Mugabe, 93, kicks off 'youth rallies' ahead of elections

2017-06-02 06:16
Robert Mugabe (File: AP)

Robert Mugabe (File: AP)

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Harare - Zimbabwe's ageing president Robert Mugabe will on Friday kick off a nationwide series of rallies to drum up support from youths ahead of elections next year.

But there has been fierce criticism of the 93-year-old's plans from some war veterans who are his traditional supporters.

Here's what you need to know.

First rally in Marondera

This is a series of rallies that will take place between now and October. They’re going to be held in all of the country’s 10 provinces. The first is set for Friday in a soccer stadium in Marondera, a small town east of Harare.

Two hundred buses and trucks have been laid on to bring supporters to the venue. Youths, women and war veterans are understood to have been invited. There is likely to be a big turnout. Remember it was the youth wing that organised a “million-man march” in support of Mugabe in Harare just over a year ago. They may not have got a million people there, but they did get tens of thousands.

Grace "invited"

The Zanu-PF youth leader Kudzanayi Chipanga told Thursday's state-run Herald that Grace Mugabe has been invited. She’s not just Zimbabwe's First Lady, she's also in charge of the ruling party’s women’s wing.

Grace is understood to be popular with the youths. That could mean she will speak too.

Chipanga told the daily: "The only person we consider of paramount importance is the president, but at the same time we are a party wing and we work hand in hand with the Women’s League.

They (women) are free to come, we have invited the secretary for Women Affairs, Dr Grace Mugabe. The moment she comes it means women will also be part of us."

Stage set for heightened party fights

There’s speculation in the independent press that internal party conflicts could erupt at these rallies. Youths aligned to a faction led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa might try to heckle the party’s political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, who is a key ally of the First Lady, reports Thursday's private NewsDay.

There’s also been criticism of these rallies from some senior war veterans. Many war veterans are believed to support Mnangagwa. Party spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo has warned party members against doing anything that would dent the image of Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

"Let it be known, anyone who tries to be funny or tries to tarnish the image of the party and of the president, will be dealt with accordingly," he told NewsDay.

Financial demands

Last week there were reports that the youths were demanding $5 billion from the government for "economic empowerment projects" ahead of elections. They may feel that their hand is strengthened in making this demand because Mugabe is likely to lean heavily on them for support in his campaign.

Five billion dollars is unrealistic: the sum is more than Zimbabwe’s total annual budget. An opinion editorial in the state-run Herald on Thursday warns against any party organ making hefty demands: "If this conception (of organs demanding material benefits) is allowed to exist it has a potential to destroy cohesion amongst the organs resulting in (the) arming (of) predatory internal and external enemies who seek the decimation of Zanu-PF," said the writer, Tonderai Nyikadzino.

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