PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe was on Wednesday confronted head-on by an unusually aggressive Zanu PF old guard during a heated politburo exchange over war vete
rans leader Jabulani Sibanda’s controversial campaign for him to remain as party leader.
Well-informed sources said Mugabe tried to remain composed during the debate but was occasionally shaken as tempers boiled over.
At the end of the meeting, Mugabe prevented the conflict from spilling over into today’s potentially volatile central committee meeting by unilaterally striking the issue from the agenda.
The fierce attack on Sibanda — in which Mugabe also became a target — in the politburo was led by the party’s vice-president Joseph Msika and senior colleagues, mainly from the former PF-Zapu.
The angry clashes, it is said, were so ugly that for the first time they shook to its roots the 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF-Zapu, the foundation of Mugabe’s current power structure.
The sources said Msika led the offensive and was supported by senior party officials such as Dumiso Dabengwa, retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, party chair John Nkomo, Angeline Masuku, Joshua Malinga, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and retired General Vitalis Zvinavashe.
Veteran politburo members Didymus Mutasa, administration secretary, and Kumbirai Kangai were also involved in the intense debate sparked by an address on the Sibanda case by Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The issue, formally on the politburo agenda, created a storm which left the party reeling. The Sibanda drama has become part of Mugabe’s simmering succession battle.
The sources said after Mnangagwa addressed the meeting on Sibanda’s legal status in the party, Msika took over and spearheaded the political assault.
Prior to that Mnangagwa had mumbled complaints about why he had to deal with the issue, but Mutasa said he had to tackle it in his position as the secretary for legal affairs. Mutasa said he had recently been inundated with complaints from party members complaining about the Sibanda issue. He said people wanted to know “what the hell is going on”.
Mutasa said Sibanda was expelled from the party and he did not understand how he was campaigning for Zanu PF and its leader. Mnangagwa said while it was true that Sibanda was expelled, he had appealed against the decision and the issue was pending.
However, Nkomo, the Zanu PF national disciplinary committee chair, told the meeting he was not aware of the appeal which Mnangagwa was referring to.
After Mnangagwa’s address, Msika launched into a vicious attack on Sibanda, saying he was undermining the party leadership and causing confusion in Mugabe’s name. He said Sibanda’s offensive, particularly on former PF-Zapu leaders, was instigated by politicians outside Matabeleland region, showing there was a sinister agenda behind it. He said it was surprising Sibanda was acting in Mugabe’s name and there has not been a public correction of this.
Msika was backed by Dabengwa, who said it was clear that Sibanda was supported in his campaign by people who are not war veterans but hired guns. He said most genuine war veterans were watching with shock and outrage Sibanda’s antics. Senior former PF-Zapu leaders say Sibanda was not a bona fide war veteran because he was too young for the liberation struggle.
Mujuru said the root cause of the problem was Sibanda’s sponsor. He asked who was funding Sibanda and war veterans’ solidarity marches in support of Mugabe.
“This is where the root cause of the problem is,” Mujuru reportedly said. “Unfortunately, this politburo is too big for nothing, otherwise if it was small, say about five people or so, I would tell you exactly where Sibanda is getting the money from.”
Zvinavashe said he did not understand why the Sibanda saga was in the first place a big issue in Zanu PF because Sibanda was merely heading a group of people belonging to a voluntary association which has its own patron but has nothing to do with real war veterans and the ruling party.
Masuku said at the rate at which Sibanda was busy demolishing the party, Zanu PF would not win, particularly in Matabeleland where leaders were under siege, unless Mugabe intervened as a matter of urgency.
In a move against an escalating wave of attacks on Sibanda and indirectly on Mugabe, Naison Ndlovu said the Zanu PF leadership largely in Matabeleland had no reason to complain about Sibanda because he was in fact their political creature.
Kangai tried to calm down the situation, saying since there was a flare-up about the Sibanda issue, Mutasa should tell Sibanda to “cool down”. To his shock, he was heckled by those who wanted Sibanda silenced outright and also by those who wanted him to continue in support of Mugabe.
After a two-hour battle, Mugabe emerged on top, but badly bruised about the fierce attacks. He saved himself from further assaults today by removing the Sibanda issue from the central committee meeting agenda.