“TIRIKUFAMBA naChipanga! (We are voting for Kudzai Chipanga!),” whispered Zanu PF national commissar Webster Shamu to this reporter last Saturday at Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare as the battle for the control of the Youth League reached its zenith, obviously mistaking him for one of the voters in the just-ended chaotic youth conference.
Shamu was not alone in doing this. Such was the way of campaigning by senior Zanu PF officials who virtually camped at the venue of the conference at the Rainbow Towers day and night to canvass support for their preferred candidates who belong to their factions.
While they literally whispered in the ears of targeted voters as they moved around mobilising to secure last-minute support in a feverish pitch for votes, there was also a political “whispering campaign” in the true sense in which damaging rumours about vote-buying were spread about some of the candidates and their sponsors, while the sources of the rumours sought to avoid being detected.
“Whispering campaigns” are frequently used in electoral politics as a tool of shaping debate and voting trends without being seen to do so.
At the height of campaigning at the Zanu PF youth conference, there were some pretty vile and hurtful things said about each other coming from either side of the factional divide. The campaigning showed the nasty side of Zanu PF politics.
Besides damaging rumours about rival candidates, their handlers and fraudulent methods, as well as vote-buying and ballot rigging, the election was also characterised by intimidation and manipulation of the process — features now prevalent in Zimbabwe’s national elections.
Although Zanu PF factionalism is no longer a hidden thing, the youth conference escalated things to new levels. Volatile factionalism bedevilling Zanu PF exploded into the public in a major way with senior party officials openly taking sides, showing that the party is now deeply divided down the middle in an unprecedented way.
Despite warnings from President Robert Mugabe at the official opening of the youth conference on Friday that senior party officials should not interfere in youth affairs, provincial chairpersons, politburo members and cabinet ministers mainly aligned to Vice-President Joice Mujuru, openly campaigned for youths loyal to their camp as the battle to control critical party organs intensified ahead of the Women’s League conference this week and the party’s elective congress in December.
The Mujuru faction emerged victorious in the national youth executive elections, grabbing two most senior positions by comfortable margins. Chipanga won the deputy secretary for youth affairs after defeating Tongai Kasukuwere and the second most powerful elected position, secretary for administration, went to Varaidzo Mupunga.
In fact, most of the top 10 elected positions in the Youth League national structure were seized by the Mujuru faction.
This comes after the Mujuru camp ran over the faction led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa in November last year in provincial, positioning itself well to take control of the party’s critical structures, particularly if it manages to secure top elected posts during the women’s conference.
Mugabe had earlier taken a swipe at leaders who are abusing their authority by using youths and party structures to push their self-serving agendas, thundering those buying votes are “dirty rubbish” and “weevils”.
Barely four hours after Mugabe’s vitriolic attack against vote-buying and manipulation involving party heavyweights, senior party officials swung into action in clear defiance of their leader.
Provincial chairpersons John Shumba Mvundura (Manicaland), Temba Mliswa (Mashonaland West) and Amos Midzi (Harare), Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi and politburo member Tendai Savanhu openly addressed youths from their respective provinces giving them orders to vote for their preferred candidates — in this case those aligned to the Mujuru faction.
Following meetings held in different corners outside the Harare International Conference Centre, the venue for the conference, youths from Masvingo, Manicaland, Harare and Mashonaland West burst into song and dance after being addressed by senior party officials in support of Chipanga.
“Ehe varume musaputse sungano, sungano yacho ndeyaMwari …” (Yes, guys do not destroy the covenant we have made because it is ordained by God …),” sang the youths after being swayed into voting for Chipanga. Such were the manoeuvres at the conference.
A makeshift tent, jokingly referred to as the ATM by the youths, was erected by those in the Mujuru faction in the car park where they received what was referred to as “subsistence allowances” for those voting for Chipanga.
The unity, which was seemingly evident when the youths converged at First Lady Grace Mugabe’s Mazowe farm in support of the Women’s League proposal to have her appointed their boss last week, seemed to have vanished. Tensions were at knife-edge as the youths readied themselves for a bruising battle.
Provinces were divided on factional lines between those supporting Mujuru and those aligned to Mnangagwa, whose camp seems to be having the backing of Grace.
Across the battle lines, it was Midlands, Mashonaland Central and Bulawayo versus Mashonaland West, Manicaland, Mashonaland East, Masvingo and Harare provinces.
Matabeleland South and North provinces were divided.
Initially, Mliswa, Mzembi and Bhasikiti had open verbal exchanges with the youths from their provinces who accused them of trying to influence the vote.
Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa was also embroiled in controversy with the youths from Manicaland resulting in six of them being arrested as police moved in to quell a looming rebellion.
Mutasa visited Harare Polytechnic College on Friday night, where the youths were housed, to persuade them to vote for Chipanga. However, some youths told him off resulting in an altercation and arrest of those who were defiant.
In his closing remarks delivered from 2am to 6am, Mugabe, who defied old age by keeping wide awake the whole night, launched further scathing attacks on Zanu PF politburo and central committee members sucked in the vote-buying scandal that rocked the conference, describing those guilty of giving and receiving money for votes as “political prostitutes”.
“To me, you don’t deserve to be a youth leader at all. If you allow other people to buy you and if you have voted because ndakapihwa mari nangana kuti ndivhote nepapa nemutowo uyu ende ukavhotawo nemutowo iwowo nekuti wapihwa mari (if you voted for certain persons because you were given money), goodness me, you are rubbish! … You are not political prostitutes, are you? Some people will want to make you political prostitutes,” Mugabe said.
Despite his stinging remarks, it appeared he has lost control of the party structures, only maintaining symbolic presence and faltering authority disregarded with impunity as shown by events at the conference.