HARARE – Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai makes his last throw of the dice tomorrow at a star rally in Harare dubbed the “Red Power Monday” that police had earlier attempted to ban citing shortage of manpower.
Tsvangirai will make his final poll pitch before an expected 100 000-strong crowd, according to an MDC spokesperson, in what could be the most important speech of his political life.
Three days before presidential and parliamentary elections, police had earlier blocked Tsvangirai from staging the rally in Harare ostensibly because they have no manpower while approving President Robert Mugabe’s star rally scheduled for Harare today.
Tsvangirai’s “Cross Over” rally is scheduled for the open space next to the Rainbow Towers Hotel (formerly Sheraton) which the party has rechristened “Freedom Square.”
“All the MDC supporters in Harare are expected to converge in their big numbers there,”said MDC organising secretary Nelson Chamisa, calling on everyone to wear red.
The furore over the attempted cancellation of the MDC star rally, which forced police into a climb down after the MDC filed an urgent High Court chamber application challenging the ban, was the latest sign of tension in the run-up to Zimbabwe’s eighth presidential election since independence in 1980.
The poll has been marked by opposition and civil society allegations of irregularities and concerns about inadequate preparations.
In a stand-off that began earlier yesterday, police chief superintendent Alex Chagwedera, the officer commanding Harare, wrote to the MDC advising that they were not sanctioning the rally.
“Be advised that we have already deployed all our personnel to polling stations where they are securing election and government materials,” Chagwedera said in the letter to the MDC.
“We have no extra personnel to spare so that they cover your intended rally. Some of our personnel have been deployed to some other provinces to augment the strength of such provinces.
“In view of the foregoing, holding of the intended star rally has not been sanctioned and should not be allowed to take place as the absence of police officers from the rally may culminate in political violence.”
Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary general, approached the High Court after issuing a damning press statement at Harvest House, the MDC headquarters, police backtracked and cleared the rally, but with stringent conditions.
Chagwedera said the police will keep an eye on the conduct of the MDC supporters during the rally. He had earlier indicated that the ZRP had no manpower to do so.
“By copy of this minute, all sections of the security forces have been advised of your intended star rally and will be monitoring the situation,” reads part of Chagwedera’s letter seen by the Daily News late last night.
The Harare police chief expressed fears that the MDC rally could “culminate in political violence.”
But Chamisa said: “All the tactics will not work, they are tactics of desperation. They want to cause problems. But we are urging our MDC supporters and Zimbabweans at large to press for the last moment. The darkest hour is before dawn. It’s dawn in Zimbabwe, dawn is coming. It might be the darkest hour, but dawn is coming. Sure, no matter how painful this period is, it is dawn tomorrow. We are beginning a new day.”
Biti said: “This is the kind of thing we are dealing with and as we have said, we get shocked when some people are saying the country is having a free and fair election, what rubbish! This election is illegitimate, is illegal, is not free, is immoral and unfair.”
Mugabe has acknowledged that his Zanu PF party faces a real battle to stay in power in next Wednesday’s make-or-break elections, given the groundswell of support for Tsvangirai, who understands that Wednesday’s election is about the ownership of Zimbabwe’s national institutions.
Obert Gutu, the Harare MDC spokesman, said they expected a turnout of no less than 100 000 at the ‘Cross Over’ rally, and said several hundreds of thousands dressed in red were expected to turn out to hear Tsvangirai speak.
Meanwhile, Mugabe has been repeating the familiar history themes on the campaign trail that land belongs to the black people of Zimbabwe who waged a liberation war to gain freedom from colonialism, accuses his main opponents the MDC of being a puppet of foreign forces opposed to Zimbabwe, particularly Britain.
Scores of those attending are leaving his rallies while he is still speaking soon after getting T-shirts and caps.
Tsvangirai has been staging a colourful campaign show, including a “show boat”— a convoy of open trucks driving around the township streets and shopping centres like a carnival.
The banner and red-festooned convoy has been moving from shopping centre to shopping centre to wild cheers from people in streets and buses.
Tsvangirai faces a stark choice: run in the July 31 vote many believe is being stolen amid a frenzy of sympathy from many Zimbabweans after his demand that the government extend the campaign period faced resistance from Mugabe and the overwhelming grassroots support that could boost his chances during the vote.