VETERAN nationalist and former Zipra commander Dumiso Dabengwaâ€™s defection over the weekend to support former Zanu PF politburo member Simba Makoniâ€™s presidential bid could put a strain on the shaky 21-year-old Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF-Zapu.
Dabengwaâ€™s defection, which Zanu PF has been trying to dismiss as a non-event, is in fact a grand parade of the discontent inherent in the party and a signal demonstration against President Robert Mugabeâ€™s continued stay in office.
Dabengwa on Tuesday revealed in an interview his disappointment with the implementation of the Unity Accord and the growing rift between him and Mugabe over fundamental political issues.
Dabengwa has differed with the president on the execution of the land reform programme, the composition and functions of the politburo, and the exploitation of natural resources â€” especially diamonds in Manicaland.
He has crossed swords with Mugabe over the role of Jabulani Sibanda last year as campaign co-ordinator for the presidentâ€™s endorsement by Zanu PF to stand for another term. Dabengwa does not believe that Mugabe should stand for another term as president.
Dabengwa on Tuesday tried to downplay the differences, saying he had “no problems with President Mugabe” but only his continued stay in office.
His illustrious career as a liberator was this week put on the coals by opponents in Zanu PF who have branded him a traitor and a sellout. But Vice-president Joseph Msika just a day before Dabengwaâ€™s defection had tried to give the impression that the former Home Affairs minister was not part of the Makoni project. Msika, purportedly speaking on behalf of Dabengwa and other former PF-Zapu cadres, denied links with Makoni, but he was made to eat humble pie the next day.
Party chairman John Nkomo was on Tuesday quoted in the press denouncing Dabengwa and calling his defection “good riddance”. Other lightweights like Bulawayo metropolitan governor Cain Mathema denounced Dabengwa as a tribalist and traitor.
“How does Mathema attack me and call me a traitor,” said Dabengwa. “You are called a traitor simply because you want the leadership to retire?”
Dabengwa revealed in the interview that former senior Zapu leaders were aware of the undercurrents of discontent stemming from the half-hearted implementation of the Unity Accord.
Does this then mean that they share his grief and are party to the Makoni project? “We have support from the cell level (in Zanu PF) right up to the top,” said Dabengwa. Asked how high the support for Makoni went in the party, he said: “Look at me, I am an example”, suggesting that the support went as far as the politburo.
Makoni has since been axed from the party and until Wednesday this week there had not been any formal communication from the party on Dabengwaâ€™s involvement. But he knows what is coming his way.
Asked if he would attend politburo meetings, he said he would if invited.
“I am normally invited when there is a politburo meeting. If I am in Bulawayo, I am sent a ticketâ€¦ I do not expect one,” he said.
Dabengwa said he is exiting the party not only to support Makoni, but also to register protest with what he feels is Mugabeâ€™s subjugation of PF-Zapu through the Unity Accord. He however believes the need for leadership renewal in the party is a more compelling reason to break the mould and support Makoni.
“This is not about any individual or political party. This is about the country. This is about leadership renewal,” he said.
Dabengwaâ€™s opponents in Zanu PF are likely to use his assault on the Unity Accord as a platform to attack him as a tribalist. Tension between him and his Zapu colleagues heightened last year when he publicly denounced the accord while addressing the Bulawayo Press Club.
“To a larger extent, unity was achieved in an unbalanced and forced manner, given that the government had failed to crush the dissident activities that were spreading all over the Matabeleland region.”
On Tuesday Dabengwa said the accord was fundamentally flawed.
“It was discussed under pressure and people were being killed,” he said. “Very unfortunate compromises were made (by PF-Zapu) to avoid further suffering of our people.”
He said the two parties (PF-Zapu and Zanu PF) should put into force the accord agreed just before the Lancaster House Conference.
“We need to go back to the real unity accord signed in blood in Mozambique,” he said.
Zanla and Zipra commanders at the time went around guerilla camps in Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania seeking a mandate to form the Patriotic Front. He said the two forces should have gone into the 1980 poll as a united Patriotic Front, but this was not to be.
Dabengwa said although he was party to the 1987 agreement; there were still areas that the PF-Zapu leaders were not happy about. Areas of contention included the names that were to be retained by both parties after the signing of the unity accord. For instance, Zanu-PF was to retain its name, Zanu-PF, while Zapu was to be rechristened PF only, describing this as a “senseless arrangement that smacked of belittlement”.
“The Zanu PF headquarters still bears the cockerel, but this should have been removed. The agreement was that we use the Great Zimbabwe motif instead.”
He also believes that the appointment of officials to key government positions still favours Zanu PF members and not former PF Zapu cadres.
Dabengwa sees the involvement of Sibanda in campaigning for Mugabe as an attempt to sanitise the Unity Accord. At the Bulawayo Press Club last year he opined: “The recent efforts by some elements to bring back Jabulani Sibanda into the picture are nothing but efforts to try and paint a picture to the claim that there is still unity within Zanu PF. These are not really serious efforts because some of us do not recognise Jabulani.”
Dabengwa this week said he together with retired army general Solomon Mujuru had in January confronted Msika on the Sibanda issue and the re-organisation of the war veterans. He said after Mugabe mandated him and Mujuru to head a board to re-organise the war veterans, recommendations were then sent to the politburo detailing the envisaged new leadership structure.
“We asked Vice-President Msika when he was acting president in January what had happened to the recommendations that we sent to the party and the Ministry of Defence in August last year. We said we now looked like untrustworthy people. He (Msika) said â€˜can we arrange a meeting with the presidentâ€™. Until now there has been no feedback,” he said.
There have also been sharp differences between him and Mugabe on the size and composition of the politburo that he felt was too large. He said just before the partyâ€™s Chinhoyi conference he and Mujuru had raised concern at the rapid expansion of the politburo.
He said the expansion of the politburo stemmed from Mugabeâ€™s fear of criticism. The expansion of the politburo was an attempt to stifle debate at the highest level by bringing in cheerleaders.
Dabengwa said after he had raised concern over the size of the politburo which had been expanded from about 15 members to 45, a committee led by Nkomo was set up to deal with the issue. He said recommendations of the committee to reduce the size of the politburo were never taken on board “and the politburo has remained what it is today”.
As early as 2000, he had already started to take Mugabe head-on. When war veterans invaded farms in 2000, Dabengwa, supported by Msika, ordered the former combatants off the farms with “immediate effect”. He ordered police to take action within 24 hours. But the war veterans stayed put saying they “donâ€™t take instructions from police”.
Dabengwa refused to discuss his clash with Mugabe over the exploitation of diamonds in Marange. Last year Mugabe in a televised interview to mark his birthday, attacked party officials whom he accused of corruption and amassing wealth illegally. He denounced party officials who had joined hands with whites to try and exploit diamonds in Marange.
This was in reference to Dabengwa who is a shareholder in ACR, the company that eventually lost its rights to mine diamonds in Marange. Dabengwa does not deny his shareholding in ACR. The issue however came up for discussion in the politburo with members from Manicaland questioning why “Dabengwa from Matabeleland” was interested in a mining venture in Marange. Dabengwa is said to have defended himself saying there was nothing amiss in him owning shares in ACR.
The Marange claim is currently being exploited by government through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation despite strong objections from central bank governor Gideon Gono who has described the mining as “mechanised panning”.–Vincent Kahiya