Security forces are on high alert in the volatile political hotbed of Bulawayo, with helicopters hovering over the city skyline and riot police, armed to the teeth, patrolling everywhere, creating a siege mentality in the area reminiscent of Israeli blockades in the Gaza Strip.
The major highlight being Zanu PF’s 12th National People’s Conference, expected to be a damp squib with nothing new coming out of it except the endorsement of President Robert Mugabe as the revolutionary party’s presidential candidate in the next elections against archrival Morgan Tsvangirai of the larger MDC.
However, security arrangements yesterday seemed to be over-elaborate in the city where President Mugabe is largely reviled by citizens who accuse him of marginalising the region and suppressing the population.
During the 2008 elections, President Mugabe actually got zero votes in one polling station in Bulawayo.
There is also simmering resentment of President Mugabe and Zanu PF in Bulawayo and the whole of Matabeleland because of the Gukurahundi atrocities and other issues.
Even in entertainment places the “flies” were on the walls.
Truckloads of heavily-armed police roamed the streets of Bulawayo while helicopters hovered above.
Intelligence sources said the heavy police presence was in anticipation of any violence and to prevent incidents similar to those which took place during the run-up to the presidential run-off in 2008 where Zanu PF and MDC-T supporters openly clashed countrywide.
Bulawayo is an MDC stronghold with the entire municipality being run by former trade unionists, a bitter pill for Zanu PF to swallow.
And yesterday, police intensified security checks in the city with at least four policemen at each intersection before President Mugabe jetted into hostile territory.
Bulawayo police provincial spokesperson Mandlenkosi Moyo said: “The security was in response to the fact that there is a conference where 6 000 delegates are expected to take part.
We have to saturate the city centre with policemen on foot and bicycles in uniform and plainclothed to provide the necessary security.
Some of our policemen will also be in the conference venue.”
Sources say the people of Matabeleland will never forgive the octogenarian leader for the Gukurahundi killings which claimed over 20 000 lives under the stewardship of the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.
Meanwhile, delegates to the conference started trickling in yesterday to be registered for what was clearly meant to be a defining moment where President Mugabe was expected to clamp down on dissent.
However, sources said those implicated in the WikiLeaks saga would be spared the wrath of the 87-year-old leader for fear the party could further prise apart.
While others maintained the agenda of the conference would not change, some delegates said: “Wait and see.”
Wannabe war veteran Jabulani Sibanda could be catapulted into the politburo if a certain faction gets its way.