HARARE - It reads like a story plucked from a fiction novel, an adopted daughter being cast into the wilderness by her aging father, and out in the jungle there is nowhere for her to go but to return armed and claim what she thought was hers, even by default.
That Joice Runaida Mujuru is no longer Zanu PF is stale news and even that she formed her own party reads like a practical joke — but she is daring to dream and now aims to wrestle power from President Robert Mugabe —the man she previously fondly referred to as Baba (father).
That respect, for Mujuru who says she was “betrayed”, has since peeled off and what remains borders on defiance, as she now refers to the 92-year-old strongman, interchangeably either by name and or title, probably because old habits die hard, after all he was her “father” for a period spanning over four decades when she joined the war as a teenage girl.
But her return to politics, something that has influenced her life for the better part of her 60 years, has been anything but peaceful.
In one interview with a foreign media house she says “Mugabe is a spirit” (mudzimu) and those who know Shona will attest such a statement is either a crude joke or a demonstration of reverence.
One would expect her to be cautious given the treacherous and dangerous nature of the country’s politics, but Mujuru who was in the trenches fighting Ian Smith does not give a hoot.
“If I have (committed) crimes they should bring them,” she says nonchalantly.
During an interview Mujuru appeared at ease — in peace surrounded by pictures of her late husband Solomon and the many medals he collected either as a serving soldier or retired before fate visited him in the cruellest of fashion.
A brief history perhaps; Mujuru rose up the Zanu PF political ladder to become the country’s first female vice president riding on the epaulettes of her husband in 2004, she stayed there until 2014 when she fell like humpty-dumpty and found herself “homeless in the jungle.”
History records that the late Mujuru moved mountains to make sure that Mugabe became “king” convincing the freedom fighters to accept the glib-tongued former school teacher to be the civilian head of Zanu after the fall of the late Ndabaningi Sithole.
And people like Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa say Solomon is the only man who could challenge Mugabe.
Now some political analysts say Mujuru’s epitaph was written when Solomon (Rex Nhongo) died in a mysterious fire that reduced his battle-hardened body to ashes, but she told the Daily News that “dead men tell no tales” and it is the time for the living to carry the struggle.
Writing on micro-blogging site Twitter, Zanu PF politburo member and Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo said, “Without the late General Mujuru’s name & without Pres Mugabe Joice is politically nothing. She knows this as we do!”
But her allies like Rugare Gumbo, who claims to have helped Mugabe ascend to power say she has the muscle and stamina to face the storm.
But before her several top Zanu PF officials tried and failed.
Edgar “Twoboy” Tekere tried and failed. Simba Makoni tried and failed dismally, Dabengwa tried and failed spectacularly and the question that many are asking now is how will she fare, after all the above comrades have the same liberation war credentials that she has.
Political commentator Alex Magaisa said unlike when other former Zanu PF stalwarts chose to challenge Mugabe, Zanu PF is divided and the opposition represented by the likes of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is in shambles.
“The terrain is different from that faced by her former comrades and with continued infighting in Zanu PF, she will face a weaker and more divided Zanu PF than any of her predecessors. But much more will depend on whether she can do what her predecessors didn’t do, which is to forge a united front with other opposition parties. That may increase her chances,” said Magaisa.
In a country steeped in old traditions, Mujuru, a trailblazer of some sorts is now aiming to become the country’s first female president and only the third in Africa after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her namesake Malawian Joyce Banda.
“I don’t think her gender is a big issue. She has been VP and people are used to her leadership. What is critical is that she addresses the issues that Zimbabweans are concerned with,” said Magaisa.
Indeed cleaning her cupboards is a tricky part, there are reports that Mujuru has shares in several companies, was complicit in Zanu PF’s violations of human rights and that the former vice president has not worked to improve the welfare of the women lot when she was the VP.
Political analysts Maxwell Saungweme said even with her baggage, politics is fluid and therefore “unpredictable”.
“She has a lot of baggage from the past that may haunt her and diminish her chances. She has been in Zanu PF for too long for her to act differently and for some to see her as different from the system that shaped her political career,” she said.
But Mujuru might as well turn to her late husband to get more votes.
“She may get the sympathy from some voters as someone widowed in questionable circumstances that took her husband’s life and someone that was fired from the party due to persecution. But also she needs depth and clarity on policies, to win people’s hearts,” said Saungweme.
Having risen from rural Mt Darwin to become the country’s vice president ahead of many, Mujuru has many believing that her expulsion from Zanu PF was a blessing in disguise and now only time will tell how she fares.