Makoni expects more defections

INDEPENDENT presidential election candidate Simba Makoni’s camp is expecting more phased resignations of Zanu PF “big hitters” in the next two weeks in a bid to destabilise President Robert Mugabe, already unnerved by the defection of senior party members.

The hidden strategy to win the forthcoming election was laid open to the elements this week as political campaigns intensify.

Informed sources said Makoni’s strategy included well-timed resignations by senior Zanu PF members who are part of an internal bid to dislodge Mugabe from power. The surge in resignations was calculated to shake Zanu PF to its foundations.

Mugabe was quoted yesterday in the state media as saying he did not know where defections from his party would lead to, showing he feared more politburo members would quit.

The Makoni strategy also includes roping in state security agents — especially army officers known as the “Boys on Leave” — who are currently deployed in districts, constituencies and wards around the country to mobilise support for Zanu PF.

“Boys on Leave”, accused of rigging, are usually deployed six months before elections on behalf of Zanu PF. They were key in Mugabe’s 2002 controversial victory, which was basically run by the military. Brigadier Douglas Nyikayaramba played a leading role, while other senior army officers also helped.

The sources said the state security agents are all over the country to do dirty work for Zanu PF. This, coupled with grave flaws in the electoral process and technical shortcomings, would almost certainly ensure that the elections are not free and fair. For instance, the voters’ roll remains a shambles while gerrymandering through new constituency boundaries is said to be prevalent. A non-existent constituency, Tsholotsho East, is referred to in the delimitation report.

Procedures were also not followed in announcing the dates of nomination of candidates. Problems over polling stations and supply of ballot papers, especially in towns, remain. The supervising and monitoring of the elections is still a contentious issue. Opposition parties are still not getting access to the public media. All these problems violate the Sadc electoral guidelines.

Makoni’s camp says it is mobilising voters through a “military strategy” and this should deliver to them 70% of the vote. It is said Makoni’s group was using the “Boys on Leave” taskforces on the ground to coordinate its campaign.

The “whispering campaign” by soldiers involves telling voters to cast their ballots for Zanu PF candidates in council, national assembly and senate elections, but not for Mugabe. People are told to vote for Makoni as president. This has been confirmed privately by Makoni’s strategists.

The architects of the plan — basically a Zanu PF succession fight to get rid of Mugabe — include top members of the ruling party faction led by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru. Makoni is not only supported by the Mujuru faction, but also by other party members who are anti-Mugabe in the battle for the heart and soul of Zanu PF.

Makoni and his allies, it is said, want to seize the Zanu PF leadership through an external process after they failed to achieve it internally, mainly at the party’s extraordinary congress in December last year.

Sources said the plan was for Makoni to leave Zanu PF just before the nomination deadline to file papers to stand as an independent candidate rooted in the Zanu PF structures. Makoni and others would insist that they remain Zanu PF to ensure they did not alienate the ruling party’s support base. Makoni’s camp is currently using Zanu PF structures informally and newly-created committees to drum up support for him.

Makoni’s move would be followed by politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, it was planned. It is understood the next politburo member to follow was expected to be retired army commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe. Mujuru would follow just a few days before the elections.

His wife Vice-President Joice Mujuru — who since last week has been speaking in support of Zanu PF and Mugabe — would remain inside to sell Mugabe a dummy. She would however leave after the polls if

Makoni won to become Makoni’s co-vice president with Dabengwa. In between there would be other critical resignations.

Mujuru, Dabengwa and Zvinavashe — veterans of the liberation struggle — were reportedly the brains behind the Makoni initiative. The plan was hatched after Mugabe manipulated his way back to the helm of the party in December through unprocedural means.

Dabengwa, who has now publicly confirmed the issue first reported in the Zimbabwe Independent last December, tried to raise the matter at a politburo meeting in November but did not get backing from his timid colleagues. Mujuru’s camp wanted Joice Mujuru or Dabengwa to take over from Mugabe, but the plan was countered by their rival Emmerson Mnangagwa and war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda. After December Makoni became the preferred candidate.

The involvement of Sibanda fuelled tensions between Mugabe and his opponents, particularly former PF Zapu leaders. Vice-President Joseph Msika and chairman John Nkomo almost walked out of the December congress due to the Sibanda incident. After congress, Dabengwa confronted Mugabe at the first politburo meeting of the year in January over the Sibanda issue.

Makoni has said there was huge disappointment when Mugabe retained his position as party leader last year.

Dabengwa said last week widespread consultations were made before the Makoni project was launched on February 5. He revealed Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa was also involved. It is said a large number of Zanu PF officials, including Msika, Joice Mujuru and Nkomo, are sympathetic to Makoni. Although senior Zanu PF officials have been making loud public protestations of loyalty to Mugabe, it is said behind-the-scenes the same officials are backing Makoni. –Dumisani Muleya