Tens of thousands of Robert Mugabe supporters marched in Zimbabwe’s capital on Wednesday in a show of unity as divisions are widening within the president’s party over who might succeed him.
Demonstrators were shipped in from all over Zimbabwe for the “One Million-Man” march, organised by the ZANU-PF party’s youth wing. They sang pro-Mugabe songs as they spilled out of buses in downtown Harare.
“We are here to tell everyone that the youth league is 100 percent behind comrade Mugabe’s leadership,” said Prosper Machado, a youth leader from central Zimbabwe.
“We are saying no to factionalism because President Mugabe is the only centre of power that we recognise. He is our candidate for 2018 (elections) and so there is no vacancy.”
Mugabe was due to address the rally later in the day.
Now 92, Mugabe is the only leader the southern African nation has known since independence from Britain in 1980.
As senior members of his ZANU-PF jockey for position in a post-Mugabe era, two factions have emerged, one linked to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and one to Mugabe’s wife Grace.
Obert Gutu, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said the march was an attempt to paper over a the party’s disintegration.
“The majority of Zimbabweans are living in grinding poverty and are not happy. So ZANU-PF wants to divert people’s attention from the collapsing economy and to massage Robert Mugabe’s ego,” he said.
“If anything, Zimbabweans should march and demand Mugabe’s immediate resignation from office.”
Mugabe’s supporters call him an African icon who stands up to the West, but his critics say he has ruined a once promising nation with controversial policies such as the seizure of land from white farmers, which hit commercial agriculture.