AS President Robert Mugabe arrived at Zanu PF headquarters in Harare on Tuesday for a politburo meeting, members of the women’s league, among
others, huddled against the walls in apparent fear while at the same time craning their necks to have a glimpse of the aging leader.
Mugabe’s bodyguards armed to the teeth jumped from the back of Land Cruisers and took positions all over the headquarters before the octogenarian nationalist could disembark from his posh black limousine.
As the president walked towards the entrance of the Zanu PF headquarters building, heading for his 14th floor office, the women burst into song and dance — Mugabe takamupiwa naShe. Ndiye chete, chete (We were given Mugabe by God. He is the only one to lead us).
It was evident that the 83-year-old Mugabe’s endorsement as Zanu PF’s 2008 presidential candidate at the party’s five-day extra-ordinary congress, which started with that politburo meeting, would sail through without any resistance.
Another point that is clear was that Mugabe had secured the party’s candidacy through instilling fear in his opponents.
Party insiders said the Zanu PF president and first secretary was so feared in the party that no one would dare challenge his leadership, let alone suggests that he retires from active politics.
The insiders say it was clear as from last February that Mugabe was here to stay when he declared that there was “no vacancy” for president.
Through intimidation, Mugabe forced his major opponents to his continued reign in power, the Solomon Mujuru faction, to climb down, while he roped in another camp in the succession battle led by Rural and Social Amenities minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to fight in his corner.
Zanu PF sources said Mugabe reached out to the Mnangagwa camp and the war veterans to be part of his campaign machinery for the elections after he realised that his fallout with the Mujuru camp created a rift that could not be bridged before next year’s elections.
Mugabe and the Mujuru camp fell out in February after he made thinly veiled attacks on Vice-President Joice Mujuru, the person the faction wanted to succeed the veteran nationalist.
The president accused her of plotting with former Zanu PF secretary general Edgar Tekere and prominent publisher Ibbo Mandaza to use Tekere’s autobiography, A Lifetime of Struggle, to undermine him while in the process promoting her presidential bid.
At the Zanu PF conference last December in Goromonzi, the Mujuru camp successfully opposed Mugabe’s bid to push harmonised presidential and legislative polls to 2010.
Mugabe also failed during the party’s crucial central committee meeting in March to secure his endorsement, leading his loyalists to mislead the public on the issue, claiming his candidacy was approved when it was not.
Mugabe — with the support of Mnangagwa and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa — during the same meeting managed to sway the central committee to make a decision that the polls take place next year.
With pressure mounting for him to leave office, Mugabe, through Mnangagwa, roped in the war veterans using Jabulani Sibanda, the women and youth leagues to spearhead his campaign.
Sibanda was expelled from Zanu PF in 2004, but was plucked out of the cold by Mnangagwa — without the party knowing it — and reinstated as leader of the war veterans, much to the surprise of the party chairman and also national disciplinary committee head, John Nkomo.
The three bodies embarked on nationwide solidarity marches canvassing support for Mugabe and at the same time deriding party officials seen as opposed to the pro-Mugabe marches. Last month, women’s league boss Oppah Muchinguri at one of the marches in Gweru called for Mugabe to be declared life president.
Muchinguri said: “The late Vice-president Joshua Nkomo died in office and the late Vice-president Simon Muzenda died in office; President Mugabe must also be allowed to die in office.”
Soon after Mugabe secured endorsement of the politburo on November 25, the women’s league intensified fears that Mugabe wanted to fight and win in order to become president for life after the league members burst into song saying “Mugabe is our leader forever.”
Even Vice President Joseph Msika who had earlier on indicated that Mugabe was not nominated to represent the party next year, rallied behind the aging leader and last month declared that he must rule until death.
Msika said the practice of limiting presidents to a couple of terms in office was “a luxury” and Mugabe should continue to rule until he dies.
“We do not change leaders as fast as we change our shirts,” Msika said. “In Zimbabwe we do not accept that. So the issue of changing a leader after a specified period is out of the question. It is a luxury we cannot afford. If they are still serving the people, then they should stay on or even die there.”
The war veterans, women and youth leagues’ marches culminated in the November 30 “Million Man march” in Harare that again saw war veterans, the women and youth leagues calling for Mugabe to remain in power until death.
Party insiders said Vice President Mujuru realised at the beginning of November that the game was up and decided to make a summersault by making a public announcement that she was never interested in Mugabe’s job.
“If there is a person who wants to succeed President Mugabe, it’s not me. A-a, aya mashura andirikutonzwa muno (These are ill-omens I am hearing here),” Mujuru said while addressing Mashonaland Central leaders in Bindura. “The presidium is made up of four people and I am already in the presidium. I am not going anywhere.”
She backed Mugabe saying reports that she intended to oust him were lies meant to tarnish her image.
However, party insiders said Mujuru’s U-turn was prompted by the arrest of one of her camp’s key members, Attorney General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele, as part of Mugabe’s onslaught on the vice-president’s camp.
Ndebele was arrested for alleged abuse of office for reportedly meeting fugitive banker James Mushore and failing to report to the police that he was back in the country from the UK.
Mujuru’s summersault was also reportedly out of fear of a backlash from a vengeful Mugabe, after reports that Muchinguri would be appointed to replace her as vice president.
Zanu PF Masvingo province secretary for information and publicity, retired Major Kudzai Mbudzi, last week became the first victim of those who opposed the pro-Mugabe marches led by Sibanda.
The provincial executive committee chaired by retired Major Alex Mudavanhu said Mbudzi had abused his office by verbally attacking Sibanda who spearheaded Mugabe’s campaign.
Mbudzi had insisted that Sibanda should not have any role to play in Mugabe’s campaign because he was expelled from the party.
Apart from Mbudzi, there is pressure from war veterans, the women and youth leagues to have Msika, Nkomo and politburo members Dumiso Dabengwa, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and retired General Mujuru censured by Mugabe for snubbing the “million man march.”
While it is clear that the majority of Zanu PF members no longer want Mugabe to remain in power, the politics of coercion have won for him another term.