BY all accounts the heat scorching Harare was unusual for the morning on June 15 in the middle of winter.
But then again the media has been going on about global warming suggesting climate change and in any case this is Zimbabwe where many things defy the norm, especially in the political arena.
The sweltering heat is as strange as my early morning excursion to Amsterdam Park – a place with an interesting name during these frenzied times of liberation struggle discourse and reclaiming everything taken from “our ancestors”.
Amsterdam Park (which has nothing to do with the Netherlands) is not the kind of name you expect for a new suburb project by sons of the soil in our dear land won after a bloody protracted war of liberation.
But such are the contradictions of post-colonial Zimbabwe.
The contradiction assumes a dramatic dimension when one considers that Amsterdam is a name given by war veterans to one of their projects conceived in the name of “empowerment and indigenisation of our resources”.
Despite the menacing contradictions, I brave the steaming heat and head for Amsterdam on the outskirts of Harare along the Masvingo road. It is an undercover trip aboard one of the commuter omnibuses hired from Harare’s Copacabana taxi rank to ferry war veterans and their supporters to a mushrooming settlement.
After a short trip, we get there and parked next to a huge pit almost a kilometre long teeming with sand poachers. I count about five trucks almost filled with sand which will be sold to various construction concerns.
A group of men sit on a rock right on the edge of the pit clad in colourful Zanu PF regalia, including the increasingly visible tee-shirts with party leader, President Robert Mugabe’s signature emblazoned across the chest and back.
They briefly look up and conclude we are of no consequence before resuming their game of draught along with the sharing of opaque beer popularly known as “scud”.
At this point, we are joined by Andrew Ndlovu, an ex-Zipra fighter who together with the notorious Chenjerai ‘Hitler’ Hunzvi and Anna Paradza (both deceased) set up the Magamba eChimurenga Housing Trust in 1998 and acquired this part of Amsterdam Park from a company called M.B Ziko to fulfil their quest of developing low-cost housing scheme for their members.
I am standing close enough to Ndlovu to hear him whisper “this area is part of the stands that should have been allocated to beneficiaries but it has become a massive pit because of these misguided party functionaries”.
This is the closest I will ever get to hear Ndlovu criticising Zanu PF, a party that has prided itself of its close ties with war veterans.
But even if Ndlovu will not speak out, some other people of less repute are not so circumspect. I am quickly to learn that the settlement was developed by people bussed in by Zanu PF in defiance of a High Court order which had prevented Magamba eChimurenga from developing their stands from 1999 to 2009.
It is said that after the caveat was lifted in 2009, the war veterans tried and failed to evict Zanu PF’s illegal settlers and eventually sought relief granted at the end of last year.
But not even Zanu PF’s new found resolve after the controversial Jealously Mawarire application to let the law take its course is enough to sway these squatters.
After all, they say they boost the numbers in the party’s quest to retain the Harare South parliamentary seat, one of the few urban constituencies it has managed to win ever since the MDC first took the country by storm in the 2000 elections.
That is why Ndlovu and his team are here today – June 15 under the sizzling heat.
After some dithering they persuaded the police to assist them explain to these squatters that they must move. A 4X4 double cab vehicle drives up and is followed shortly after by a truckload of riot police details.
At this point a small crowd of about a 100 people gathers at the edge of the dump and one smartly dressed man makes the move to begin his address flanked by Ndlovu.
He is a representative of M.B. Ziko, the company that sold this part of Amsterdam Park to Magamba eChimurenga.
After 40-odd minutes before the gentleman hands over the floor to Ndlovu, one thing emerges: the squatters must move with immediate effect.
But then again these are party people and they are key to Zanu PF victory in the next elections. One burly man with Mugabe’s image punching the air with his fist takes to the floor and tells the war veterans and M.B. Ziko only Zanu PF can decide their fate.
“We are not going anywhere,” he shouts. “Zanu brought us here and they are the ones who will tell us what to do.”
Ahead of the next general elections, it becomes clear their presence is part of Zanu PF’s strategy to retain Harare South.
The applause from other squatters is cut short by a police officer who emerges from behind Ndlovu to tell the rabble-rouser he must save his comments because this is not a political rally.
Ominously chastised, the man and his fellow squatters fall silent and the programme moves on to the last stage and this is where the war veterans move into the settlement to officially allocate stands to the rightful beneficiaries.
At this point the police depart.
The operation seems simple enough. Ndlovu’s trusted lieutenant Freddy Mhlanga knocks at each door and tells the occupants, “we are here to inform you that you are illegally occupying somebody else’s stand and you should move. If you want one for yourself you should come to our offices to discuss the matter”.
A woman clutches her child and ponders the next move. The aggressive burly man and his colleagues watch us from their “offices” complete with Zanu PF and national flags flapping in the wind.
They are not going to have any of this. They advance and the man grabs Mhlanga by the collar. “Hu-war vet hwako hawushandi pano (being a war veteran doesn’t work here),” he says.
“We will only be removed by Zanu PF.” All hell breaks loose as back-up arrives in the form of two pick-up trucks with drunken party activists chanting party slogans and our delegation comprising mostly women scatters. Sensing danger and incapable of self-defence, I take to my heels and disappear into thin air.
Hours later, Mhlanga tells me via a phone call that the police returned to restore order at the site.It then dawns on me that the presence of “squatters” in Harare South is part and parcel of Zanu PF’s election strategey This might as well be the story of how the next elections would nationally be decided – by fair means or foul.