PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has intensified his hostility towards the Zanu PF faction led by the influential retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru ahead of his party’s potentially explosive extraordinary congress in December, it has been heard.
This came amid reports Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, now functioning more like a political spin-doctor than a speech writer, has given a sensational off-the-record briefing to state media editors which has ruffled the feathers of senior Zanu PF and government officials.
Charamba is understood to have recently made revealing remarks about Zanu PF factionalism and political infighting and looming army threats over elections.
Sources said Charamba wanted to keep editors clued up on current affairs in view of the ruling party congress and elections in March next year. Charamba was unavailable for comment yesterday.
But the sources said his briefing, which had an anti-Mujuru slant, indicated Mugabe’s growing hostility towards the faction. The Mujuru camp, which dominates the Zanu PF politburo, central committee and cabinet, wants to force Mugabe out at congress.
The camp has been vigorously campaigning for him to go since last December when it blocked his plan to extend his term by two more years to 2010 at a party conference in Goromonzi. The faction also led resistance to the campaign earlier this year to endorse Mugabe at a central committee meeting on March 30 as the Zanu PF candidate. This has forced Mugabe to call for the extraordinary congress to seek endorsement.
The sources said Mugabe’s strategy at the moment is to dismantle Mujuru’s dominance in party structures packed with their supporters following the 2004 Tsholotsho fallout in which Emmerson Mnangagwa, a Zanu PF member, and his faction, were openly accused of trying to oust Mugabe via a palace coup. Mugabe was aligned to the Mujuru faction and decisively pushed for Joice Mujuru to come in as vice-president. He even suggested at the 2004 congress she would be his successor.
However, Mugabe clashed with the Mujuru faction head-on in February after he accused the group of trying to oust him. After that Mugabe then aligned himself with the Mnangagwa faction.
The sources said Charamba confirmed this.
It is said he directed that the government-controlled media must give publicity to the Mnangagwa camp by interviewing people like war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda. Afterwards, Sibanda, who was fired from Zanu PF over the Tsholotsho saga but has now returned through the back door, had an extensive interview in the state-run Sunday Mail.
The sources said Charamba noted that Mugabe now preferred Mnangagwa as his successor and if Mnangagwa played his cards right he could come in.
They said that Charamba further indicated the state media must not give any media coverage to the Mujuru faction and if they were to feature on the news pages or airwaves, it must be negative publicity.
They said Charamba also said the party and government structures such as cabinet were generally divided into three groups, one supporting Mugabe, the other behind Mujuru, and a few neutrals. He said Zanu PF now has a group of people acting neutral but who could not be trusted. This group includes officials like Elliot Manyika, Nicholas Goche and Saviour Kasukuwere.
“Political loners” such as Zanu PF chairman John Nkomo and party administration secretary Didymus Mutasa must be left alone, he reportedly said. It was noted Charamba’s immediate boss, Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, should be avoided because Mugabe does not fully trust him. However, he said Ndlovu must not be told about this as he would deny it.
Last week Brigadier General David Sigauke was quoted as saying at a graduation ceremony at 22 Infantry Battalion in Mudzi District the army would first use the ballot and if necessary the barrel of the gun to defend government. This was widely interpreted as a coup threat.
Two weeks ago Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru, named by former Information minister Jonathan Moyo as Charamba, said congress would need to “secure its leader”.
He said Zanu PF had a “British-run faction which has been seeking to worm itself to influence”. “It is a faction which is greedy, anti-nation, a bit daft, without structures, but well-heeled and quite white at its core,” Manheru said before warning Mugabe’s backers were moving relentlessly to counter and reduce the influence of the faction, thought to be the Mujuru camp.