A Zanu-PF flag was one of the possessions saved from the rubble after the bulldozers tore through the Epworth squatter camp last week.
Among the clothes and furniture strewn across the area, the flag told a story of betrayal – and the unravelling of Zanu-PF's strategy of winning votes by illegally doling out pieces of urban land.
More than 200 families are homeless after a government-owned company bulldozed hundreds of homes in Epworth, south of Harare, to make way for an industrial park. For more than a week they have been sleeping in the open, facing rain and feeling bitter about the party that had once protected them.
For years the families, backed by local Zanu-PF enforcers, had resisted calls to leave the land, which is owned by the Industrial Development Company. But last week the company sent in bulldozers to destroy their homes, setting off protests and sending senior Zanu-PF officials on a mission to repair the damage.
The officials have been visiting other areas, hoping to reassure settlers in similar settlements now fearing eviction. After protesters besieged its offices at the weekend and heckled party leaders, Zanu-PF fears that its policy of parcelling out pieces of land to poor urban residents – its one real hope for urban votes – could be unravelling.
Cruel and inhuman
The government, through the local government ministry controlled by Zanu-PF, has ordered a stop to the evictions and demolitions, despite a court order allowing the company to remove the settlers.
Amos Midzi, the Zanu-PF chairperson for Harare, addressed angry settlers and described the forced evictions as "cruel and inhuman".
Residents told Midzi that they had been forced to buy land from known party officials, with some paying up to $1 000 for small plots of land. Land could only be bought after producing a Zanu-PF party card. But Midzi tried to disown the local land barons.
"No one has the right to sell this land to anyone. The local leadership must not abuse the name of President Mugabe to sell this land," said Midzi. "I am told there are
people who are abusing the name of the president and the party, coming here, putting on Zanu-PF regalia and demanding money for accessing stands for people."
The chairperson of the Epworth co-operative, Christopher Kembo, said members were served with an evacuation order last week ordering them to leave within two days.
The demolitions are damaging Zanu-PF. Across the city, its supporters have set up illegal "housing co-operatives" through which thousands of families are being settled illegally.
Zanu-PF has previously carved out such illegal settlements into constituencies ahead of elections, hoping to dilute the Movement for Democratic Change's urban support.
But Zanu-PF supporters regard the demolition of the Epworth settlement as a betrayal. Hundreds of them demonstrated outside the party's national headquarters at the weekend. When party officials visited Epworth last weekend, they were jeered by supporters.
In reaction, Zanu-PF is dispatching officials to other settlements to ease tensions and reassure residents there that there will be no evictions. Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, a Zanu-PF official, has sent a team to visit other settlements "addressing the issues of stands that have become emotive", according to the state-owned Herald.
Chombo has condemned the evictions, saying they "smack of malice and low regard for the poor".
But Precious Shumba of the Harare Residents' Trust said the Epworth residents had been "fully aware [that they were illegally settled] but chose to listen to their political handlers".
This week, six of the evicted residents sued the company that demolished their homes.
The residents said the police, who led the evictions, had arrived in "full riot gear and armed with guns, shields, batons and teargas canisters".
The residents said in their suit: "The destruction of a person's home without notice and in circumstances that would render that person homeless is inherently cruel and inhuman. Applicants were left homeless and stood no chance in the face of state power and indiscriminate destruction."
City dwellers unlikely to support Mugabe
As Zimbabwe braces for elections, which President Robert Mugabe wants to hold in March, observers are weighing in on how voters in urban and rural areas will participate in the crunch event that will end the three-year-old unity government. Urban voters in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare have, in the past 10 years, largely voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The bulk of support for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF has traditionally come from the rural areas. City dwellers blame the Zanu-PF-led government for the maladministration that has resulted in corruption, poor service delivery and infrastructural collapse. Political observers intimate that it will be a tall order for Zanu-PF to win over the hearts and minds of urban dwellers.
Charles Mangongera, a political analyst, said: “The major difference is that in previous elections Zanu-PF has easily deployed war veterans and youth militia to rural communities to violently coerce voters to vote for Mugabe. The same strategy, however, has not worked in urban areas that have predominantly remained a support base for the MDC … I don’t see how Mugabe can capture the urban vote, because for most voters he is past his prime. They do not believe that he has a credible plan to create jobs for the 80% of the population that is unemployed. Even the empowerment mantra has not found resonance with urban voters, because they view this as another ploy by Zanu-PF political elites to amass wealth.”
Zanu-PF’s strategy in rural areas in the past has involved dangling food and farming implements, fertiliser and seeds to secure votes.
Trevor Maisiri, of the International Crisis Group, said Zanu-PF needed to shift away from its traditional rural support and court support from urban residents for it to stand a chance of victory.
“For Mugabe to attract the urban vote, he really needs to recreate the Zanu-PF brand. He needs to … show commitment to exterminating corruption. He needs to convince the urbanites that he is able to revive the faltering economy and prioritise job-creation in as much as he advocates empowerment.
“But the biggest and most difficult task for him is to rebuild people’s confidence in Zanu-PF, which most urbanites now view as a party of opportunists whose main aim is not to serve the people, but to create opportunities for self-enrichment.” – Ray Ndlovu