HARARE - In an interesting development yesterday, expelled former Zanu PF bigwigs, Christopher Mutsvangwa and Temba Mliswa, received VIP treatment at the burial of Peter Chanetsa at the Heroes Acre in Harare — as Zanu PF’s ugly tribal, factional and succession wars continue to burn hot.
Although the occasion was a State and not a Zanu PF function, which meant that any citizen who wished to do so could attend the burial, the surprise presence of Mutsvangwa and Mliswa in the VIP tent expectedly set tongues wagging among the gathered ruling party supporters.
“I was very surprised to see those two being pampered in the VIP tent. They are well-known Ngwena (Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s) supporters.
“Lacoste (the Zanu PF faction that is rallying behind Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations) took advantage of Gushungo’s (President Robert Mugabe’s) absence to play its successionist games. This would never happen if the president was around,” a party official linked to the opposing Generation 40 (G40) group moaned.
Another Zanu PF bigwig described the duo’s appearance and accommodation in the VIP as “unusual”, pointing out to the rough treatment that the troubled ruling party normally dishes out to its out of favour officials.
Since the former liberation movement’s devisive 2014 congress, the warring ruling party has routinely chased away from its gatherings its suspended former stalwarts, including its ex-national political commissar and former Information minister, Webster Shamu. And Heroes Acre burials are de facto Zanu PF events.
Chris Mutsvangwa (right) sitting among ministers in a VIP tent at the Heroes Acre. Pic: Freedom Mashava
War veterans leader Mutsvangwa and his executive have since their expulsion from Zanu PF been boycotting State functions, including last year’s Heroes’ Day celebrations.
They have also stepped up their efforts to force Mugabe to step down, accusing the increasingly frail nonagenarian of being at the centre of the country’s current economic woes.
But the forthright and fearless Mutsvangwa defended his presence in the VIP tent at Heroes Acre when contacted by the Daily News on Sunday yesterday.
“This is a public place at which I am allowed to be whenever I want. It is nobody’s personal property, and so I came here to mourn a fellow war veteran who stood by me when I was being persecuted in the party.
“And for the record, I could still have come even if Mugabe was here because my wife is a senator. So, I could come as a spouse as well,” Mutsvangwa said.
However, political analyst Eldred Masunugure said Mutsvangwa and Mliswa’s presence among the VIPs, which occurred barely 72 hours after Mnangagwa had distanced himself from those backing his mooted higher ambitions, could pile more political pressure on the VP, who is already facing a backlash on a number of fronts, including his holding of a coffee mug inscribed “I’m the boss”.
“The VP is known to be a shrewd politician, though not as much as his boss (Mugabe), hence the war veterans’ attendance to listen to him when they have all along been boycotting Mugabe.
“This can be used as ammunition by his rivals to say his recent public condemnation of Mutsvangwa and his group is a smokescreen meant to mask their deep-lying relationship,” he said, adding that it was unlikely that the duo would have turned up at Chanetsa’s burial if Mugabe was officiating.
“I’m not convinced they would have attended if it was the president addressing the gathering, so it raises suspicion. However, Mnangagwa and his allies can insist that they came on the back of their personal relationship with Chanetsa and not necessarily as a statement of allegiance to the VP,” Masunungure said.
When the Zanu PF provincial executive moved a motion to have Mutsvangwa recalled from the Mashonaland West provincial coordinating committee, prior to his expulsion from the ruling party, Chanetsa made attempts to overturn that decision, albeit unsuccessfully.
On his part, Mliswa — who was sacked from Zanu PF for backing former Vice President Joice Mujuru to succeed Mugabe in 2014 — made no secret about his newly-found allegiance to Mnangagwa.
“I am one person who has always advocated for leadership renewal in Zanu PF and at the present moment I see no reason why Mnangagwa should not take over given that he is the most senior person in the ruling party who has experience in governance and has held several senior posts,” Mliswa told the Daily News on Sunday, adding that he was also at the national shrine as a legislator.
Mliswa is now independent Member of Parliament for Norton, where he replaced Mutsvangwa following a by-election that was held last year in which he defeated little-known Zanu PF candidate Ronald Chindedza.
Mutsvangwa’s war veterans issued a damning communiqué in July last year denouncing Mugabe as a dictator who would be difficult to market as the ruling party’s candidate in the much-awaited national elections next year.
War veterans have anchored Mugabe’s reign and election campaigns since 1980, and stepped up this support when the nonagenarian’s first major opposition emerged with the formation in 1999 of the MDC.
Meanwhile, addressing a handful of mourners yesterday, made up mainly of the country’s security personnel, Mnangagwa avoided being political and chose to merely narrate Chanetsa’s contribution to the country.
He also urged newly-resettled farmers to take a leaf from Chanetsa and be productive on the land that they were allocated after the country’s chaotic fast-track land reforms that saw former white commercial farmers losing their land.
“Let us honour him by ensuring that the land we have acquired is utilized to the fullest. This season saw government rolling out our command agriculture programme whose key objectives are to ensure food security and economic recovery.
“This three-year rolling programme should see us regain and re-assert our status as the breadbasket of the region … therefore for those of us who are on the land, which the likes of Chanetsa have delivered us, let there be no excuse for non-utilisation of the land.
“We need you to account for the inputs you drew from the programme. Above all the nation expects you to justify your continued occupancy of the piece of land apportioned to you ahead of all other Zimbabweans,” Mnangagwa said.
He also revealed that the government would undertake a “scientific land audit based on the individual performance of each farmer”.