Mugabe belts Mutsvangwa

HARARE - An angry President Robert Mugabe — thoroughly fed up with his ruling Zanu PF’s indisciplined and warring underlings — savaged ousted war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa last night, virtually signalling the end of his career both in the former liberation movement and in government.

Unexpectedly moving to address the nation as Zanu PF’s factional and succession wars get uglier and more ominous, Mugabe made it very clear that he remains firmly in charge of the party and the country, while leaving little to the imagination that the verbose Mutsvangwa — an alleged kingpin of the party faction loyal to embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa — was toast.

The long-ruling nonagenarian was flanked by both his two deputies as he made his unusual address — with a decidedly surly-looking Mnangagwa to his right, and a comparatively relaxed co-VP Phelekezela Mphoko to his left.

And in yet another revealing hint of how Zanu PF’s deadly succession brawls may pan out, he sprang to the defence of his influential wife Grace and excoriated Team Lacoste (Mnangagwa faction) members who have been insulting him and the First Lady over the past few weeks.

Without mincing his words, Mugabe also pointedly accused the garullous Mutsvangwa of having misled war veterans into trooping into Harare on Thursday — where they were battered by police — after they were made to believe that the president would address them.

“For him (Mutsvangwa) to have called a meeting about which we knew nothing, about, in circumstances in which he had not clearly sought permission from the authorities in violation therefore of the law, and he being a minister, he cannot at the end after the law and order officers have taken action against the meeting and the war veterans complain that he was ill-treated.

“He must bear the responsibility,” Mugabe thundered, adding that Mutsvangwa would pay for his misdemeanours.

As the president spoke, Mnangagwa — the alleged godfather of Team Lacoste — cast a forlorn and dispirited figure, like a man who had been dragged to the address kicking and screaming.

“He (Mutsvangwa) has acted in a manner we describe as irresponsible and a manner that brings the name of the party and government into disrepute. We regret that they (war veterans) suffered this (police battering) but the man to blame is their minister and of course he has to answer why he did that without authority,” the nonagenarian fumed.

Further describing Zanu PF’s factional wars as “dogfights”, the soon-to-be 92-year-old said the present crop of the party’s leaders were failing to maintain unity.

“We are all being abused — the president, his wife — in a manner that is very disgraceful,” he said.

Mugabe’s outburst followed the unprecedented move by riot police on Thursday who mercilessly clamped down on a group of war veterans loyal to Mnangagwa — 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.

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 Mugabe and Grace.

So in-your-face and aggressive have some of the utterances and tactics being employed by Team Lacoste 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.

Many disinterested bystanders and journalists were caught up in the Thursday 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.

But the war veterans’ 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.

Police officers, who gave the fast-aging war veterans five minutes to abandon their march before action was taken against them, said their demo and meeting had not been sanctioned by authorities.

But 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.

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