Masvingo Bureau — PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai snubbed the burial of veteran politician and national hero Cde Isack Stanislaus Gorerazvo Mudenge to attend the birthday party of his friend and Nigerian Governor for Imo State, Mr Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
The MDC-T leader was in Masvingo last Friday where he reportedly told civic organisations that the peace prevailing in the country is conducive for holding an election and there was no justification for the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers here ahead of polls slated for March next year.
Cde Mudenge died in Masvingo last Thursday.
Mr Tsvangirai reportedly left Harare on Sunday, the day Cde Mudenge's body arrived from Masvingo for burial yesterday.
Sources say Governor Okorocha, who is reportedly rich, has strong links with the United States government and might be acting as a conduit of financial assistance to the MDC-T to sponsor its election campaigns.
President Mugabe has provisionally said the harmonised elections will be held by March 31 next year.
Said a source close to the matter: "He (the PM) went to Nigeria at the invitation of Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha of Imo State to attend a birthday party. The two are supposed to be friends and the governor is rich."
Governor Okorocha was recently given an award by the US Congress, which links him to the American establishment.
The award Mr Okorocha got was called Congressional Certificate of Recognition.
In a citation, the governor was described as "one of Africa's third generation of leaders who represents hope for Nigeria".
This is almost the same accolade Americans and Europeans gave the MDC-T leader along with his forebears Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa, who also received funding from the West through the late King Hassan of Morocco between 1978 and 1979.
The money came through clandestine transactions that were facilitated by Rhodesia's Central Intelligence Organisation director-general, Ken Flower, and former deputy director of America's Central Intelligence Agency, the late Mr Vernon Walters.
The Americans have also been linked with Rhodesian farmers in Kwara State of Nigeria and reports say the PM's visit had more to do with funding than attending the birthday party.
Mr Tsvangirai's spokesperson Mr Luke Tamborinyoka confirmed yesterday that his boss had left for Nigeria, but claimed he was attending a conference for orphans.
"I can confirm that the PM went to Nigeria - Imo State -- at the invitation of the governor to be guest of honour at an orphans' conference. On his way he had a stopover in Abuja where he had a meeting with Nigerian President Mr Goodluck Jonathan.
He briefed him on the situation in Zimbabwe before proceeding to Imo province. It is not true that he has gone there for a birthday party," he said.
MDC-T is in panic mood as reports say the party's support countrywide is decreasing.
Surveys commissioned by Freedom House, a US-based think-tank, and Afrobarometer, a western non-governmental organisation, in August this year revealed that Zanu-PF's popularity among Zimbabweans was increasing at a time support for the MDC-T was plummeting.
The Freedom House survey results are contained in a report titled "Change and 'New' Politics in Zimbabwe".A local research institute, Mass Public Opinion Institute, conducted the research on behalf of Freedom House.
In its executive summary, the NGO said MDC-T support had fallen from 38 percent to 20 percent between 2010 and this year.In contrast, the survey data points to Zanu-PF having experienced a growth in popular support, moving from 17 percent to 31 percent in the same period." The findings of the report showed that Zanu-PF's popularity increased across all the country's 10 provinces since 2010 while that for MDC was waning.
For example in Harare, MDC-T support declined from 50 percent in 2010 to 17 percent, while that for Zanu-PF rose from eight percent to 22 percent.In Bulawayo, Zanu-PF increased its support from four percent to 15 percent, while that for MDC-T declined from 51 percent to 29 percent.
Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold harmonised elections next year amid reports that some Western-funded non-governmental organisations have been calling for the UN to deploy peacekeepers ahead of the polls.
Mr Tsvangirai's party has also previously called for the UN peacekeepers.
"The issue of UN peacekeepers to come and monitor our next elections is very complicated," he said during a meeting with civic society organisations in Masvingo while answering a question from the floor.
"In fact, there has to be justification why the peacekeepers should be deployed in the country ahead of our election.
"I do not think it is possible to have peacekeepers from the UN to come over here. When the UN deploys peacekeepers around the world there has to be a resolution authorising that deployment and in our case there is no basis for that resolution to be made."
Mr Tsvangirai said the only outsiders who could be involved in Zimbabwe's electoral process at a monitoring level were those from Sadc and the African Union.
He said there would be no problem with the observers from Sadc and the African Union because the organisations were guarantors of the Global Political Agreement that engendered the inclusive Government.
"I think the only thing we can do is to work closely with Sadc and the AU as the guarantors of the GPA, these can come and monitor our elections whenever we are going to hold them."
In stark contrast to this, Mr Tsvangirai reportedly told a meeting in Zaka on Saturday that UN observers should be deployed in the country alongside those from Sadc and the AU.
He said he could take part in the elections only if the observers were deployed.
Mr Tsvangirai also said the dates of the next elections had not been agreed to yet.
"There are others who are saying elections shall be held by March 31 next year, but the truth of the matter is that no date has been fixed to hold elections as yet," he said.
"President Mugabe and myself will have to sit down and agree on the date for elections and those who are saying they will be held in March next year are misdirected. What if we decide to hold them in February or June next year?"
President Mugabe has indicated that he intends to call for harmonised elections in the last week of March.
He was responding to a court application by three ex-legislators from Matabeleland who wanted by-elections to be held in their constituencies.
The High Court upheld President Mugabe's request that the elections be held in the last week of March.
President Mugabe's spokesperson Mr George Charamba last week said the March dates were agreed by all the principals in the inclusive Government.
Mr Tsvangirai told the members of the civic society that progress had been made in effecting some reforms to pave way for polls.
He cited bills that have sailed through Parliament, including the Electoral Amendment Bill.