By Fungi Kwaramba
A frail and struggling President Robert Mugabe yesterday came face-to-face with the ugly side of his rule when he officially opened an information centre in the poverty-stricken township of Chikato on a drizzling day yesterday.
The Zanu PF leader, who took a detour from his party conference to open the information centre, was a pale shadow of himself as he not only struggled to walk, but also talk.
His speech was slurred and he failed to pronounce some words.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for the past 36 years, has recently admitted that indeed Zimbabweans are suffering, but blames the economic decay on Western countries that he accuses of trying to effect a regime change through the imposition of sanctions.
But his critics insist his populist policies are to blame for scaring away investors, resultantly spawning hardships among Zimbabweans, especially those living in rural and high density areas such as Chikato.
Cosmetic touches to the potholed road leading to Chikato failed to hide the glaring poverty in the suburb, where people still live in round houses derisively known as ‘‘musana yenzou’’. Chikato’s sole attraction is its open-sewer poverty — with residents on parade like animals in a zoo.
While the information centre that Mugabe opened is likely to liven up the lives of the suffering lot in this township, some were left counting their loses after their market stalls were razed to the ground, probably because they were considered an eyesore for the 92-year-old Zanu PF leader, who was accompanied by his two sons, Chatunga and Robert jnr.
Dust whipped through the narrow alleys where vendors sold tins of charcoal and barbecued fish.
As the presidential entourage moved further into Chikato, across mangled roads that had been ripped up, the path slithered between walls of jagged iron sheets.
Careful steps were required to avoid the black sewer stream littered with telltale plastic bags.
Mugabe told the crowd here that his government, which is accused of being repressive, is plotting to control the social media as the younger generation is being exposed to dangerous information.
“Some are now using the computers kutukana (for shouting at each other) and we are thinking of ways to combat this. Some of the things that are said destroy the mindsets of our children,” Mugabe said.
While his vice presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko arrived at the venue around 11 am, Mugabe arrived an hour-and-a-half later.
As Mugabe’s motorcade raced through the potholed roads, people cranked their heads and momentarily dashed from their homes to steal a glance at the only president they have known since Zimbabwe gained its independence from the British in 1980.
Roads that are usually a hive of activity were packed with soldiers, police officers and men in dark glasses and suits.
The atmosphere become even more intimidating and repressive after the dreaded police water cannons trucks passed through the venue, accompanied by military SUVs.
Analysts have said that Mugabe has been able to hang on for 36 years primarily because of his close links with the military establishment, and yesterday, the show of might was on display here.
The perplexed dwellers of the impoverished township watched in ghastly fascination as their usually peaceful suburb was invaded by top-of-the-range vehicles, and ruling party officials.
Masvingo State minister, Shuvai Mahofa, who like Mugabe is now struggling to walk, surmised the sorry state of the province and its people when she said: “Chaingovawo chimba ichi. Huyai muone mashura ataitirwa (this was a derelict house, come and see what miracle we have been given).”
In typical Zanu PF ministers’ fashion, Information Communication and Technology and Courier Services minister Supa Mandiwanzira heaped praises on Mugabe.
“Your Excellency, you are the one who is supa because this is your vision. As you said, every place should have a community information centre,” Mandiwanzira said.
The journalist and entrepreneur also praised Mugabe’s government for planning to counter social media platforms such as WhatsApp, and Facebook — the bane of Zanu PF. Daily News