Inside Mnangagwa’s Bindura “Cage” Rally
Sitting on a log inside Chipadze Stadium in Bindura, Cleopas Nyamandwe looks visibly scared and shivering from a combination of the cold spell currently hitting the country as well as fear from the intimidating environment marked by heavy presence of state security details around the venue of the Zanu PF rally.
The heavily guarded stadium has several national identity card checkpoints, metal detectors and physical body search points, something that tells even a stranger that all is not well.
On this chilly Saturday, Cleopas has made a sacrifice to come and meet, for the first time since becoming president, Emmerson Mnangagwa and hear what he has to offer should he gets a full term mandate on 30 July.
At the rally, hundreds if not thousands of party supporters are sitting on the ground while other key figures are in the VVIP tent next to the podium soon to be used by Mnangagwa to interact with his members.
Nearby, souvenirs are being sold under a tree by hungry and dejected vendors who are not paying attention to the promises Mnangagwa is making to the people of Mashonaland Central. Among a list of his electoral promises, Mnangagwa says the country will see a boom in the industrial sector, which will bring about the much-needed jobs.
Like everyone else, Cleopas’ wish is to get as close to the President as possible and maybe get that once in a lifetime handshake from Zimbabwe’s number one citizen.
However, between him and the President, is a heavy barrier made of heavy steel and it is just impossible for anyone to cross and get closer to Mnangagwa.
In the event that Cleopas jumps the cage like-barrier, he will definitely not make past heavily armed security details, comprising of plain-clothed operatives, members of the Police and gun trotting soldiers, carrying ready to shoot AK47s and machine guns.
At today’s rally, the President’s tent is almost 50 meters away from the closest party supporters.
From Mnangagwa to the VVIP tent lies two other tents, one housing traditional chiefs and the other one cabinet ministers and senior party members which are also approximately 50 meters away.
Rewind to two weeks ago, the tents were as close to the VVIP tent as the fighter jets which escort the President of the United States in the event of an emergency and/or during a warzone visit.
However, Mnangagwa narrowly escaped an apparent assassination attempt two weeks ago, when an explosion hit his Bulawayo rally resulting in the death of two security aides and while 47 others were injured including National Chairperson, Oppah Muchinguri and Vice President, Kembo Mohadi.
Since then, security has tightened up and everything has changed. Movements have been limited and the distance between the President and the people has been increased.
It has become increasingly difficult and frustrating to attend an event being presided over by the man nicknamed “Garwe”.
Some journalists who wanted to cover the rally, had to wait for over an one hour before they could be allowed into the stadium as the only sniffer dog available was busy searching cabinet ministers and senior party officials, something that was unheard of before the bombing incident.
Top of that, there were several CCTV cameras dotted around the stadium, with the command centre just behind Mnangagwa’s tent.
For Cleopas, the heavy security around the stadium is intimidating and has dampened his mood.
“The heavy presence of the security personnel is deterrent in nature; it will create fear among members of the public,” he whispers, fearing to be heard by secret service personnel, planted in the crowd.
A common theme throughout the rally was the need to advocate for peace before, during and after the elections.
James Kanengoni, who had traveled almost 60 kilometers from Mount Darwin, was hugely disappointed at not being close to his President.
“I came all the way expecting to be close to President Mnangagwa but I am not happy at all with this heavy presence of the army and police is not doing justice. I’m very scared of moving around, I cannot even make a move closer to the stage because I might be beaten,” he said.
To the 35 year old, vendor, Cecilia Kondo, the rally was supposed to be a big market for her wares, but the police barred her from entering the stadium and she is stuck outside, eagerly waiting for the rally to end.
“Today was supposed to be my day. But as you can tell, I am standing outside the stadium because the police couldn’t clear me. They said I had too many products and they are a security threat. I wonder how that can be so, though,” said the visibly disappointed Kondo.
Skepticism over Mnangagwa’s heavy security is growing by the day as supporters are reminded of the old Mugabe days, where heavy-handedness by the security forces on citizens, was the order of the day.
“I’m worried, very worried. This spells doom for defense-less citizens. We honestly do not need such a high volume of police on a rally like this. I hope we will a change in the next few days,” said one elderly man who identified himself as ‘Cde Mao’.
However, from the look of things, the heavy and tight security presence does not look like it will end anytime soon. Regardless of the Bulawayo bombing incident, the generality of Zimbabweans still want a President accessible to all and this is further reinforced by the Zimbabwe is Open for Business mantra which requires an open approach to politics and business.
With elections barely three weeks away and with a chance to be elected back into office, Mnangagwa has a headache to make himself accessible to citizens and avoid falling into the trappings of power as was his predecessor at the same time remaining safe from any possible assassination attempts.