The day Masvingo came to a standstill


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds hands with Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and first lady Grace Mugabe during a celebration marking his birthday

UNCOMPROMISING security personnel stood guard at the point where the road takes a sudden upward turn to scale a hill leading to the Great Zimbabwe Monuments, to usher all vehicles.
The order, it seemed, was that no vehicle, except those belonging to selected top government and ZANU-PF officials, was to pass through to the monuments where President Robert Mugabe’s 92nd birthday or the 21st February Movement festivities were being held.
Cars, buses and trucks that carried delegates ended up parking as far away from the venue as six kilometres. And people had to complete the journey on foot.
The young, the old, the frail and the agile — all endured the heat that swept through the area up to about midday. After midday the floods of people were drenched by a sudden torrential downpour.
One of the most striking sights was that of dozens of school buses spitting out hordes of school children.
The poorer schools from rural areas of Masvingo province hired trucks with open trailers into which pupils were packed like sardines.
Word was that schools here had been instructed to bring their children to the event en masse.
This writer lost count of branded school buses from districts in the drought-stricken province lining up either side of the road after dropping off the pupils.
Without the privilege of being dropped right at the venue, thousands of the school kids raced between eight and 12 kilometres to and from the venue of the celebrations: A flatland sandwiched by the green hills and granite kopjes that make this place a natural gem whose magnetic beauty attracted our ancestors, 11 centuries ago.
But from wherever they are, those ancestors on Saturday may have certainly looked upon the thousands that gathered at their old fort with frowning faces seeing how modern day Zimbabwe’s politics has sucked in children as the ruling party cadres jostle for influence in the party and nation.
While it was indeed their event where they were entitled to celebrate their President’s birthday, they found themselves being entangled in the messy factional wrangles in ZANU-PF.
Given the explanation by ZANU-PF that the 21st February Movement was meant to provide a platform for young citizens to interact with the President, it could be acceptable under normal circumstances to bring children to the event, but eyebrows are raised when these children end up being used as pawns in the political games as witnessed on Saturday.
The story is that there are two opposing camps in the ruling party that are fighting to succeed the very person whose birthday was being celebrated.
Normally, proponents of either factions — Generation 40 (G40) and Team Lacoste, as the factions have come to be known — wage their cold war through political proxies and surrogates.
But on Friday, they introduced new pawns — the school children.
G40 set the ball rolling by introducing to the President and the multitudes four school boys who had been transported all the way from Mashonaland Central province to recite poems which, according to ZANU-PF political commissar in the Youth League, Innocent Hamandishe, were meant to show how much support and admiration the party and its leader command from the country’s younger generations.
Hamandishe himself, who was the director of ceremonies at the event, is reported to be a G40 protagonist.
In the poems, the school boys pledged their loyalty to the ruling party and its President.
In typical ZANU-PF style, the poems had no kind words for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the West and its allies as well as “factionalists” who are causing divisions in the party.
It was just amazing how the school children knew so much politics, probably more than the curricula they should concentrate on.
Meanwhile, Team Lacoste had an answer up its sleeves.
Soon after an address by the ZANU-PF Youth League secretary, Pupurai Togarepi who is linked to team Lacoste, a group of school children from Masvingo was ushered in to extol liberation war heroes and pledge their commitment to safeguarding, tooth and nail, the legacy of the war.
They poured disdain on those that disrespect war veterans, covenanting before an amused Head of State that their generation would never allow what he and his fellow comrades fought for to be desecrated.
Their narrations from the political hotbed of Masvingo — a stronghold for Team Lacoste —sounded so, so very familiar with the politics playing out in ZANU-PF today, whereby G40 is being accused of showing insolence to the freedom fighters and the history they shaped.
That contempt, which has seen tempers flare among the easily irritable ex-combatants, has its source in statements attributed to alleged G40 exponent, Saviour Kasukuwere, the ZANU-PF national political commissar, who once likened them to drunks and taxi drivers.
For those of us with prying curiosity, we could not help, but notice Team Lacoste’s veiled attack on Kasukuwere as the kids yelled out all sorts of names, protested and called on President Mugabe to reign him in.
But, of cause, their requests were not granted.
And the worst was yet to come.
Just before President Mugabe’s keynote address, specially drilled primary school children were shepherded forward, marching to orders akin to those issued in the military.
They were guided by graduates of the infamous “Border Gezi” national youth service. Wearing their school uniforms, the kids sported red berets associated with the national youth service.
As the children sang wartime songs and marched, Hamandishe stood by the podium, shouting into the transducer: “I hope Minister of Indigenisation (Patrick Zhuwao) you are following. We want this culture to be inculcated in our children. We need to put in place a policy which mandates all the pupils in primary and secondary schools to learn those drills so that we can be able to raise patriotic children. We need to catch them young.”
And finally, after the President gave his speech and cut the birthday cake, it was time to go back home. The chefs drove off in their all-terrain vehicles, while the little ones they had used to advance their political agendas trudged through heavy rains on their way to the buses and trucks parked a good distance away.
The buses had to endure several hours of negotiating a terrible traffic jam which lasted well into the evening.
Late that Saturday night, several school buses could be seen parked in Masvingo’s central business district with the children sleeping on board.
Probably, the drivers felt too tired to resume the journeys back to their schools, which was a wise decision, anyway.

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