As the full moon pulled what we hope is the last cold front through Zimbabwe this week, it added to the chilly air of unease in the country. The front page newspaper photograph of a victim of political violence with a swollen face and dressings covering a head wound sent goose bumps down our spines. ‘Violence flares up in Zanu PF’ was the headline with the word ‘bludgeoned’ below the man’s picture. It’s a grim image we’ve seen countless times in the last fifteen years but the difference is that this time the violence isn’t between opposing political parties but amongst members of the ruling party who are scrambling for positions ahead of their annual conference in December.
It’s a story best told in quotes :
Addressing 3,000 delegates at Zanu PF’s National Youth League Conference, Mr Mugabe said individuals had been involved in what he described as clandestine organisations. “The activities going on in the party just now, filthy, dirty! They are destroying the party and people pretend they think we don’t know what’s happening.” There were reports of midnight meetings and vote buying and Mr Mugabe described those involved as ‘just rubbish, dirty rubbish,’ questioning if those concerned were ‘political prostitutes.’
Hot on the heels of the Youth Conference was Zanu PF’s Women’s League Conference but all week in the run up to the event the press reports had been chilling. The party’s Secretary for Women’s Affairs, Mrs Muchinguri, held a press conference and said there were reports of members being “kidnapped or sequestered against their will and without the knowledge of their families who do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones.” A few days earlier we’d read of a police report being made against a Minister of State in the President’s Office for allegedly abducting and holding members of the Women’s League hostage to force them to vote for her.
We had hardly taken in the news of kidnappings in three provinces when they were denied, not by the women in the party but by Zanu PF’s National Chairman, Simon Khaya Moyo. “Media reports that a number of kidnappings associated with the conference have taken place… have been proven false and alarmist…I appeal to the leadership of the Women’s League to refrain from making such unfounded statements.”
And while all this was going on all eyes were turning to Victoria Falls where a SADC Heads of State Summit is about to begin. Ninety year old Mr Mugabe is taking over as the Chairman of SADC and he appealed to Zimbabweans to smile at the delegates. “We know that our people are going through a very difficult period and that there are no jobs, however, we are asking you to smile and show the region that we are a hospitable people… let us all smile and for just a moment forget our problems.”
‘Going through a difficult period’ is an understatement in a country where this week Zimbabwe’s UN Association Youth President said that 65% youngsters here are suffering from mental problems due to drug and substance abuse and unemployment.
So Zimbabweans might smile for the SADC delegates but we assume most would have read the same reports as the rest of us about the vote buying, kidnappings, midnight meetings and infighting in Zanu PF. This August the only change to our fourteen year old ‘situation’ comes with the arrival of spring and the Musasa pods which are falling thick and fast giving a whole new meaning to ‘snap crackle and pop.’