on Wednesday declined to discuss the issue, insisting it was a Zanu PF internal matter.
But Matabeleland South chairman Andrew Langa said the chairpersons “learnt a lot from the Chinese and also took time to exchange political ideas”, without elaborating. “It was an exciting and educative trip; that’s all I can say,” he said.
Other chairpersons were mum on the trip, citing a gag on the details.
Fears abound that the Zanu PF chairpersons could import repressive methods used by the CCP under its one-party state system to mobilise and coerce voters during the next elections.