Zanu PF is preparing for its first elections without former president Robert Mugabe as its torch-bearer after the veteran ruler was toppled in a military coup in November last year.
The man charged with delivering the votes for the ruling party is former senior army officer retired lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje, who left the barracks after the coup to take over from the fired Saviour Kasukuwere as the Zanu PF commissar.
Our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) caught up with Rugeje (ER) to talk about the reported chaos surrounding the selection of Zanu PF candidates ahead of the polls and allegations that 5 000 soldiers have been deployed to campaign for the ruling party. Below is the full interview.
OM: Are you happy with the way the selection of party candidates for the forthcoming elections has been going amid reports that the process has been marred by violence?
ER: Our instructions and guidelines pertaining to the conduct of primary elections are very clear, solid and watertight. You should understand the euphoria gripping the people as a result of this new dispensation.
People are excited about it and many are eager to participate in the elections.
We have seen an unprecedented desire by our membership to fully participate in the primary elections.
We have opened up a strong democratic space where there is no hindrance whatsoever and as long as people meet the set regulations, there is no hindrance. Every member is free to submit a CV if they qualify.
OM: Some aspiring candidates have complained that the process is unfair as some people were disqualified at lower levels of the party. How are you dealing with those issues?
ER: It’s true that there is disgruntlement and we have seen quite a number of complaints being launched with various levels of leadership right up to national level.
However, unlike in the past where the provincial election directorate and the district election directorate had the mandate to conduct vetting, this is not the case this time around.
They are only responsible for collecting and probably categorising or grouping the CVs of the aspiring candidates.
They will forward all the CVs from the aspirants to the national elections commission, which I chair, and so it is my team that is going to have a final decision on who qualifies and who doesn’t.
Even those perceived not to qualify, their CVs will find their way to the national elections commission and we will adjudicate on that and if we feel there is unfair treatment, we will then take a decision.
OM: Judging by the high number of complaints, will you have the capacity to adequately deal with them?
ER: For your own information, we are almost through with the vetting. We have a technical team that is assisting us, these are people who are not involved in the primaries.
As we are speaking, the vetting is underway and almost complete. We are working round the clock to ensure that every application is considered.
OM: When are you likely to have primary elections?
ER: We will advise in due course, but you remember that initially we had proposed that we would have primaries on May 5, but there might be changes to that.
We could hold them earlier or much later depending on our internal processes that we have to undergo before the primaries, but I can assure you it’s soon.
OM: At the last politburo meeting, journalists were advised that the Zanu PF manifesto is ready. What are the major highlights?
ER: The issue of the manifesto doesn’t fall under my brief, but it falls under the jurisdiction of the chairperson.
Yes, I am privy to the contents of the manifesto, but I am not at liberty to divulge them until it is launched.
OM: Zanu PF has been making a lot of promises towards elections and the majority of those promises go unfulfilled. The two million jobs promised in 2013 come into mind. What guarantee are there this time around that the promises will be met?
ER: I can promise you that we are a new dispensation.
OM: Do you think Zanu PF will win these elections?
OM: There seems to be renewed interest in the opposition after Nelson Chamisa took over as MDC-T leader. Are you not worried about the changing tide?
ER: I don’t comment on other political parties and what I know is that we are going to win the elections.
OM: What is your reaction to allegations that 5 000 soldiers have been deployed to campaign for Zanu PF?
ER: Those are fabrications. We have been preaching peace starting with the president and the top leadership of the party.
Even in our gatherings are those outside Zanu PF and government, we have always been preaching about peace, peace and non-violence and for anyone to allege that we are fomenting violence in the rural areas it is mischievous.
Zanu PF is a political party that respects the liberty of the people and respects harmony and peace.
Zanu PF has always propagated love for one another and we thrive on unity.
This allegation that soldiers have been deployed all over to assist is not true. We have structures as Zanu PF of our own members who are on the ground.
I don’t know where this is coming from, but I am no longer competent to talk on behalf of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces because I am a retired general.
But I have never experienced or witnessed soldiers deployed on behalf on Zanu PF.
After all, why would we need soldiers when we have our own solid structures that have been mobilising and restructuring to ensure that we win the elections resoundingly?
I don’t know where this is coming from, but maybe the military will be more qualified to talk about that.
OM: Former Cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo last week claimed Zanu PF in 2013 used $70 million looted from diamond mines to buy regalia for its campaign. He warned similar manoeuvres are underway for the forthcoming elections. What is your comment?
ER: Ask Jonathan Moyo about that. What I know is that our regalia is procured through our own party departments and there is nothing like using public funds to purchase any of the regalia.
As a political party, we have the financial capacity to do our own procurement.
Where this is coming from I don’t know, ask Jonathan. I don’t want to comment on somebody who is not even in our structures. We have nothing to do with him.
OM: How has been the transition from being a soldier to a ruling party commissar?
ER: Being an ex-combatant and also being an ex-army general I will rise to the occasion.
So far I have found this challenge very interesting and enjoyable. I will always rise to the occasion.