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Zimbabwe: Zanu-PF Heavyweights Come Out to Support Simba Makoni

Zimbabwe presidential hopeful Simba Makoni is holding his first rallies this weekend, vowing to reform the economy and end the system of patronage that has marked President Robert Mugabe's 28 years in power. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from Harare that some Zanu-PF heavyweights, and some war veterans, say they are supporting Mr. Makoni rather than Mr. Mugabe in the March 29 election.

Simba Makoni's rally in Harare, in Shona, was a long attack on Mr. Mugabe's economic policies and his system of political patronage.

For approximately 3,000 to 4,000 mostly young men who attended the Harare rally Sunday, it was a revelation. They laughed out loud and clapped and cheered when Mr. Makoni reeled off a list of economic problems faced by Zimbabweans.

He said many put their hard-earned cash in the bank, but were then not allowed to draw it out when they wanted, and had to wait for days to get access to their money. He said there was chaos on Zimbabwe's farmland, in a country which has for decades been dependent on agricultural exports. He also said there was a gross abuse of state resources, which were used along partisan lines.

Saturday, Mr. Makoni addressed 4,000 to 5,000 people in second city Bulawayo, and recieved his first endorsement from a ruling Zanu-PF heavyweight.

Dumiso Dabengwa has a long political history, beginning in the fight against white-minority rule. It was in his home area in the Matabeleland provinces in the 1980's that Mr. Mugabe unleashed North Korean trained troops who killed thousands of Ndebele speaking opposition supporters.

Now with Mr. Makoni's bid for the presidency, many in Matabeleland say they feel there is finally a chance of real reconciliation with the majority Shona tribe.

Mr. Makoni is a former finance minister who has been a member of Zanu PF all his adult life.

In the March 29 election Zimbabweans will also vote for legislators, senators and local government representatives. it marks the first time four national elections will take place simultaneously.

When police arrived at Simba Makoni's rally Sunday, the crowd hissed. Mr. Makoni indicated they should not be hostile and encouraged the police to stay and listen to him.

On Friday, President Mugabe presented Zanu-PF's manifesto and told his supporters to continue to vote for him to prevent the West from undermining Zimbabwe's sovereignty.