Tension rises as Mugabe's Zanu PF gathers

MASVINGO - There was palpable tension here yesterday as warring Zanu PF bigwigs descended on this hot and dry town in south-eastern Zimbabwe, as President Robert Mugabe’s troubled ruling party meets for its annual conference.

Unlike many previous such gatherings, the brawling former liberation movement is this year meeting amid its escalating tribal, factional and succession wars — prompting many insiders to view this conference as a make-or-break affair ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.

So bad have the ructions become, that Mugabe was once again forced to publicly rebuke his fighting lieutenants at Wednesday’s central committee meeting in Harare, ominously warning his minions who are impatient to succeed him to hold their horses.

Party officials told the Daily News yesterday that more than 8 000 delegates were expected at the conference, with the usually sleepy town seeing an unprecedented number of security personnel — including hundreds of police and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operatives — as panicking  authorities sent a clear message that they would not tolerate any disturbances at the gathering.

The party’s sometimes mindless bloodletting of the last past few months, including this week’s startling claims by Mugabe’s nephew and Indigenisation minister, Patrick Zhuwao, that he had received death threats from Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allies, has stoked hostilities ahead of the conference.

Although it is not expected that this gathering will choose a new leadership, the party’s Generation 40 (G40) faction has already made it clear that it wants Mugabe’s deputies elected instead of being appointed as is the current practice — in a move that has been widely interpreted as targeting Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations.

In a desperate bid to calm the waters ahead of the conference, Mugabe told Wednesday’s central committee meeting that those aspiring to succeed him must stop lobbying for support in a manner that destroys the party.

“Positions in the party are not jumped upon. People rise slowly. So, dirty politics should never be countenanced in our party. The tradition of our party is never one of bickering over party positions,” he said.

Commenting on what was likely to happen this weekend, political analyst and former civic leader, McDonald Lewanika, said the bickering ruling party factions would fight tooth and nail to strengthen their positions.

“This conference is critical for the feuding factions . . . and the fighting is likely to continue. An uneasy peace or Cold War is also probable if no significant victories are scored at the conference. But those too will not bode well for Zanu PF’s unity.

“In this respect too, time is both friend to Zanu PF and foe to its factions, who both would rather be in pole position now ahead of 2018,” he said.

Another prominent commentator, Dewa Mavhinga, said it was unreasonable to expect “anything significant or useful” to come out of the conference.

“The elephant in the room is Mugabe’s succession and no one is prepared to bell the cat, so to speak. Failure to urgently resolve this succession crisis means both Zanu PF and Zimbabwe get weaker with each passing day.

“It is clear that both Zanu PF factions are too lilly-livered to confront Mugabe, and would rather fight each other than demand that he goes in the best interests of the country.

“This is why Mugabe has for so long managed to play divide and rule in the party and keep both factions at bay, and busy fighting each other when the nation is burning,” Mavhinga said.

Last month, Mashonaland Central put the cat among the pigeons when the province’s acting provincial chairman, Dickson Mafios, proposed that Mugabe’s deputies should be elected, as the G40 renewed its bid to scuttle Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential ambitions.

Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko further complicated matters when he not only supported Mashonaland Central’s controversial resolution, but also that the party needed to elect a leader it could trust post-Mugabe.

The remarks, which were widely interpreted by Team Lacoste, the Midlands godfather’s faction as anti-Mnangagwa , also laid bare the suspicion that many party bigwigs were now looking to secure their future after the nonagenarian leaves office.

On the other hand, Team Lacoste has also been fighting back with venom, with Mnangagwa’s allies mostly working underground and within key institutions to torpedo the G40.

On Wednesday, Zhuwao told the Daily News that he had received death threats related to his recent public criticism of Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF supporters, amid claims that the Indigenisation minister is a key member of the G40 group.

The dreadlocked Zhuwao said after receiving the death threats from people linked to Mnangagwa, he had moved to report the matter to the police on Wednesday, under case number RRB 120763.

This was after a self-proclaimed Mnangagwa loyalist, Frank Onismo Ziyambi, warned him via Facebook that he risked being killed for his recent withering attack on the Midlands godfather.

Zhuwao publicly attacked Mnangagwa and Team Lacoste last week, describing the VP as “unelectable” and not worth supporting because of the alleged tendency of his “excitable” backers to bully and threaten people.

This appeared to rub Ziyambi the wrong way, who went on to write the threatening message on his Facebook wall.

Well-placed sources who spoke to the Daily News earlier this week also said they feared that the party’s worsening infighting had now reached such an alarming level that the former liberation movement’s steady implosion could accelerate significantly after the Masvingo get-together.

“The Masvingo conference is seen as the perfect opportunity for the factions to put day light between each other and thus seize control of the party ahead of the 2018 elections.

“This meeting is so important which is why you saw State media this week pleading with both G40 and Team Lacoste to bury their differences and unite to save the party and the country’s dying economy,” one of the sources said.

Political analysts also said then that they had no recollection of ever witnessing the kind of intense infighting that was devouring Zanu PF currently, adding that Mugabe had his work cut out to try and unite the two factions this week.

“While we have had political rifts before in the ruling party, they have not been this visible and intense. What is exacerbating these fights is that the prize is getting nearer with each day as the president gets older and more frail,” analyst Gladys Hlatywayo said.

Another senior Zanu PF official had also told the Daily News recently that the alarming escalation in the party’s ugly factional and succession wars over the past few months represented a desperate “final push” to take all the spoils by the two main camps in the bitterly-divided former liberation movement.

“Listen, we are well past the stage where comrades in the opposite camps can be expected to act rationally. One camp now has to lose and be destroyed completely for this (the wars) to end, like what happened to (former vice president and now Zimbabwe People First leader Joice) Mujuru’s group,” the consistently reliable bigwig said.

Academic Ibbo Mandaza said last month that “the implosion of Zanu PF is now complete”, adding, “it is ominous in terms of the party’s factionalism and its implications. The factional fights have now become very antagonistic”.

On his part, University of Zimbabwe politics professor Eldred Masunungure said it was clear that “the centre can no longer hold in Zanu PF”.

Other Zanu PF bigwigs had also previously said that the party’s worsening ructions suggested that the former liberation movement was on the verge of imploding, with its aged leadership trapped in a colonial time warp and unable to heal the party’s gaping political wounds.

“Honestly speaking, I cannot see where we can go from here as a party. This could be it for the party as we know it. Everyone can see that the nightmare season of long knives is getting bloodier by the day and no one appears to have the appetite and capacity to stop this horror show.

“Zanu PF is in tatters and the (factional and succession) fights have become a fatal zero-sum game, a deadly fight in a tunnel where the only outcome possible is death for all,” the anguished bigwig said ruefully, echoing the sentiments of many in the troubled party.

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