Monday, July 22, 2013

(NEWZIMBABWE) Huge crowds for Mugabe swan song
Rock star arrival ... President Robert Mugabe arriving for Chiweshe campagn stop Thursday
11/07/2013 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

NO-ONE said it, openly, but it had the feel of a swan-song. In one of his biggest rallies in recent years, President Robert Mugabe made a rock-star entrance in front of adoring loyalists at a school at Nzvimbo Growth Point in Chiweshe.

An estimated 20,000 supporters – almost every one of them kitted for the occasion in the most expensive election race in Zimbabwe’s history – waved their caps animatedly as the Zanu PF leader swapped his Mercedes limousine for an open-top truck.

The snail-paced drive from the gate to a tent 200 metres away gave the crowd a front row seat to history – the only President they have ever known staging one of his last rallies, ever.

“They are here to say ‘Thank You’. They all came voluntarily, they know the significance of the occasion – it’s the last time they will see the President coming here to ask for their vote,” whispered one aide.

Vice President Joice Mujuru – who left Mashonaland Central aged just 15 to join the liberation war effort against colonial rule over three decades ago – set the stage, apologising to Mugabe that Zanu PF did not win Bindura North in the 2008 elections – just one of only two of the 17 constituencies in the province to go to the MDC-T.
“It won’t happen again,” she vowed, her eyes on the July 31 general elections.

Mugabe, so nearly edged out of power in 2008 after losing a first round vote to his main foe, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, before a violence-hit run-off forced the two rivals to share power, stepped up to a wooden rostrum, leaned forward and seized on Mujuru’s theme.

How could they lose in Chiweshe, of all places? He enquired impatiently. “The land of Kaguvi and Nehanda?!” The crowd roared, acknowledging the admonishment.

Mugabe had officially launched his campaign, keen to regain lost ground, lost power. His party says he will stage 10 “star rallies” in each of the country’s 10 provinces. Two others will be added to the schedule at a later stage.

Belying his 89 years, Mugabe – using the podium to hold his weight – spoke for an hour and three minutes. Several themes featured prominently: land; indigenisation, and a call to vote in peace. But he had a more urgent message: his party must avoid a run-off election, one banana skin the President’s aides dare not contemplate.

Unusually, the speech was light on international matters. He had come to give a history lecture and rouse his supporters out of a deep political slumber. They had forgotten, so quickly, the recent colonial history. His party was holding the barriers to embittered former colonisers gathering at the gates, he said.

With one final call to vote in peace, and the usual denunciation of the MDC “sell-outs”, Mugabe retired to the chair – and the First Lady, Grace, was soon on the stage, reeling jokes about Tsvangirai and promising to feed the old.

“Morgan Tsvangirai saw himself in the mirror and ran,” she said, picking on the MDC-T leader’s looks.

“President Mugabe has been consistent in his messages about empowering the people not like others who spend their time going to exotic beaches with different girlfriends. Those who dream about power should continue dreaming, but we are at State House to stay.”

The First Lady – who opened a multi-million dollar orphanage and school nearby in Mazowe – had brought 10,000kg of maize meal, 10,000kg of soya beans, 2,000kg of salt and 560 boxes of cooking oil, she told the crowd, but it was for the elderly.

The privately-owned morning’s papers, reacting to the limited number of rallies Mugabe will address, had speculated that age was taking its toll. “Age threatens Mugabe campaign... as Tsvangirai is set to address 60 rallies,” said the NewsDay. “Mugabe cuts down rallies,” screamed a headline in the Daily News.

“Tsvangirai would need 10 rallies to get this kind of crowd,” quipped Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, an MP in the province, as he surveyed the gathered party faithful.

After Chiweshe, Mugabe turns his attention to Marange in Manicaland next Saturday where he will address what aides are describing as the biggest rally of the campaign: they expect over 50,000 people, mainly members of the Apostolic sects, who have pledged their loyalty to the Zanu PF leader.



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