VETERAN politician Dumiso Dabengwa has for the first time spoken openly about the simmering succession crisis in the ruling party which forced Simba Makoni and himself to quit after President Robert Mugabe “rigged” his way back to the top at a special congress in December. Dabengwaâ€™s remarks to journalists in Harare on Wednesday gave a new insight into the deepening power struggle within Zanu PF which has now left the party facing a real prospect of disintegration unless they force out Mugabe at the upcoming elections.
Mugabe himself has expressed fears Zanu PF would break up if he left, while his rivals say the party would fragment if he clung to power.
Dabengwa, who has not yet been formally expelled from Zanu PF, said there were heightened manoeuvres since last year to ensure Mugabe was replaced at the partyâ€™s extraordinary congress. He said most senior Zanu PF members were “disappointed” after Mugabe was retained as leader.
Zanu PF was supposed to hold an annual conference in December but Dabengwa and others pushed for a congress hoping Mugabe would be replaced. Opposition to Mugabe had mounted since the December 2006 conference at which he was blocked from extending his term of office to 2010 without an election. Dabengwa and others also resisted Mugabeâ€™s efforts at the crucial central committee meeting in March last year to endorse him as the presidential election candidate. Mugabe had declared in February he wanted to seek re-election despite promising to resign this year.
After that events gathered momentum in Zanu PF. Dabengwa and his allies set the agenda, forcing a congress against Mugabeâ€™s will in the hope a new leadership would be elected there.
Dabengwa said everything appeared on course for a new leader to take over from Mugabe at congress until the eleventh hour when the constitution and procedures were blatantly manipulated to thwart the expected change of leadership.
He confirmed what was widely reported in the Zimbabwe Independent at the time that provisions of conference were fraudulently used at congress to ensure Mugabe was retained at the helm. The fraud was challenged by Dabengwa at a politburo meeting on November 28 last year but Zanu PF Legal Affairs secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa, who backed Mugabeâ€™s bid to stay on, defended it.
Dabengwa and others such as Vice-President Joseph Msika and Womenâ€™s League head Oppah Muchinguri in that politburo meeting challenged the proposal to endorse Mugabe instead of using normal congress procedures of opening nominations for leadership. At that heated meeting Zanu PF was divided down the middle into two camps: one pro-Mugabe and the other anti-Mugabe. Dabengwa and retired army commander General Solomon Mujuruâ€™s faction opposed Mugabeâ€™s endorsement, while Mnangagwa and his camp backed it. That situation still remains.
Dabengwa said there were several candidates gunning to replace Mugabe at congress, but refused to mention their names. He said it appeared that there would be changes at congress in the four top positions in Zanu PF until Mugabeâ€™s loyalists blocked that by manipulating party procedures.
“Everything seemed to be going on well until the last few weeks when we were told we were going to endorse Mugabe at congress which is what happened and we were disappointed,” Dabengwa said. Makoni also said he was disappointed when Mugabe was retained.
“Afterwards we then said no, something needs to be done. Letâ€™s have a rescue mission,” Dabengwa said. “When you are in a ship and you can all see the captain steering it towards a rock and it will crash, you launch a rescue operation. This is a rescue operation to prevent Zimbabwe from sinking into deeper waters.”
Dabengwaâ€™s revelations confirm that the Makoni initiative is an extension of the Zanu PF succession fight which Mugabe has failed to manage. It is said the architects of the initiative include Dabengwa, Mujuru and retired army commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe. Mugabe said Mujuru told him this week he was not involved, but insiders insist he was not only involved but he is actually the schemer. When Makoni met Mugabe in January he also said he was not involved only to emerge as the public face of the plan.
Dabengwa said his allies in Zanu PF â€” who are known to be Mujuru and his camp â€” and himself sent Makoni to challenge Mugabe and they said would stand by him. He said 60% of Zanu PFâ€™s politburo and central committee supported Makoni.
This, he said, was motivated by the desire for a “leadership change, not regime change” to save the country from collapse and preserve “gains of the struggle”. “All we are saying to Mugabe is itâ€™s time for you to retire. You played your part, let a new leader take over and move the country forward,” he said.
Dabengwa said he would not vote for Mugabe because his conscience would not allow him to do so. “If my conscience canâ€™t allow me to vote for him how then do I convince another person to do so,” he said.
Dabengwa, who said he joined and worked with the ruling party under protest up to date, noted Zanu PF misrule, including Mugabeâ€™s “failure to prevent, if not command, massacres in the region” were responsible for his defeat by the opposition MDC in Bulawayo in 2000.
He said even though he had a “nasty time” while in detention in Chikurubi on false treason charges at the height of Gukurahundi, he was not bitter but he would not forget.
Dabengwa said human rights abuses were reprehensible, but he would oppose any bid to punish Mugabe for violations, including Gukurahundi, because there was forgiveness at the Zanu PF and PF Zapu leadership levels.
If Mugabe was not stopped, Dabengwa said, Zimbabwe could end up falling into the hands of political opportunists like Zambia after Kenneth Kaunda was defeated by Frederick Chiluba.