The command-rallies are also aimed at countering opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, who has been drawing huge crowds in his “meet the people campaigns” in hitherto no-go rural areas, analysts have said.
Mnangagwa was served with court papers recently in a case where Sybeth Musengezi, a Zanu-PF youth league member, is challenging the constitutionality of his ascendancy to power following the 2017 coup.
Musengezi filed papers at the High Court in October seeking an order declaring illegal the November 19, 2017 Zanu-PF central committee meeting that removed the late Robert Mugabe as the party leader.
The court action is viewed as part of wider factional fights within Zanu-PF pitting Mnangagwa and a faction allegedly loyal to his deputy Constantino Chiwenga.
Analysts said Mnangagwa, who is facing growing anger from the general citizenry and within the party over an imploding economy, has been forced to default to Mugabe’s strategy of bussing supporters to rallies to push back threats to his presidency.
Upon his return from Glasgow, Scotland on Thursday where he was attending a United Nations climate change summit (COP26), Mnangagwa was welcomed by hundreds of people that had been bussed from all corners of Harare and further afield.
An internal party communique gave specific instructions to all Zanu-PF district chairpersons to make sure that they get at least 300 people from each district brought to the airport to meet the president.
The instruction also advised the district secretaries for transport to collect buses provided for the purpose from a designated location.
The following day after the Harare command rally, the president went to Matabeleland North to preside over the graduation ceremony at Lupane State University.
As happened in Harare, Bulawayo Zanu-PF structures were ordered to organize a huge rally to welcome Mnangagwa when he landed at the Joshua Mquabuko Nkomo airport.
Hundreds of people were, therefore, bussed to the airport to cheer the president at this impromptu rally.
Most of those that get on the busses are usually those that are benefiting from Zanu-PF system of political patronage and fear victimisation and depravation.
They have been allocated market places, received controversially allocated residential stands or owe the party one favour or the other.
The fear is that if they do not participate in this self-ingratiating exercise by the party leader, Zanu-PF would withdraw whatever freebies they have.
“The idea of Mnangagwa commandeering Zupco buses to bring crowds to his rallies is a clear sign of his fears of the on-going internal power struggles within Zanu-PF.
“Bringing crowds to himself is a push back on calls within the party and outside for him to leave office for allegedly failing to deliver on his promises.
“So this is a show of force and support, but unfortunately this is abuse of state resources,” political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said.
“This is a replication of history from what we were witnessing with Mugabe in the past when every time he felt under threat he would seek to demonstrate that he was still wanted by bussing people to such impromptu rallies.
“We are back to the same scenario under which there is this growing fear in Zanu-PF that Chamisa is demonstrating his support base, and so they are being forced in a way to respond by attempting to show that Mnangagwa has power.”
In 2007, former war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda led a “million-man” march on the streets of Harare in support of Mugabe’s candidature to contest the following year’s 2008 elections.
Many thousands of Zanu-PF supporters were ferried into Harare from all over the country by busses and trains.
Even school busses were commandeered to join this political gamesmanship without the consent of parents who own the buses.
In 2016, former youth leader Kudzai Chipanga also mobilised a “one-million-man” march in the capital in support of Mugabe amid infighting in Zanu-PF.
Chipanga also mobilised weekly youth interface rallies in 2017 where supporters were bussed to attend Mugabe prop-up rallies. These rallies, however, eventually backfired and led to the overthrow of the president in November of that year.
Bulawayo-based commentator Effie Ncube accused Mnangagwa of bleeding the struggling Zupco for political expediency.
“The party survives on abuse of power and corruption. It is feeding from state resources and abusing state institutions, commandeering a parastatal like Zupco to transport party supporters to a rally,” Ncube said. He said this abuse of state resources for electioneering purposes was likely to lead to disputed elections in 2023.
“The contest has already begun in various political parties and individuals and, therefore, what Zanu-PF is doing is contributing to the 2023 elections, and clearly with the abuse of state resources, elections are already not free and fair even before they start.
“We are already in a crisis that will lead us into a disputed election because Zanu-PF using Zupco to bus people to its rallies is an abuse not only of the law, but it is against the provisions of the constitution that govern elections.”
Mnangagwa was endorsed as the Zanu-PF 2023 presidential candidate during the party’s recent annual conference.
Zanu-PF will hold an elective congress in 2022.
Chamisa has also emerged as the MDC Alliance presidential candidate to square off with Mnangagwa for the second time in as many years after narrowly losing to him in the disputed 2018 elections.
The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd), a debt management and public finance accountability research institute, said the abuse of Zupco buses feeds into auditor-general (AG) Mildred Chiri’s reports that public institutions are collapsing because of abuse.
“We have a lot of case studies where parastatals fail because of misuse and being used for partisan or political rallies and whatever.
“For me, as a taxpayer, I would want to know if they (Zanu-PF) are paying for these services because this is taxpayers’ money.
“Zupco is a state enterprise and if you look into the AG’s reports, most of them are in arrears on everything.
“This is because the resources are used for political party politics,” Zimcodd’s Florence Ndlovu said.
Mukundu said probing whether Zanu-PF was paying for the Zupco services in the spirit of accountability and transparency was difficult because of the naked conflation between the transport company and the ruling party.
This, he said sounded a death knell to Zupco and inconvenienced the commuting public a great deal.
“The challenge to the state owned enterprises is that they are essentially cookie jars for Zanu-PF and there is no attempt at all to ensure that these entities are transparent and are managed in a manner that promotes the interests of the people of this country,” Mukundu argued.
Government spokesperson Monica Mutsvangwa promised to respond to emailed questions on the issue, but had not done so up to the time of going to print yesterday.
According to Ndlovu, approaching the courts to seek redress on the abuse of these public assets such as Zupco was not likely to yield results.