HARARE - If any further proof was required to show that the Zanu PF faction rallying behind Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations is reeling from the ruling party’s seemingly-unstoppable factional and succession wars, this was ruthlessly brought to the public fore yesterday.
In an unprecedented move, anti-riot police mercilessly clamped down on a group of war veterans loyal to the embattled VP — tear-gassing and water-spraying them before unyieldingly forcing them to disperse — after the group of former freedom fighters attempted to flex their muscles and congregate in Harare yesterday.
The chaos, which the Daily News had accurately predicted in its editions of the past few days, came as Zanu PF’s ugly internal ructions get deadlier and dirtier, with the party faction linked to Mnangagwa increasingly mounting an open rebellion against President Robert Mugabe and his influential wife Grace.
So in-your-face and aggressive have some of the utterances and tactics being employed by Team Lacoste (Mnangagwa faction) become, that there has been for some time now real fear within Zanu PF that the ruling party’s escalating brawls could soon boil over into bloody conflict.
Pandemonium broke out in Harare yesterday, with many disinterested bystanders and journalists getting caught up in the mayhem, as police threw teargas and sprayed water on the gathered group of war veterans who had trickled into the capital to attend their rally at the City Sports Stadium — with the apparent objective of baying for Grace’s blood, who recently savaged Mnangagwa.
“Nyika ino haitongwe naGrace. Tinoterera President Robert Mugabe (Grace is not this country’s leader. We only listen to Mugabe),” some of the war veterans could be heard shouting before they were brutally dealt with, to the utter shock of many, as Zanu PF demonstrators are usually spared this kind of rough justice by authorities.
Among the demands that the group of war veterans wanted to press home were calls for the ousted Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNWVA) chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa to be reinstated, as well as agitating for Mugabe to “rein in” Grace.
But their mission, including plans to march to Zanu PF’s national headquarters, fell apart after the authorities decided to deal with them firmly — a treatment that is usually reserved for opposition supporters and other critics of the government.
However, sources close to the Mnangagwa camp told the Daily News later that the faction would not give up, and would continue “to struggle until justice prevails”.
Police officers, who gave the fast-aging war veterans five minutes to abandon their march yesterday before action would be taken against them, said their demo and meeting had not been sanctioned by authorities.
Some war vets flee after police fired tear gas. Pics: Annie Mpalume
The war veterans, clearly of the belief that force would not be used against them, said defiantly that they were “not going anywhere,” before breaking into song.
“Isu torara pano, hapana kwatinoenda. Tiri mauto. Taneta nekudzvanyirirwa, takairwira nyika ino (We are staying put. We are soldiers. We are sick and tired of being oppressed, as we fought for this country),” some of the war veterans shouted.
Soon after, all hell broke loose — and to the disappointment of some bystanders with a high affinity for real life drama, the veterans scampered for dear life with barely a whimper.
One war veteran who spoke to the Daily News later dejectedly pointed to the contradiction in the treatment that they had received from police, compared to the “pampering and protection” that anti-Mnangagwa party youths had got the previous day when they gathered in Harare.
“This is very painful young man. I can’t believe that this is what we struggled for. I’m even told that some of our comrades who were coming from Bulawayo had their hired vehicle impounded by the police,” the forlorn and frail-looking war vet said.
Well-placed sources told the Daily News on Tuesday that Zanu PF bigwigs were perturbed by the fact that Mnangagwa’s followers were increasingly challenging not just Grace, but Mugabe himself as well, in their public utterances — a situation they said did not augur well for the future of the party and the country.
“We have now entered a new ugly and uncharted territory in the life of the party and the country, where it’s difficult to predict what will happen next.
“What many of us are worried about the most is that those who are said to be fighting for Mnangagwa are more and more daring and challenging both Mugabe and his wife Grace openly, which is unheard of,” a politburo member who claimed to be “non-aligned” said.
Another party insider told the Daily News that he was “very worried” about the extent to which the two main factions battling for supremacy within the former liberation movement now appeared “to hate each other”.
“I think anyone who says that they are not concerned by the wars will be lying. The truth of the matter is that at the rate at which things are deteriorating, it may be a matter of time before we see body bags in places like Harare and the Midlands,” the senior Zanu PF official said.
Contacted later in the wake of the political developments of the past few days within the warring party, the official said the situation had “worsened” — pointing to the alleged launch by Mnangagwa’s allies of an “ominous and shady” programme dubbed Operation Shumba.
“Indeed, what is this Operation Shumba? Is it merely a play on Mnangagwa’s totem or it’s a more sinister project that is underway?
“And what makes what is happening now less grave than what (former VP) Joice Mujuru and (ex-war veterans leader) Jabulani Sibanda were expelled for from the party? I fear for the peace and stability of this country,” he said.
A source close to Team Lacoste said there was a feeling in the camp that Grace’s blistering attack on Mnangagwa and his faction last Friday had “the blessings of the president” — adding further that it was “disappointing” that Mugabe had “failed” to stop his wife from opposing the Midlands godfather.
He disclosed then that it was contemplated that the faction, using a section of war veterans from the ousted veterans executive, would see the camp embarking on mass demonstrations in Harare.
Meanwhile, State media, and in particular the Mnangagwa faction’s main propaganda vehicle, The Herald, have ratcheted up their assault on Grace, VP Phelekezela Mphoko, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo and other perceived G40 bigwigs.