By Nkululeko Sibanda
ZANU-PF’s extraordinary Politburo meeting held on Saturday exposed the ugly factionalism ripping apart the ruling party as bigwigs openly exchanged harsh words in front of an attentive President Robert Mugabe, with some shedding tears in the heat of the moment.
The drama filled meeting got started with President Mugabe taking umbrage at totalitarian tendencies playing out in Harare Province where he said people were being intimidated to vote for the incumbent, Amos Midzi against the principle of fair play.
The ZANU-PF leader who had calmly walked into the tense atmosphere that enveloped the room as none of the cagey Politburo members were able to second guess him, alleged that people were being stampeded to vote for Midzi because he backs Vice President Joice Mujuru, in tacit reference to the existence of factions within his party.
It was after President Mugabe’s opening remarks that a fiery Mujuru, came out guns blazing to defend herself. Mujuru spoke for more than 30 uninterrupted minutes on a wide range of issues, pouring her heart out on her alleged persecution by some sections of the party since her appointment to the presidium in 2004.
In 2004, Mujuru spectacularly landed the Vice Presidency, left vacant following the death of Simon Muzenda in September 2003, riding on a quota system, adopted by ZANU-PF in order to achieve gender parity.
Six provincial chairmen had to be suspended from the party before ZANU-PF’s elective congress for attempting to block Mujuru’s ascendancy, only to be re-admitted years later.
After the 2004 congress, ZANU-PF has clearly struggled to mend the cracks prised by what party cadres now openly admit to be factional fights to do with President Mugabe’s succession.
The divisions can be traced to two dominant factions which, despite being unquestionably loyal to the incumbent, are covertly eyeing the high-pressure job in anticipation of President Mugabe’s retirement. One of the factions is linked to Mujuru while Emmerson Mnangagwa, the party’s secretary for legal affairs, is believed to be behind the other camp.
While they have both denied leading factions, it no longer requires rocket science to figure out that the party’s rank and file is taking a view on either Mujuru or Mnangagwa to succeed President Mugabe although there may be other dark horses that might emerge.
President Mugabe has not said when he is likely to retire despite his advanced age.
On Saturday, Mujuru said she had no hand in what was happening in Harare Province before turning her guns on officials she accused of using the public media to divide the party. The party’s secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, made the same point in the course of the heated debate.
The public media, known for its rabid support for ZANU-PF, has willingly or unwillingly allowed itself to be dragged into the succession fights.
In a rare editorial that followed hotly contested provincial polls in Mashonaland Central, one of the State-owned dailies ploughed into Mutasa and national party spokesman, Rugare Gumbo although they were not mentioned by name.
Mutasa has taken great exception to the part where the editorial referred to him as a “dwarf in giant robes”.
Ahead of the extraordinary Politburo meeting, there was disquiet, party cadres seen as opposed to Mujuru, unhappy that Mnangagwa had not been as assertive as they would have wanted him to. The major concern was the impression that the Justice Minister was not coming out of the shells and had allowed Mujuru loyalists to ride roughshod over his backers.
On Saturday, Mnangagwa uncharacteristically opened up, daring Mujuru for going at tangent with the agenda of the meeting which had been convened to discuss the chaotic provincial polls held in Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and the Midlands.
It was at this juncture that all hell broke loose with volleys of attacks flying in different directions.
Among the anxious moments was when former Midlands governor Cephas Msipa accused Mnangagwa of fomenting divisions in his home province by backing Larry Mavhima to stand as chairman against Jason Machaya, who has since retained his position.
Msipa pleaded with the Midlands provincial leadership to rally behind Machaya.
Questions were, however, raised over Msipa and Gumbo’s involvement in the Midlands provincial elections despite being “interested parties”.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo also came under attack for failing to rein in the public media.
Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, the Member of Parliament for Mwenezi East, had no kind words for certain ZANU-PF officials whom he accused of destroying the party from within. But Bhasikiti also met his match. He was reminded that he was a mere war collaborator during the liberation struggle and hence should stop crying more than the bereaved.
Moyo was equally critical of those who were back-biting him and attempting to drag him into the factional fights. He also made the point that hierarchical considerations should not supersede the party’s constitution.
Party officials who previously stood as independent candidates also came under attack with critics saying in future they should not be allowed to hold positions.
Another point of contestation was the defamation suit slapped on Machaya following the Midlands provincial elections. Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia, filed a US$50 million criminal defamation suit following a petition by Machaya’s chief elections agent urging the party to discipline the officials for alleged electoral fraud.
Machaya’s election agent, Douglas Kanengoni had written a petition accusing Mnangagwas wife, former provincial governor July Moyo, Douglas Tapfuma, Gokwe Kana MP Owen Ncube and Zhombe MP, Mackenzie Ncube of attempting to rig the elections in favour of Mavhima, believed to be an ally of the justice minister.
In their lawsuit, the five officials said they had been defamed by the petition which they claimed could dent their political careers. The legal suit could however, be handed to the party’s legal department, headed by the Justice Minister, to arrange for Machaya’s defence.
The drama-filled meeting which started at around 10am, dragged on until around 7:30pm. The impasse was broken when Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube who proposed that the meeting upholds the elections conducted in Mashonaland Central, the Midlands and Manicaland and re-direct its energies towards ensuring that the weekend elections in the remaining seven provinces are conducted without incident.
The proposal was met with rapturous applause from most Politburo members, who proceeded to adopt it.
The Mashonaland Central provincial report also turned out to be a disappointment to those who were pushing for a re-run of the polls.
ZANU-PF’s national political commissar, Webster Shamu, revealed that 97 percent of the people voted and that reports to the effect that scores were unable to cast their ballots were exaggerated.
This week, analysts said President Mugabe should come out openly about his choice of successor to end the jostling for positions ripping his party apart.
They said while he expertly avoided showing his hand on Saturday, the succession fights could become uglier towards the December conference and in 2014 when the party heads for its elective congress.
Alois Dzvairo, an analyst, said it was in the national interest for President Mugabe to announce his successor at the national people’s conference.
“This kills speculation and jostling within ZANU-PF. The timing (to make an announcement in December) would be good in that those disgruntled will have time to heal and prepare for 2018,” Dzvairo said.
Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst based in Virginia, United States, said ZANU-PF has reached a stage where the party could no longer postpone its succession debate.
“However, his announcement of a successor has the potential of not only destabilising ZANU-PF given the high level of factionalism in the party, but can potentially plunge the country into some political instability…No matter where one belongs, politically, the succession question can be a make or break issue for Zimbabwe,” said Saungweme.
Innocent Chofamba Sithole, a UK-based political analyst, opined that President Mugabe would not anoint a successor in December.
But Gumbo said people should stop speculating.
“The challenge is that all that people can do is to talk and speculate about this issue. No one can stand and say whether he (President Mugabe) will do anything in December. He is the only one who knows whether he will make any announcement of that sort or he will say anything with regard to that…That is a personal decision that we all do not have control over,” Gumbo said. Financial Gazette