The national people's conference held by ZANU PF every year started in Gweru on Tuesday, at a conference centre built by the Chinese for $6.5 million, and on farm land that was reportedly stolen.
The much publicised event was also preceded by reports that the party had problems raising the $2 million they needed to organise it successfully, and had forced white farmers and non-party members in rural areas to contribute to the conference fund.
According to the Independent newspaper, ZANU PF built the centre on farmland owned by an indigenous farmer and his white partner, who bought Bertram Winery farm from its previous white owner.
But on March 13th the white partner and his family were given 24 hours to vacate the property after ZANU PF had identified the farm as the site for the conference centre, which reportedly seats 5,000. The partners had invested $50,000 to improve the property and prepare for the agricultural season.
Details of ZANU PF's money problems appeared in the Standard newspaper, which said a senior ZANU PF official "read the riot act" to white farmers at a closed door meeting recently held at Chinhoyi Training Centre. The farmers were ordered to "donate" cash, cattle and even maize towards the conference.
The Standard said they were told by sources in ZANU PF that senior party officials were also being asked to contribute, but politburo members had been reluctant to give up any funds. The report said ZANU PF reconstituted their fundraising committee two weeks ago, when it became clear they would not be able to raise enough funds.
SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme spoke to trusted sources and ordinary Zimbabweans who said ZANU PF officials are collecting money for the conference at bus terminals in Mbare, from business owners in Mutare and from poor villagers in Binga. He said the collections usually come with a threat.
"Residents in Binga are being ordered to pay a dollar each. The demand comes with the threat that if you don't pay and if you continue to support the MDC-T, we will bring back the 2008 scenario," Saungweme said.
At least 500 MDC activists were murdered in the run-up to the 2008 presidential runoff and tens of thousands more were abducted and severely assaulted in a brutal campaign orchestrated by ZANU PF. The memory of that violence is being used as a threat, ahead of the elections due next year.
Saungweme said in Mbare top ZANU PF officials, named only as Makopa and Chirambadare, along with a one-eyed police woman known as Orripha, are known to be forcing people to contribute one dollar each at Mbare Musika bus terminal.
Our correspondent said ZANU PF business owners in Mutare are also being asked to contribute large amounts.
"They are actually weary of doing so. They must be because every time ZANU PF wants to do an activity they are told to give up some money. So there is a lot of anger, dismay and silent protest by business persons in Mutare," Saungweme said.
The Gweru conference centre, or 'Hall of Shame' as it has become known, was built by the Chinese, allegedly in exchange for diamonds from Marange.
Many observers are criticising the ZANU PF conference as being nothing more than an expensive, pointless, exercise. All it will do is confirm what everyone already knows, Robert Mugabe will be their candidate for president in elections due next year.