Tsholotsho saga: the untold story

By Jonathan Moyo


THIS is the third and final part of an article in which the former Information minister reveals details of Zanu PF’s power struggle which culminated in the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration of November 2004. 


ON November 18 200

4, the emergency politburo meeting started just before 11:00am. President Robert Mugabe indicated that he had called for the meeting in response to concerns that some members of the politburo had raised regarding procedures for the nominations of the top leadership of the party scheduled for November 21 2004 ahead of the party’s congress.

In particular there were concerns that the nominations were supposed to be done by provincial executive councils, that the position of one of the vice-presidents and second secretaries had not been reserved for a woman as directed by Mugabe at the Zanu PF women’s congress in September and that there had been reports indicating that some provinces did not have funds to facilitate the nomination meetings.

Apparently, as it transpired, Nicholas Goche and John Nkomo had raised these complaints with Mugabe. Reports that there were no funds for the provinces to facilitate the nomination meetings were clarified and shown to be false. 
Regarding the procedures for the nominations, Emmerson Mnangagwa as secretary for administration explained that he had followed the provisions of the party’s constitution and that he had consulted extensively with Elliot Manyika — the national commissar — and that he had sought specific approval from Mugabe of his letter of November 11 2004 spelling out the procedures.  Patrick Chinamasa, then Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs, also confirmed that Mnangagwa’s letter of November 11 detailing the procedures for nominations was consistent with the constitution.

When it became clear to all and sundry at the emergency meeting that the procedures for nominations in Mnangagwa’s letter of November 11 2004 were indeed in terms of the constitution, those members of the politburo who are associated with Solomon Mujuru’s camp demanded the instant amendment of the party’s constitution there and then to accommodate their interests and wishes. 

Thus the provision requiring that nominations for the party’s top four leadership positions be made by provincial executives in a secret ballot was amended so that the nominations would be done by provincial coordinating committees without a secret ballot.  This ensured that politburo members would also participate in the nominations which members who demanded this amendment hoped to influence.

Even more shocking was that the same members demanded an amendment of the party’s constitution to include a provision requiring that there be “four members being the president and first secretary, the two vice- presidents and second secretaries with one of the vice-presidents and second secretaries being a woman, and the national chairman of the party”.

Mnangagwa was directed to withdraw his earlier letter of November 11 on the procedures for nominating the top four leadership positions of the party and to issue a new letter dated November 18 2004 based on the new amendment of the constitution by the politburo. This amendment was illegally effected on November 18 and implemented immediately by an organ of the party, the politburo, which has no powers to amend the constitution. 
The purpose of the illegal amendment was not just to attack the constitution of the party but to also give the impression that only one of the top four positions, the one previously held by the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda, was vacant and that it had to be filled by a woman. Specifically the amendment was designed to annul the decisions of the provincial chairmen and provincial governors meeting in Harare on August 23 and in Zvimba on August 30 under the chairmanship of Manyika in support of principles of what has become known as the Tsholotsho Declaration.

During this politburo meeting, it became clear that the Zanu PF old guard in general, especially those linked with Mujuru’s camp, and Mugabe in particular are not committed to democracy, transparency and constitutional procedures. Above all, it became clear that there is a clique in Zanu PF that unashamedly believes in the domination of national politics by one ethnic group under the cover of some self-serving language of revolutionary nationalism and the Unity Accord of 1987.

For example, under the Unity Accord, the ruling clique in Zanu PF has taken the view that former Zapu leaders are entitled to one of the positions of vice-president and that whoever occupies that position, even if they do not come from Matabeleland as is the case with Joseph Msika, necessarily represents Matabeleland as if Zapu and Matabeleland mean one and the same thing. 

Zapu is no more while Matabeleland lives with political interests that must be addressed along with the interests of other regions in the country. Even worse, the ruling clique in Zanu PF has interpreted the Unity Accord to mean that the best that Matabeleland can aspire to is the vice-presidency. Such a view is neither revolutionary nor national — it is tribal, reactionary and wholly unacceptable.

After the emergency meeting, Mnangagwa said he could no longer travel to Tsholotsho as he had to make and effect the constitutional amendments that had been illegally sanctioned by the politburo. He asked Chinamasa to represent him and to read his speech at Dinyane High School.

So I travelled to Tsholotsho with Chinamasa and we reached Dinyane High School just before 5:00pm on November 18 2004 for an event that had been scheduled to start at 10:00am. By the time we got there six provincial chairmen and other Zanu PF leaders who were in attendance had already gotten wind of the emergency politburo meeting earlier in the day and they wanted to get first-hand information about it from Chinamasa who told them to wait until after the Dinyane programme which had to be rushed through.

During the Dinyane programme, nothing political was said or expected. It was truly a speech and prize-giving day during which a number of the high-ranking guests pledged support and gifts to the school, yet to be honoured.

Because the event started late, it ended just after 7:00pm following which the visitors from outside Tsholotsho immediately left for Bulawayo to have dinner at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel and wait for Chinamasa to brief them about the decisions of the emergency politburo meeting.  I remained for a little while with Chinamasa because the school authorities wanted him to inspect some facilities as the stand-in guest of honour.

When Chinamasa and I got to the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel we found the six provincial chairmen from Matabeleland North, Midlands, Matabeleland South, Masvingo, Bulawayo and Manicaland and other senior Zanu PF politicians including then Masvingo governor Josiah Hungwe, deputy ministers Abednico Ncube  and Andrew Langa and minister Flora Bhuka, who had attended the speech and prize-giving day in Tsholotsho, and other Bulawayo-based politicians who had been told that Chinamasa was going to give an informal briefing on what had transpired at the emergency politburo meeting earlier that day in Harare. 

We joined them for dinner and later around 11:00pm asked the hotel staff to find us a conference room where Chinamasa could give his briefing.

Chinamasa explained in detail how the emergency politburo meeting had been called after complaints to Mugabe by Nkomo and Goche over the procedures for the nomination of the four top positions in the leadership of the party. He further gave a detailed narration of how the emergency politburo meeting had amended the constitution and how it had also directed that one of the positions for vice-president and second secretary, which was falsely presented as the only vacant position, should be filled by a woman and that the nominations should be made by provincial coordinating committees through consensus and not by provincial executive committees in secret balloting.

The informal meeting’s reaction to Chinamasa’s briefing was of animated anger at, and contempt for, the politburo mainly because of a widely held view to this day that the politburo had no right or power to amend the party’s constitution in the manner it did on November 18 2004.  The view of the informal meeting was that the politburo had to be defied at all costs because it had blatantly violated the party’s constitution. 

Chinamasa, with my active support and intervention, cautioned against this view and strongly advised that even if the politburo had erred by amending the party’s constitution when it did not have the power to do so, loyal party members were duty-bound to respect the decision of the politburo and to find other legal ways of registering their outrage at what had happened.

After a protracted debate that took about four hours, the meeting finally agreed to respect the politburo decision but rejected the view that the only vacant position was that previously held by the late Muzenda and that it had to be filled by Joice Mujuru as had been widely reported in newspapers since the women’s congress in September 2004. 

Various speakers at the meeting argued that all of the top four positions, including that held by Mugabe, were vacant and that Mujuru was not the most senior or most qualified woman to be nominated as one of the two vice-presidents and second secretaries of the party.

It was proposed and agreed by all of us at the Rainbow Hotel meeting that the top four leadership positions of the party should reflect the regional diversity and ethnic balance of the country as a whole; that the elections should be democratic and held by secret ballot and that the constitution as illegally amended by the politburo should be reluctantly respected in accordance with the guidelines in the letter of November 18 2004 from the secretary for administration which replaced the one he had sent on November 11 2004.

More specifically, we proposed to nominate Mugabe for the position of president and first secretary coming from the Zezuru ethnic grouping; Mnangagwa for the position of vice-president and second secretary from the Karanga ethnic grouping; Thenjiwe Lesabe for the position of vice-president and second secretary reserved for women from the Ndebele ethnic grouping, and Chinamasa for the position of national chairman from the Manyika ethnic grouping.

The Zvimba meeting in August had proposd the nomination of Mugabe, Msika, Mnangagwa and Nkomo for the top four positions. Msika and Nkomo fell off the equation at the Rainbow meeting.

Chinamasa was nominated at Rainbow Hotel over Didymus Mutasa, who had also been proposed for the post, because it was strongly felt that the position of national chairman should be filled by a qualified and experienced lawyer who would respect the disciplinary procedures in the Zanu PF constitution, something which Nkomo had dismally failed to respect or understand.  

The agreement reached at the Rainbow Hotel in Bulawayo was dubbed the Tsholotsho Declaration by those opposed to ethnic balance in the top four leadership positions in Zanu PF selected through democratic elections under a democratic constitution. 

This oral agreement was consistent with the principles — which are the pillars of the Tsholotsho Declaration — that emerged from the long debate, discussion and consultation within Zanu PF that started soon after the June 2000 parliamentary election when the need for modernising and democratising Zanu PF became as self-evident as it is today.

The agreement was consistent with the deliberations and decisions of the provincial chairmen and provincial governors at the three meetings chaired by Manyika on August 16, 23 and 30 2004 — the first two in Harare and the last in Zvimba.

This position was immediately communicated to all party structures ahead of the nomination day on November 21 2004.  Even though there was little time between the communication and nomination day, the results of the elections indicated to any serious-minded person that the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration about the need for balanced ethnic representation in the top leadership that is constitutionally and democratically elected is very strong and widely shared within Zanu PF and that is why there are still very serious divisions in the ruling party that threaten to turn President Mugabe’s succession into a nightmare for the old guard who have squandered all opportunities to reform Zanu PF since the June 2000 election.

Therefore, the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration did not carry the day on November 21 2004 not because Zanu PF members are opposed to them but because the ruling hierarchy among the Zanu PF old guard which had no shame in using the politburo to illegally amend the party constitution used some elements of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to impose the current top leadership of Zanu PF whose composition is not reflective of the regional and ethnic balance of the country and is not based on merit in terms of performance. 

Indeed, Mugabe boldly told me in the one-and-a-half hour meeting I had with him and Joice Mujuru on February 17 2005, which he has discussed a lot in public at my expense, that if the Tsholotsho Declaration had succeeded through the party nominations and elections, the leadership would have rejected the result. This kind of unbalanced leadership always ready to use the hammer to crush democracy is also bereft of a national vision and lacks the representative legitimacy and competence to deal with the unprecedented economic and political problems crippling the country today.

In his closing speech at the December 2004 Zanu PF congress, Mugabe angrily reacted to the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration by attacking those whom he said were accusing him of tribalism and charged that he took exception to what he said was an insulting accusation because he is a revolutionary and not a triballist. 

Well, maybe so but there are no discernible revolutionary principles in corrupting the Unity Accord and mutilating and personalising the constitution of the party in order to end up with the current situation in which three of the top four leaders in Zanu PF and the government, Mugabe, Mujuru and Msika, come from one ethnic grouping not as an outcome of democratic elections but because of an imposition from a deliberately manipulated constitution, relying not on politics but on the brutal use of CIO agents.

Mugabe has been in power for more than a generation and that is destabilising to our nation and it is against the national interest to impose a successor from the president’s ethnic grouping under these trying circumstances in our country’s history. Such attempts at ethnic domination of the diversified nation by one group through foul means are not different from similar colonial and UDI attempts that sought to impose racial domination and failed. 
It is very ironic and rather sad that those behind the project of ethnic domination call themselves nationalist and anti-colonialists when their deeds tell a different story. The situation would of course be very different if Mugabe had served for two or even three terms only and if the country was not facing an economic meltdown underwritten by policy paralysis in Mugabe’s government.

Zimbabweans need and must have a change of government not just in terms of personnel in political leadership but in ideological, constitutional, structural and policy terms. 

As someone who was both in the Zanu PF leadership and government, and who therefore must take some responsibility not only for the failure of the Tsholotsho Declaration but also some of the policies that have not worked well for our country, I can say without any doubt that Zimbabwe today would be different and better off had the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration carried the day on November 21 2004. This is because Zanu PF would have changed for the better and that change would have impacted on the country’s policies and institutions positively.


The current political and economic problems facing Zimbabwe are due to the fact that the country is being ruled by a hopelessly clueless, tired and terrified undemocratic clique which desperately wants to cling to power by fair means or foul at the clear expense of national interest.

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