ZANU PF’s perennial divisions along factional lines were further reflected this week in the decision-making politburo debate over the controversial candidacy of former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s advisor Munyaradzi Kereke whose bid to represent Bikita West constituency in the next general elections has left a trail of bitter clashes among party bigwigs.
Report by Faith Zaba
The issue has been conflict-ridden since Kereke, who had been campaigning in the area for a long time, was recently left out of the party’s official list of candidates for primaries by the politburo — which eventually expelled him on Wednesday — as he had not been a party member for five consecutive years.
After he was initially blocked, Kereke reportedly sent chiefs to appeal to party leaders on his behalf. Resultantly, he trounced his rival Elias Musakwa, although the result was contested.
A dispute then ensued, leading to both Musakwa and Kereke filing their nomination papers with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to stand on the Zanu PF ticket.
Although it initially appeared Zanu PF would allow the two candidates to stand on its ticket, the party moved to endorse Musakwa as its official candidate for the general elections. Pressure was then piled on Kereke by senior party officials to withdraw but he refused, leading to the politburo intervening on Wednesday and resolving to expel him.
Zanu PF insiders told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday the Kereke issue dominated the politburo debate on Wednesday amid factional clashes.
Sources said there was heated debate over whether Kereke should be allowed to contest on a “parallel candidate” platform on the Zanu PF ticket or be expelled from the party to run as an independent.
The sources said Zanu PF officials aligned to Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s faction demanded Kereke must withdraw or be fired. Since he had already refused to do so, Mujuru’s camp pushed for his expulsion and prevailed amid resistance from the Mnangagwa faction. The Mujuru group argued Kereke must be dismissed because he was insubordinate, while the Mnangagwa faction said he should be allowed to run as a parallel candidate since he was popular on the ground.
Sources said Mujuru’s long-time rival, Mnangagwa and his key ally Josiah Hungwe fought in Kereke’s corner to convince other politburo members to allow the businessman to contest because of what they described as his “immense grassroot support” in Bikita West.
Sources said Mnangagwa and Hungwe warned the party’s top leadership of a possible “bhora musango” (internal electoral sabotage) in Bikita West if Kereke was forced to withdraw or expelled.
Kereke’s allies said he enjoyed the support of several traditional chiefs in the area as well as the backing of some senior army commanders who have been pushing for popular candidates to contest in the elections to ensure a Zanu PF victory in parliamentary and presidential polls.
“Mnangagwa told the politburo party officials should not confuse the negative perception out there about Kereke and the reality on the ground where he has popular grassroots support. Mnangagwa and Hungwe’s argument was that a decision to expel Kereke could cost the party the Bikita West parliamentary seat,” said a politburo insider.
However, sources said Mnangagwa and Hungwe’s arguments were dismissed by others who felt Kereke should be expelled.
“Politburo members wanted to understand how Kereke ended up contesting in the primary elections in the first place when he had been disqualified and also how he filed nomination papers on a Zanu PF ticket. The nomination papers were signed by the Masvingo chairperson (Lovemore Matuke) and (Edmund) Mhere (the Masvingo provincial secretary for administration) who said they acted under instructions from some top people.”
Matuke is now facing disciplinary measures over the issue although he acted on senior army commanders’ orders.
Fresh controversy over the issue erupted after State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Mujuru, who were initially singled out as having met chiefs from Bikita West and given their nod for Kereke to enter the primary election race, distanced themselves from that saying they never met any chiefs over the matter.
“After a long debate, which lasted more than an hour, it was the President (Robert Mugabe) who moved the motion to expel Kereke from the party. The president even went as far as saying he is willing to lose that one seat if it came to that. He went further to say even if Kereke wins the elections, he will remain expelled from the party,” said a senior politburo member.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo yesterday said the Kereke issue dominated debate at Wednesday’s politburo meeting.
Gumbo said the politburo resolved to expel Kereke from the party for insubordination. “We took a long time debating the Kereke issue,” said Gumbo. “People wanted to understand what happened. Kereke was told after a politburo decision disqualifying him not to contest as it is said that he only joined the party last year in October, although others had proposed a waiver.
“It was the provincial executive that told him to contest. Matuke and Mhere, who signed the nomination papers, will be brought before a disciplinary hearing for going against a politburo decision. If he withdraws from the elections, his expulsion will be lifted.”
However, in an interview with the Independent yesterday, Kereke vowed not to withdraw from the race although he refused to comment on his expulsion.
“I don’t comment on politburo matters,” said Kereke. “What I am doing is focusing on what is happening on the ground and on my campaign in order to deliver Bikita West, which is what I will do.”