Heavyweights’ deaths open up political fray

OVER the years since Independence in 1980 Zanu PF’s deep-rooted factionalism, which started during the liberation struggle in camps across Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, has been playing itself out mainly on the Masvingo political landscape, with two rival groups led by the late vice-president Simon Muzenda and maverick Edson Zvobgo at each other’s throats.

Report by Owen Gagare/Tatenda Chitagu

So vicious and acrimonious was the factionalism and divisions that by the end of his life, Zvobgo, a Harvard-trained lawyer and one-of-a-kind political mover, had become so contemptuous of Muzenda –– who was fiercely loyal to President Robert Mugabe –– that at one time after he had been sidelined from the party he celebrated Zanu PF’s defeat by the MDC in Masvingo’s mayoral elections in 2001.

In a withering attack at the party leadership, particularly Muzenda’s faction, Zvobgo, a former cabinet minister and politburo member, said the ruling party was in doldrums because it has been infiltrated by “strangers” who were ravaging its fabric.

Zvobgo, who was now sympathetic of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC before his death, said Zanu PF had performed dismally due to bungling by opportunists who wanted to “harvest where they had not planted”.

“Baboons are on the run in Masvingo,” Zvobgo told the Zimbabwe Independent then. “As is well known, they tend to want to reap where they did not sow.”

Prior to that in 2000, Muzenda had told Zanu PF supporters to vote for any candidate the party fielded even if it were a baboon.
That intensified Muzenda’s fight with Zvobgo, resulting in Mugabe completely sidelining him from mainstream Zanu PF and government functions.

Muzenda’s faction included senior Zanu PF officials like the late Stan Mudenge, who died recently, former Masvingo provincial governor and politburo member Josaya Hungwe, the Mumbengegwi brothers, Samuel and Simbarashe, and former MP Shuvai Mahofa, among others.

The Zvobgo faction had in its fold the likes of Zanu PF politburo member Dzikamai Mavhaire, the late Josiah Tungamirai and Vitalis Zvinavashe, and a number of MPs at the time.

While the Muzenda faction tended to be linked to the Zanu PF camp led by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zvobgo group was somewhat connected to the bloc led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru. Most of Zvobgo’s former lieutenants, including Mavhaire and Tourism minister Walter Muzembi, are now allied to the Mujuru faction.

Zvobgo and Mnangagwa generally fought for political turf in the ethnic Karanga-dominated Masvingo and Midlands provinces. Zanu PF factions’ rivalry is not based on ideology or policies but regional, ethnic and personality differences, with power being the overarching objective.

Reflecting Zvobgo’s desire for the president to retire in the late 1990s as Zimbabwe started declining, Mavhaire made the unprecedented “Mugabe must go” statement for which he was severely punished through insults, intimidation and isolation.

Zvobgo, who had presidential ambitions but did not want to publicly declare them except through hints and insinuations, died fighting to dislodge  Mugabe from within.

His philosophy was that it was better for a Zanu PF faction than outsiders to remove Mugabe for legitimacy and continuity.

This is partly captured in United States diplomatic cables filed from Harare after meetings with Zvobgo.

The cables were released by whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.

However, after Mudenge’s death last month the dynamics of Zanu PF politics in the faction-riddled Masvingo province have changed and are shifting. Almost all the party heavyweights in Masvingo –– except Hungwe –– have now died, leaving the situation fluid and open to realignments.

With Mudenge’s death, Hungwe, a staunch Mnangagwa ally, has wasted no time in trying to stamp his authority in the province and has made it clear to other party cadres he had a mandate from Mugabe of uniting the party ahead of elections.

Zanu PF officials in the province say Hungwe believes Mugabe gave him the role to lead the province during Mudenge’s burial at the Heroes Acre in Harare. Mugabe appealed for senior party cadres from the province to unite and avoid fights along factional lines.

He mentioned Hungwe by name, giving him the licence he needed to stamp his authority and position himself as the new Masvingo political Godfather.

“Hungwe, who was in the Muzenda camp, is basically saying he is now the most senior party leader left in Masvingo and naturally he should lead. But of course you know there is resistance from officials like Mavhaire who were close to Zvobgo,” a senior Zanu PF official said. “Hungwe is now claiming to be following the president’s orders.”

Asked about his new role in the party politics in the province, Hungwe confirmed he was trying to provide leadership but suggested he was merely implementing Mugabe’s directive.

“If you were there at the Heroes Acre during Mudenge’s burial, you will know what was said by the elders (Mugabe). You should be asking me what I think about what was said, instead of asking me what my role now is,” said Hungwe last week.

“But I accept the challenge and our focus is to unite the party and win the upcoming elections.”

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