THE row between top Zanu PF official Esau Mupfumi and over 600 Meikles Park stall holders has intensified with the informal traders engaging lawyers to try and stop the acquisition of the commercially viable land by the businessman.
Mutare residents associations and traders have ganged up against the Zanu PF central committee member, accusing him of abusing his political status to acquire the park, a business hub for hundreds of locals.
Others went further to challenge Mupfumi to re-open closed companies such as Karina Textile and Mutare Board and Paper Mills if he was sincere about bringing any meaningful investment to the eastern border city.
Mupfumi, owner of the Stallvic Enterprises(Private) Limited, was sold the busy square by local government minister Ignatius Chombo in a deal disgruntled residents and traders say was both opaque and tantamount to stealing their livelihood.
Mupfumi is said to be planning to construct a five star hotel on the site.
This essentially means the traders have to relocate to another site, which may not be as viable as Meikles Park.
Informal traders representative and Manicaland war veterans deputy political commissar, Irvan Mbengo went further Friday to accuse Mupfumi of working against the objectives of the hard fought liberation war.
"I told him point blank that if he is serious about investing in the city, he should leave the Meikles Park and re-open closed factories such as Karina Textiles and Cairns Holdings," said Mbengo at a panel discussion organised by the Mutare Press Club Friday.
"We went to war to fight for equality but if we take the Meikles Park to empower one person at the expense of the masses, it is a mockery of the values of the liberation struggle."
Mbengo said Mupfumi should be content with what he has already benefitted through his close association with Zanu PF and must not attempt to reach for more at the expense of struggling vendors.
He queried claims the Zanu PF stalwart and former cop had acquired the land for $680,000 as was being reported in the media.
He was up in arms over Town Clerk Obert Muzawazi's decision to sell the land when infact the traders have contributed over $1 million in total rentals into the cash-strapped local authority's coffers since acquiring permit to trade there, 2010.
"We have remitted over $1 million to the council and this means we have the right to access or buy that piece of land," Mbengo said.
"Why not sell it to us as informal traders so that we can raise funds to construct a state of the art flea market."
Mupfumi, on his part, accuses Mbengo of attempts to block development in the city as he was fleecing the traders of over $4 000 every month in unsanctioned daily "rentals".
"I did not pocket any cent from the traders... the local authority had the responsibility. What Mupfumi is saying is hogwash and nonsense," said Mbengo.
David Mutambirwa, programmes coordinator for Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association (MRRA), also accused the authority of short changing the city by agreeing to a land swap deal between council and local government, describing this as a "fuss".
He said the 100 hectare land the council received from local government was rocky and uninhabitable.
Mutambirwa said they were suspecting some Chinese investors who failed to acquire Meikles Park for hotel construction 2011 were now using Mupfumi as a front.
The deal collapsed following strong resistance by councillors with the support of residents.
The spat led to a fall-out between Chombo and then mayor Brian James with the latter subsequently dismissed 2012.
"We suspect that the same people who wanted to buy that land are using Mupfumi as a face saver. They are only using a different methodology," said Mutambirwa.
He added that they have since engaged the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in a bid to stop the controversial acquisition of Meikles Park.