The situation is made worse by the fact that the party is battling to win back the hearts of the electorate which has shifted en masse to the MDC formations in the last 12 years. Since 1980, Matabeleland region, across which the original PF Zapu swept all the seats in 1985 during its last stand against Zanu PF in the middle of civil strife and grisly civilian massacres, has always been a cauldron of disgruntlement and restlessness.
There was temporary respite however in the region after Zapu emerged with Zanu in 1987 following the killings in the Midlands and south-western region.
But when the MDC was formed in 1999, Matabeleland led the revolt against Zanu PF and became the launching pad and power base of the MDC.
Up to now, the MDC parties have a stranglehold on the Matabeleland region where President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF are viewed by many with contempt and derision.
In the next elections, the Matabeleland region would be critical as it would hold the balance between the two main parties, Zanu PF and the MDC-T. With the MDC-N fighting for survival and hoping to pick some seats there, elections in the region would be fiercely contested.
The explosive situation in the region is made worse by Zanu PF infighting. An intra-party war in Zanu PF broke out in Matabeleland North in December last year after acting provincial chairperson Zwelitsha Masuku was suspended for alleged incompetence and replaced by former chairperson Headman Moyo.
Moyo was subsequently removed two weeks ago and replaced by Matabeleland North governor Sithokozile Mathuthu.
Party insiders said Masuku was Mines minister Obert Mpofu’s blue-eyed boy. His sacking was orchestrated by party national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo as battle for control of the party in the region escalated. Khaya Moyo and Mpofu ferociously clashed over the issue during Zanu PF’s tense politburo meeting last week. The fight was said to have shaken and even embarrassed senior politburo members who watched in disbelief as the Matabeleland bigwigs slugged it out.
Political observers said the infighting was likely to reach fever-pitch as elections drew closer, but all the squabbling was a clear reflection of the burning succession debate on who will eventually replace Mugabe even though Moyo and Mpofu are fighting to replace Vice-President John Nkomo. The broader picture is Mugabe’s succession issue.
Factional wars further intensified in Bulawayo a fortnight ago when provincial chairperson Isaac Dakamela was ousted by the party’s provincial coordinating committee.
His sacking followed a week of heated exchanges between Dakamela and regional heavyweights, including Matabeleland South governor Angeline Masuku, politburo members Absalom Sikhosana, Joshua Malinga and Eunice Sandi-Moyo over the selection of special councillors. Special councillors are selected by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo to complement skills and competencies lacking in local authorities.
Dakamela is believed to be closely linked to Mpofu and politburo member Sikhanyiso Ndlovu. Ndlovu fought in Dakamela’s corner and managed to get his suspension lifted.
Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said the confusion in the Matabeleland provinces was a microcosm of broader infighting within Zanu PF. He said the ongoing battle for the control of Matabeleland was not about the people on the ground, but about factionalism and succession.
Ruhanya, a PhD candidate at the Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster, London, said unless Zanu PF decisively addressed its succession problem by tackling Mugabe and his cabal’s sunset leadership, the factional wars would stalk the party to its political grave.
“Relative to the specific provincial squabbles, it is a clear sign that Zanu PF will lose more voters and seats in that divided scenario,” said Ruhanya. “The call for elections by (Jonathan) Moyo and company could ultimately be the call for him to retire depending on what the factional calculations are. These squabbles are all over the place in Zanu PF provinces. It’s a reflection of the state of the party as a whole,” Ruhanya said.
Zanu PF is deeply divided between factions led by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice-President Joice Mujuru who have been leading the race to succeed Mugabe.
Political analyst and Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe regional coordinator, Dewa Mavhinga, said the Matabeleland suspensions pointed to a full-scale factional war within Zanu PF, as well as desperate attempts by the party long rejected by the people in that region to keep a foothold there.
He said the problem with Zanu PF was not the individuals in leadership, but its insensitivity to the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans. Mavhinga noted that since 1980, the people of Matabeleland had been fed on empty promises, pointing to the much delayed Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project and several other infrastructural projects that would have cured the perennial water woes for the region.
As a result, discontent over the continued marginalisation continues to grow. The Matabeleland leadership has come under fire for failing to address the continued marginalisation of the region by Mugabe and his regime.
But the criticism of leaders such as Nkomo and Khaya Moyo has not helped since they fiercely defended themselves, claiming the people from Matabeleland were lazy and cry babies, remarks which have provoked further anger against Zanu PF in the region.
Bulawayo-based political and economic commentator Godwill Phiri said the current infighting stalking Zanu PF was worsened by the failure of the party’s old guard to win elections in the region.
Phiri said they were only surviving on the goodwill of Mugabe who appoints them into influential positions to save the Unity Accord of 1987 which collapsed PF Zapu into Zanu PF.
Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa pleaded ignorance on the raging infighting threatening to split the party in Matabeleland. “I am not aware of the suspensions of chairpersons in Matabeleland,” said Mutasa.
Mutasa’s dearth of information on the goings on in Zanu PF reflects a lack of harmony and cohesion in the party as it gears up for a bruising fight in the next elections that could be its Waterloo.