Zanu PF supporters have besieged shops in Harare allegedly forcing retailers to buy President Robert Mugabe’s portraits for $60 or face unspecified action.
Although they had no choice but to fork out money out of fear, many shop owners who spoke to NewsDay yesterday cried foul, saying what the former ruling party was doing was an open criminal act of extortion.
By last evening, most shops in the western part of the city, near and inside the Gulf Complex, were already “decorated” with the imposing portrait of the ageing President – despite the fact that in the majority of cases, the picture of President Mugabe was barely visible, tucked inside displayed clothing and other items because of lack of space in the crammed shops.
Scores of retailers were yesterday in panic mode, frantically looking for the party youths who had distributed the portrait as word spread those that did not display the new portrait would face eviction in a planned purge later in the week.
A letter in the possession of NewsDay signed by Zanu PF’s Harare province secretary for education, Last Mbizvo, did not give the traders any choice.
“You are once more urged to show respect for the nation and its leadership through openly
displaying the portrait of the Head of State and Government and Commander In Chief of The Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde RG Mugabe.
“The portraits are hereby delivered to you on your doorstep at $60 per portrait. Your usual cooperation is appreciated,” the letter, which recipients said was an explicit order, reads.
Mbizvo confirmed the authenticity of the letter to NewsDay last night, saying the “project” was meant to promote respect for President Mugabe.
“We are urging the business community to display as a sign of respect for the President,” said Mbizvo.
The letter bears the Zanu PF party logo, stamp and Mbizvo’s signature. The Zanu PF youths said they were on a party project and threatened unspecified action against those who did not abide.
“We have called the police to be here tomorrow so that if these people are criminals, they are arrested,” said one distraught shop owner who had just grudgingly parted with his $60.
However, Rugare Gumbo, Zanu PF’s spokesperson, said he was not aware of the “project” as he was out of Harare.
Allegations of Zanu PF coercing people’s allegiance were similarly witnessed during the anti-sanctions campaign earlier this year as the party went all out in search for two million signatures.