Bob Swift is a little known communal shopping centre about 30km from Kwekwe along the Mvuma Road.
The serene environment is named after white former farmer Bob Swift known around Kwekwe for the sweet oranges he used to produce at the farm.
So big was the orange project that Swift used to supply the whole of Kwekwe and satisfy demand in neighbouring towns such as Kadoma, Chegutu and Gweru – the entire country as well as the market.
This was the place new Zanu PF parliamentary candidate for Zibagwe-Churumanzu, Auxillia, wife of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the MP for the area before his elevation to the post of Vice-President last December, chose to launch her March 27 by-election campaign.
Zanu PF invaded the quiet place and momentarily, the usually poor rural community was turned into a sea of plenty, opulence, power and luxury.
The usually sleepy Mvuma Road was brought to life as over 100 MPs from Zanu PF voyaged in their almost brand new all-terrain Ford Rangers to the farm now owned by Cabinet secretary Misheck Sibanda.
Ministers and other wealthy Zanu PF top members who included Phillip Chiyangwa, Josaya Hungwe and Saviour Kasukuwere rode in Mercedes-Benzes, Jeeps, Toyota Prados and Jaguars in a show of wealth and power into an area where the majority can hardly afford two meals a day.
Not to be outdone, businessman Energy Mutodi also came in his own left-hand Landcruser, while the young legislator Mayor Wadyajena was chauffeur-driven in a sleek black Jaguar as party heavy weights thronged the rally in solidarity with the Mnangagwas.
Poor party supporters who could not even afford to fund their own transport to the venue were bussed in their hordes in the back of haulage trucks and school buses which came from government schools around Kwekwe.
A rural setting which even at its peak on Christmas Day does not attract over 50 people dancing away the year while downing mostly opaque beer was turned into a centre of activity for just those six hours.
More than 200 top-of-the-range vehicles lined up and covered the entire football pitch, buses also took their fair share of space, while nearly 10 000 supporters occupied more than six huge tents meant to accommodate 1 000 people seated on chairs.
Auxillia, who is a politburo member, is set to join her husband in Parliament as MP of the area after main opposition Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T pulled out of the election race.
Zanu PF political commissar Kasukuwere summed it up all when he told supporters that he had no doubt that their candidate would win, but what he wanted was a big margin.
“It is not a question of if Mai Mnangagwa is going to win the election, but the margin which she is going to win the polls by. That is the reason the party has come here to support its candidate and introduce her to you,” said Kasukuwere.
Mnangagwa, referred to as Ngwena (Crocodile) wearing a Lacoste belt with the symbol of a crocodile on its head, arrived at the venue in a six-car motorcade and announced that his party would closely analyse the voting patterns at polling stations and would ensure that those who would not to vote for Zanu PF would be fenced out.
“Everyone will vote at their polling station and we know who will vote at which polling station, voting has a pattern, it is not like death which just comes, but those who choose to vote for those who are not known and have no history we will build a fence to shut them out,” he warned. He said headmen should lead their folks to the polling station while party chairmen at that level follow behind and watch that all their people vote.
The few white farmers whose land was spared came to support the launch donating fuel which was used on school buses and haulage trucks that ferried supporters, mineral water for the top delegates mainly government ministers, Zanu PF politburo members and parliamentarians.
But Kasukuwere had one more request for the white farmers who danced to Jah Prayzah’s Tsviriyo like possessed demons — he asked for them to support Auxilia even by branding their products with her image.
“Dendairy (a diary company) if it is possible, you can brand your milk products with the name of our candidate for the duration of the campaign so that everyone gets the message,” he said.
It is at this rally that Mnangagwa promised that President Robert Mugabe’s government was ready to revive the allying economy reopen Ziscosteel (now New Zimsteel), collapse the number of diamond companies to ensure that they remain with only two strong entities and plug loopholes which have seen gold being sold on the black market.
He made a bold declaration that Zimbabwe should be proud of self-rule even if they were hungry, poor or rich, what mattered was that they were self-governing. Wadyajena, who doubles as the provincial youth secretary, together with chairman Edmore Samambwa marshalled the youths, most of them who appeared high on alcoholic spirits, to mobilise supporters.
“This is the party for Zimbabwe and all progressive youths who value their heritage and want to move forward. We are here to give support to our candidate, the party and our Midlands Godfather and Vice-President, Mnangagwa who was appointed to serve the rest of Zimbabwe by our loving President,” Wadyajena said on the sidelines.
The Bob Swift rally was possibly the biggest ever rural rally in Midlands. Mnangagwa, who was careful not to upset the First Secretary of Zanu PF, could hardly complete a sentence without praising Mugabe, his wife Grace or firing a salvo at fired secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa for his “Gamatox” role in attempting to oust Mugabe.
Just across the rally are fields of a distressed crop which is almost written off. This is not an isolated case, most crops which are not under irrigation are almost a write-off because of moisture stress and this could mean many in the constituency will need food aid.
The prospect of a drought facing most of the jobless youths bussed in from Kwekwe could not deter those who organised the rally from pouring resources into that massive rally even in the absence of meaningful competition in the polls.
Auxilia, who appeared humbled, simply begged the voters, most of whom walked to the rally, for their votes, saying she was excited that they had chosen her to replace her husband. Mnangagwa said his wife was seeking election in her own capacity and not as his wife, but it was clear from the number of non-essential high profile Zanu PF cadres and aspiring ministers that they came because they want to be in the good graces of Ngwena.
That Zimbabwe has an ailing economy, a government struggling to pay its civil servants and deliver basic social services could easily be dismissed if a visitor from out of this country had just landed in Zibagwe — Bob Swift without first passing through the pothole rigged roads of Zimbabwe’s urban centres.
Then again like the VP said — as long as we are ruling ourselves, everything else doesn’t matter.
The gap between the ruled and rulers, the poor and rich, powerful and powerless was made abundantly clear at the rally. Regardless of the glaring disparities, the poor cheered when the rich spoke through the microphones with deep voices from their well-fed bellies.