THERE was high drama at the Rainbow Towers hotel on Wednesday as Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara stormed the hotel in a bid to gate-crash Sadc-appointed facilitator to the Zimbabwe dialogue, South African President Jacob Zuma’s meetings with local political leaders of the coalition government after he was excluded from the programme.
Zuma had travelled to Harare to meet President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC leader Welshman Ncube in preparation for the Sadc summit in Maputo, Mozambique, on Friday.
However, Mutambara — who reportedly turned the hotel into a political theatre — on realising he had been sidelined from the programme was furious and demanded to be included. He clashed with hotel managers and South African diplomatic and protocol officials as he unsuccessfully tried to bulldoze his way to the meetings.
But Mutambara only managed to waltz up to the 15th floor of the hotel where he failed to breach the security buffer to reach Zuma who was stationed on the 17th floor conducting his meetings. Zuma had arrived around 4pm and left just before midnight. The former rabble-rousing student leader and now professor of robotics was marooned on the 15th floor until he left in a huff.
While the incident caused anxiety and amusement to some, it sounded the death knell for Mutambara’s short but dramatic political career which started crumbling after he lost the leadership of his party to Ncube last year.
Since then, he has been fighting for his political life through the courts where he has suffered a series of defeats. A defiant Mutambara has however vowed to fight on by forcing his way to the Maputo summit.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba on Wednesday could not confirm whether Mutambara was on Zuma’s schedule as he said he had no idea of his itinerary since he was out of town. Charamba referred questions to Regis Chikowore from the president’s office whose phone went unanswered.
According to reliable sources, Mutambara learnt of his exclusion from the programme on Wednesday and confronted government and South African officials.
Zuma’s international adviser, Lindiwe Zulu, bore the brunt of Mutambara’s rage after the deputy premier called her and angrily demanded to be included in the principals’ meetings.
Zulu however told Mutambara that Zuma was meeting principals or political leaders directly involved in the constitution-making process in which he is not organisationally or personally involved.
This however did not satisfy the robotics guru and when Zuma arrived, Mutambara went on to storm the Rainbow Towers and bulldozed his way to the 15th floor where he demanded to be given a suite to wait for his chance to meet the facilitator.
Sources said he confronted hotel managers and staff, demanding a “suite” to wait for a private meeting with Zuma.
“Mutambara came without an invite to the hotel and bulldozed his way to the 15th floor where other leaders had suites to wait in before they met Zuma. Mutambara shouted at the hotel managers and said ‘Mugabe has his own suite, Tsvangirai has his own suite, Ncube has his own suite, so where is my suite? I want it now.’ ”
But hotel managers told him that they were not given any instructions to arrange a suite for him, enraging Mutambara who attempted to bulldoze his way to the 17th floor where Zuma was locked up in meetings.
Realising he could not get his way by intimidating hotel staff, sources said Mutambara dispatched his aides, one only identified as Hillary, to talk to the South African protocol officials to demand that he be included in the programme. However, the South African officials rejected his demands.
“After failing to get his suite, Mutambara sent his aides to talk to South African protocol officials. Hilary went up from the 15th to the 17th floor to speak to one protocol officials, but he was told there was no slot for Zuma to engage the deputy prime minister and he went back,” one official said.
“When the aide got back, Mutambara called the protocol officials livid, demanding to talk to Zulu and to see Zuma. In the end, Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj went to the 15th floor to tell Mutambara he was not on the programme and won’t see Zuma. Mutambara left ranting and raving, saying he was going to Maputo anyway.”
Prior to that during the ensuing war of words, a South African protocol officer lost his temper after he was scolded and hit back at Mutambara: “If you don’t want to talk to me as you say so why are you calling on my phone?.”
Mutambara is said to have sought to put his issues through South African ambassador to Zimbabwe Vusi Mavimbela, but still hit a brick wall.
After the facilitator left the hotel for the airport just before midnight, Mutambara was left ranting and raving and shouting that he was going to meet them in Maputo.
Zuma arrived in Harare around 4pm in the afternoon and straight away went to the Rainbow Towers where he was welcomed by Mugabe.
His first meeting was with Tsvangirai where they spent close to an hour. According to sources, Tsvangirai emerged smiling after the meeting after telling Zuma of his party’s position that they were not accepting any amendments to the Copac draft constitution and accused Zanu PF of stalling the constitution-making process.
Ncube followed next in an hour meeting with Zuma and also appeared satisfied after presenting their position that they had adopted the draft constitution, and there was no need for any amendments, adding the draft which took three years to prepare should be taken to the referendum for people to decide.
Mugabe was last to meet Zuma and gave his party’s position on the draft saying that they had the right to amend the draft. Zuma, after the meetings, told journalists that there had been some movement, but there were still some “hitches” which he will report to the Sadc Troika, which was expected to meet last night in Maputo and subsequently to the summit today.