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Mugabe faces stormy congress

Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is facing a stormy congress which could sweep him from power unless he produces a brave performance to stem the surging tid

e of growing opposition from within.

The watershed Zanu PF congress slotted for December will be a fierce battle between Mugabe and his shrinking cabal of supporters who want to secure his endorsement at all costs to be the party’s sole candidate in next year’s election, and those pushing for him to quit now.

Sources said Mugabe and his supporters have already come up with an agenda for congress which includes the need to endorse Mugabe as the party’s candidate; ratification of the proposed Constitutional Amendment Number 18 — which will probably have been passed into law by then — and alignment of the party and state constitutions in the light of these changes.

Sources said Mugabe wants this agenda for congress. The so-called Third Way faction in Zanu PF, which includes party commissar Elliot Manyika and politburo members Nicholas Goche and Saviour Kasukuwere, will be fighting from Mugabe’s corner.

Top members like spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira, Women’s League head Oppah Muchinguri and secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa are linked to this group although cracks are emerging among them.

Fearing possible defeat at congress, Mugabe has now roped in the Zanu PF faction led by senior party official Emmerson Mnangagwa and the war veterans. The ex-combatants recently held street protests to support Mugabe and the Mnangagwa faction was said to have been behind them.

This has led to a convergence of interests between the Third Way group and the Mnangagwa faction as both are now fighting to keep Mugabe in power.

The other faction led by the influential retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru is pushing to force Mugabe out. Mugabe is battling for political survival as shown by his scramble to close ranks with Mnangagwa when he accused him of plotting a palace coup against him in 2004.

The matrix of shifting alliances within Zanu PF and the intensifying power struggle have raised the stakes for the congress which could become Mugabe’s Waterloo before the elections.

Although the elections are scheduled for March, well-placed sources said they are now likely to be held in June next year after Zanu PF and the opposition MDC agreed on the issue during talks to resolve the current crisis in Pretoria on September 1 and 2.

While Mugabe is making concessions due to MDC and other external pressures, he is facing more critical demands from within his party for him to quit in December.

Zanu PF sources said main factions of the ruling party were frantically mobilising and positioning themselves for a battle royal at the congress where Mugabe could sink or swim in the increasingly turbulent political waters.

Mugabe’s great threat, sources say, is now the growing band of disgruntled Zanu PF officials, particularly those led by Mujuru. The faction is now regarded as opposition from within to the extent that Mujuru during the Zanu PF politburo meeting last week tried to play down the issue. Mujuru told the politburo that people were lying to Mugabe that he wanted to remove him, but Mugabe was convinced this was true as he knew the story better, sources said.

Mujuru’s lieutenants are vowing they will force Mugabe out or block him in the same way they stopped him in his tracks at the Goromonzi conference in December last year and frustrated his bid for endorsement at the crucial central committee meeting in March. The camp is said to have deployed a crack team of senior members to work on a strategy to block Mugabe. Two top politburo members have been charged to lead the campaign and raise the issue at congress.

Mugabe’s supporters say he will bulldoze his way through congress and secure his endorsement as well as re-election next year. However, pressure is mounting in Zanu PF for him to go now.

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