Zanu(PF) is plotting to put MDC-T-led local authorities — particularly Harare and other major municipalities — under siege as part of a grand plan to reclaim control in the 2018 general elections, while also pushing to recover lost political ground from the main opposition party in urban constituencies, it has emerged.
Senior Zanu (PF) and government officials told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet reshuffle this week, apart from dealing with the ruling party’s internal leadership succession dynamics, was a grand plan for the 2018 general elections.
The machination resolves around aligning Zanu (PF) national commissar Saviour Kasukuwere’s party duties with his government responsibilities as the new Local Government minister.
In the party Kasukuwere is responsible for organising the structures and mobilising support. In government, he will preside over a massive bureaucratic structure which has a national footprint as he will be in charge of rural and urban councils countrywide. He will also oversee provincial and district administrators, as well as traditional chiefs — Zanu (PF)’s electoral kingpins in its rural strongholds — and headmen, among others.
Provincial ministers — who are a new version of the old governors who represent Mugabe in the regions — will also work hand-in-hand with Kasukuwere leading to the 2018 polls.
“The cabinet reshuffle was meant to deal with internal party issues, but its most important aim was to come up with an elections grand plan,” a senior cabinet minister said.
“The plan resolves around Kasukuwere as our (ruling party) national commissar and now Local Government minister. He will coordinate party and government activities in preparation for the 2018 elections. The most critical thing is that he will, of course, use government infrastructure to help the party, especially in urban areas where we need to push to reclaim seats under MDC-T control. The first step is to take over the councils and use them as a base to fight to win back towns and cities in the next elections.”
Another minister said Zanu PF already had a pedestal to fight back after grabbing 16 seats previously held by MDC-T, including in the opposition party’s strongholds of Harare and Bulawayo.
“We have already partly bounced back in Harare and Bulawayo after the by-elections, but we need a strategy to increase our gains and Kasukuwere will spearhead that campaign. You will see the siege we will soon lay against MDC-T municipalities,” the minister said.
A senior Zanu (PF) official said battle lines between Zanu (PF) and the MDC-T were already drawn after Kasukuwere threw down the gauntlet to main opposition party by confronting its Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni and his councillors over the sensitive issue of vendors in the capital’s central business district.
Kasukuwere hit the ground running, ordering them to act against hawkers or face a fierce backlash.
In an interview with the Independent on Tuesday, Kasukuwere said it was the local authorities’ responsibility to clean up the cities and towns. He warned that if the MDC-T councils fail to act they might be booted out and possibly be replaced with ministerial commissions reminiscent of his predecessor Ignatius Chombo’s era.
“The city of Harare is under the MDC-T and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai is saying the city must decay. He says he has registered 65 000 people and the mayor says these vendors are ours politically. We can’t have people who are negligent in their work where there is willful violation of their own rules and regulations including by-laws,” Kasukuwere said.
“What we want to see are mayors enforcing their by-laws and getting the cities clean. If they are scared of Tsvangirai, I have no option but to seek an alternative structure that will not allow for the chaos to continue.
“So if the cities cannot discharge their responsibilities, I have no option but to look for an instrument that will allow me to ensure that the cities continue to discharge their functions in the best interests of their ratepayers and business. You cannot get voted in and mess up those voters.”
Kasukuwere added: “They have to sort themselves out very quickly. They are already behind time. We can’t have disorder. The city council must be run properly. If Manyenyeni and others are not up to the task, we will find a way to ensure that we have a city that runs and don’t blame it on President Mugabe when that happens.
“Councils must shape up or ship out. If the council does not clean the town, I will clean the Town House.” .
Sensing danger, Manyenyeni unleashed municipal police on Wednesday, two days after Kasukuwere’s appointment, on the vendors. However, there have been running battles between the municipal police and vendors.
Manyenyeni has now turned to Kasukuwere who told the Independent he should approach Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri for help.
The operation is now in its third day, but the street pavements remain teeming with vendors suggesting the operation is doomed to fail, which is exactly what Zanu (PF) wants. “If they (MDC-T officials and councillors) fail to remove vendors, they are gone,” one Zanu (PF) official ominously warned yesterday.
Vendors in the city centre are the starkest and ubiquitous manifestation of the country’s economic problems, particularly company closures, job losses and unemployment.
If Zanu (PF) succeeds and manages to get rid of councils in major cities and towns, the party will have access to cheap land to embark on massive housing projects, targeting all classes. This will be part of its elections ploy, official say.
Kasukuwere said top on his list is the provision of accommodation by building secure apartment complexes like the ones in South Africa and Britain.
“A lot of people want housing. We should build the city going up to save agricultural land. Let’s create bona fide businesses and institutions that are prepared to develop the land and build houses. The land belongs to the state and citizens must get it without paying a bribe. We are going to restore dignity in this country,” he said.
Housing projects have in past helped Zanu PF win in MDC-T strongholds, for instance the party has won in two consecutive elections in Harare South because of housing cooperatives.
Zanu (PF)’s Tongesayi Mudambo won the Harare North seat in 2013, which includes parts of Borrowdale, after the party established housing projects in the constituency, particularly Hatcliffe.
The Zanu (PF) grand plan thus hinges on establishing as many housing projects as possible and dishing out affordable land to home-seekers, among other things. Expanding Harare and other cities will facilitate gerrymandering — manipulation of constituency boundaries — which is part of Zanu PF’s election rigging mechanisms.
Zanu (PF) has many ways of influencing elections in its favour as shown by disputed electoral outcomes since the emergence of the MDC in 1999, through the 2002 presidential vote, the 2008 presidential poll run-off and the 2013 elections.
The ruling party is also banking on the MDC-T boycotting elections. The opposition has been sending contradictory messages on this issue; sometimes saying it will boycott and then flip-flopping to say it will not.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu on Thursday said: “Our position hasn’t shifted one bit. The MDC position on elections is that we will not participate in elections in the absence of the reforms that we have articulated in detail.”