From the unbudgeted pensions for war veterans in 1997 to the controversial land reform programme at the turn of the millennium, President Robert Mugabe has become a master of patronage whenever his 36-year rule comes under threat.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
After enduring three weeks of protests, Mugabe sprung to action last week using his tried and tested power retention method, bussing thousands of Zanu PF youths to the streets of Harare.
As a bait, the 92-year-old ruler dangled hundreds of hectares of land for housing stands for the youths to defend him against the rising opposition characterised by unending protests all over the country.
On Wednesday, the youths gathered at the Zanu PF provincial offices in Harare’s central business district before they marched to the party headquarters.
According to a message circulated on WhatsApp inviting the youths to the march, the main agenda for that day was to register for the land, not to demonstrate against Mugabe’s opponents.
“Harare province is calling all youth to attend an extra-ordinary youth league inter-district meeting conference,” part of the invitation read.
“The main agenda is handover of three farms to the youths for stands.
“Officials from UDCorp (Urban Development Corporation) will be there. Stands forms to be filled on the day.”
However, according to a Zanu PF insider, when the youths arrived at the party offices they were handed placards denouncing pastor Evan Mawarire and before they were ordered to march to the headquarters. No stand forms were distributed.
Mawarire is the leader of #ThisFlag movement, which has been piling pressure on Mugabe to end corruption and address the economic problem facing the country.
Some of the youths refused to take part in the march, saying they were too hungry.
“We came to register so that we will also get stands. We didn’t have food, we cannot wait any longer because we have registered. We just hope the promise will be fulfilled,” said one youth from Epworth.
At the headquaters, Zanu PF deputy secretary for youth affairs Kudzanai Chipanga said Mugabe had given the party members land in Chishawasha (300ha), Harare South (500ha) and Norton (200ha).
He showed the youths part of the plan for the new settlements approved by the Local Government ministry.
Harare provincial chairman, Charles Tawengwa bragged that he was a “big man” after the event attracted a huge crowd.
“I am a big man and I know how to play my cards. Above all, they love their party and the president,” he said as he tried to downplay the allegations that Zanu PF was using State resources to buy supporters.
A local government expert said Zanu PF risked creating shanty towns by allocating stands in a haphazard manner to its members.
“The creation of unplanned settlements around cities and towns is a recipe for disaster,” he said.
“It is better for the government to transfer the land to local authorities to ensure that proper services are done before the youths are allocated the stands.”
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a political analyst said it was ironic that the majority of people who should be at work would have time to toyi-toyi in town praising Mugabe for bending the laws as he seeks to retain power.
“Fundamentally, when it comes to Mugabe’s retention of power, there is no law to talk about. Mugabe doesn’t respect the law when it comes to power,” Ruhanya said.
He said after getting stands, the youths were now expected to work towards defending Mugabe ahead of the 2018 elections.
“Mugabe will fundamentally use youths to campaign, intimidate, harass and harvest fear among the electorate,” he said.
Ruhanya said it was not proper to parcel out urban residential stands at rallies and accused Mugabe of manipulating those he has disempowered and oppressed.
He warned Zanu PF youths to take a cue from one Charles Ble Goude, a youth leader and close ally of Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, who was arrested in 2011.
Goude was taken to the International Criminal Court after mobilising regime supporters to attack opponents during the last days of Gbagbo’s regime
Harare-based political analyst Gladys Hlatywayo accused Mugabe of taking Zimbabwe as his personal property.
“The abuse of power in this country is nauseating,” she charged.
“The president has long used the system of patronage as a power retention strategy and it is so embarrassing.
“I am personally not surprised by the move to parcel out land to his foot soldiers, especially considering the impending election in 2018.”
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said Zanu PF was deliberately ring-fencing all properly planned urban residential settlements by creating unserviced residential areas to dilute the MDC’s urban vote in the 2018 elections.
“The action is not only unconstitutional, it is also tantamount to a blatant violation of the provisions of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29: 15).
“All major cities, by the year 2018, will be ring-fenced by squatter camps that are being deliberately created by the Zanu PF regime,” he said.
“It is the primary responsibility of elected urban councils to identify and parcel out land to people on the housing waiting list in a holistic and properly administered manner.
“The Zanu PF regime is using the system of patronage in the illegal allocation of residential stands in and around urban areas.”
However, Local Government deputy minister Christopher Chingosho defended the project, saying proper procedures were being followed to acquire the land and anyone who was affected would be compensated.
He said the youth would be asked to pay for the stands within 25 years.
Asked to comment on allegations that the majority of the youths were not employed and might not be able to pay for servicing the stands or building houses, Chingosho said: “Not everybody is unable. Those who cannot afford will approach the ministry individually and we will see how we can assist them.”