It is December and the Zanu-PF juggernaut has rolled into Harare in a blaze of colour and opulence.
In contrast, Zimbabwe’s citizens face another bleak festive season, given the worsening liquidity crunch in the country.
On Tuesday the party kick-started its elective congress, held every five years, which will see President Robert Mugabe exercising his new-found powers to dump embattled Vice-President Joice Mujuru and appoint two new vice-presidents and other senior party officials.
Mujuru and her allies, who have been conspicuously absent from the initial meetings, will probably be casting long and envious glances at the congress venue, the Harare Civic Centre – now named Robert Mugabe Square – which sits adjacent to the Harare International Conference Centre. Previously a vast, barren expanse of dust, the area has had a face-lift: it now boasts pristine air-conditioned white tents with an array of couches comfortable enough to lull Mugabe into his trademark sleeping habits.
On reflection, it could be said Mujuru did well in boycotting, in particular, Wednesday’s central committee meeting. There, Mugabe accused her of secretly consulting traditional healers known in Zimbabwe as n’angas, seeking juju to kill him in a bid to wrest power.
“One of the n’angas said: ‘Look for two river beetles of different colours. One should be named Mugabe and the other should be called Mujuru, and put them in water.’
“That’s what happened; they were made to fight. And if Mugabe’s beetle dies, then she [Mujuru] will rule. However, mine won against yours … It seems that is what happened then,” Mugabe said.
Mujuru will probably flinch at the road to the conference centre, which has been renamed Dr Grace Mugabe Way in a clear demonstration of where the crown lies. Mugabe’s wife has been the instrument used to bludgeon Mujuru into submission in the run-up to the party congress.
Telecommunications companies and struggling parastatals are vying to outdo each other’s colourful banners and signs at the venue. The central mechanical engineering department, Air Zimbabwe, NetOne, TelOne and the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe have spent taxpayers’ funds to demonstrate their loyalty to Mugabe and Zanu-PF by buying advertising space. One would never guess that any of them is in financial trouble, judging by the glossy advertising banners they have splashed out on for the congress.
As has become the norm, the struggling Zimbabwe United Passenger Company ferried delegates from all over the country. To show the state-owned enterprise’s loyalty, Grace and Robert Mugabe’s pictures adorn most buses.
The opposition MDC-T-dominated Harare City Council also indulged Mugabe and Zanu-PF by banning motorists from using roads leading to the venue for the entire week. Ironically, the venue was the same one used for the MDC-T’s final pre-election rally – dubbed “the crossover” – last year; the party went on to lose dismally at the polls.
The slick vehicles of party chiefs, who are staying in various upmarket hotels, are in stark contrast to the dusty shoes of the party faithful, who are walking to the conference venue from the schools and colleges where they are staying. Many delegates have maintained a vigil on the nearby grounds of the party headquarters.
The menfolk are known for whiling away the nights in a boozy haze in the city’s nightclubs, which play a cacophony of reggae, rhumba and home-grown dancehall music – undoubtedly a boon to Harare’s army of commercial sex workers.
This Saturday, the fate of Mujuru and her allies will probably be sealed and all will be calm again.
By then, schoolchildren will have been rendered listless by a yawning holiday season devoid of pocket money as their parents feel the cash squeeze. Last week, schools in Harare and Bulawayo were forced to close early in an unprecedented bid to ensure the congress is held without any hassles.