By Fungi Kwaramba
Former vice president and now leader of the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), Joice Mujuru, will hold a crisis meeting with senior party officials today, in a bid to try and heal growing fissures within her fledgling party.
The crunch meeting comes as insiders say Mujuru is set to be challenged as ZPF leader at the party’s planned elective convention, including by fiery war veteran Margaret Dongo, who yesterday denied harbouring presidential ambitions.
ZPF insiders have also told the Daily News that Mujuru — who was hounded out of Zanu PF in the run-up to the former liberation movement’s sham December 2014 “elective” congress — is also facing growing resistance from disgruntled members who accuse her of sidelining party stalwarts Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo, who have been relegated to the nondescript roles of elders.
Gumbo confirmed to the newspaper yesterday that ZPF leaders would hold a crisis meeting tomorrow, to try and douse the growing rifts within the party.
“People are free to talk and speculate. What we are facing are internal challenges which are not for public consumption . . . we will resolve those issues internally.
“We are trying to improve the performance of the party. Thursday’s meeting will discuss the state of the party, its performance and the best way forward on the internal challenges,” he said.
It merged at the weekend that Mujuru will be challenged by Dongo and other senior ZPF officials at the party’s elective convention whose dates are yet to be announced.
However, Dongo dismissed the claims yesterday that she will challenge Mujuru for the party’s presidency, amid fears within ZPF that Mujuru would — like how war veterans had recently described President Robert Mugabe — be “a difficult candidate to sell” for the 2018 polls because of her Zanu PF connections, especially if the mooted grand opposition coalition failed to materialise.
Outside such a coalition, insiders told the Daily News, Mujuru would have to fight on two significant fronts — against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe — hence the push by some senior officials to have the former Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (Zud) president as the party’s 2018 presidential candidate.
Another ZPF insider also revealed that a “fervent campaign” against Mujuru’s presidency was well underway in the fledgling party, with Dongo’s backers said to be pointing to Mugabe’s former number two’s lack of bargaining power during coalition talks as her major weakness.
“The problem with Mai Mujuru being our candidate in 2018 is that she will only be acceptable to the electorate if she is not Tsvangirai’s rival.
“That is dangerous for us, not only because the envisaged coalition might fail, but also because even if it succeeds that fact alone takes away her bargaining power for the leadership of the coalition,” the senior party official said.
“Tsvangirai is aware that the electorate is suspicious of Mujuru and will only embrace her if they are together so he will use that to demand leadership of the coalition, knowing that he will have a field day if ZPF decides to go it alone by simply labelling us a Zanu PF extension and pointing to Mujuru not having left the ruling party voluntarily.
“He will tell Zimbabweans that had she not been fired, she would still be in government and campaigning for Mugabe, hence our preference for Dongo who is known for being a long-time critic of the current status quo,” the bigwig added.
ZPF sources also said Mujuru was pushing to have an early convention, fearing that any delays would jeopardise her chances of continuing to lead the party, amid grassroots level concerns about the absence of former war veterans chairman Jabulani Sibanda from its public activities.