HARARE – Zanu PF’S election manifesto launch at the Zimbabwe Grounds on Friday turned into a farce as fist fights broke out over bread and T-shirts emblazoned with President Robert Mugabe’s picture.
Hundreds of supporters did not concentrate on Mugabe’s speech and instead spent time fighting over free bread which had been freely made available at the venue.
Riot police had to move in to control the hungry crowds fighting ferociously for bread.
Others were viciously fighting for Mugabe’s T-shirts with security personnel battling to control them.
Under the theme, Indigenise, Empower, Develop, Employ —Mugabe is targeting the evasive urban and youth vote.
“I cry to you, Highfield, Highfield where are you?” Mugabe pleaded to the crowd around mid-morning.
“We have come here to regain what we lost along the way when we made a huge political error in 2008.
“We decided that we should bring our entire team to this sacred place and lead it in the fight to conquer,” Mugabe said.
In a sentimental moment, Mugabe wistfully recounted how he and the late vice president Joshua Nkomo were received at Zimbabwe Grounds when they arrived from Mozambique on the eve of independence in 1980.
“It is here in Highfield, the cradle of mass nationalism that Joshua Nkomo and myself were received by multitudes so we must be ready to reorganise ourselves with the full knowledge that it’s a do or die election and we don’t want to die, it’s a battle for survival, we need political life,” said Mugabe.
Despite having lined up the country’s top charting artistes — Suluman Chimbetu, Jah Prayzah and Mathias Mhere — the crowd was no match to the tens of thousands who turned up to greet Mugabe when he returned from the gruelling war of independence.
The sparse crowd was an exact antithesis of the bumper crowd that graced the stadium in 1980 when Mugabe returned from the war.
This was despite the fact that praise singers and Zanu PF sponsors such as the Urban Transporters Association of Zimbabwe had reportedly provided 150 kombis to ferry people to the venue.
When Mugabe arrived around midday yesterday, there was a small crowd.
But the crowd swelled towards the end of the day as Zanu PF officials, embarrassed by the low turnout, force-marched people into the grounds.
Zanu PF national commissar Webster Shamu admitted at the start of the programme that committees set up to fundraise for the campaign had dismally failed to raise the cash and had to rely on the goodwill of the First Family which provided the party campaigning regalia.
There are conflicting reports as to the exact figure that greeted Mugabe and other liberation war luminaries at the Zimbabwe grounds on January 27 with the party’s information department putting the figure at around ?1,6 million.
However, the British Broadcasting Corporation put the total figure of attendance at 200 000 while the Rhodesian police claimed 150 000 people had graced the occasion.
Just over 10 000 people attended Friday’s puffed-up manifesto launch.
Bussed party supporters from the country’s 10 provinces made the majority of the crowd and were looking disinterested when Mugabe gave his long and winding speech at times mixing up dates.
Shamu, Zanu PF national commissar, had to hastily alter the programme line-up, opting first to introduce aspiring candidates — perhaps to allow the crowd in the grounds to swell up.
Initially, Shamu, who was his usual bootlicking self — gushing praises at Mugabe, had indicated that the octogenarian leader, who will turn 90 next year, would speak before the introduction of the more than 250 candidates lining up to represent the party in the forthcoming crunch election.
But the programme was altered as Zanu PF officials bussed more people.
With the country set to hold polls on July 31, Mugabe’s election campaign, in what promises to be a gruelling battle for power, started on a wrong foot notwithstanding the fact that prospective candidates had ?each been tasked to bus in followers.