Mujuru: A new battle for survival

VICE-President Joice Mujuru finds herself in an invidious position as she has literally been squeezed into a tight corner ahead of the Zanu PF congress next month through incessant attacks, contrived protests and pressure aimed at her and her allies by a rival faction led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa which has roped in President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace.

Owen Gagare

Having worked with Mugabe since he crossed into Mozambique with the late Edgar Tekere in 1975, where she was already a Zanla commander, Mujuru has always had a close relationship with Mugabe, whom she has constantly said was a father-figure to her.

Mugabe has, however, openly sided with his wife and the Mnangagwa faction in their battle against Mujuru.

Mujuru and a group of other fighters, according to Tekere’s book A Lifetime of Struggle, was the first of trained Zanla fighters which he and Mugabe met after crossing into Mozambique.

In the book, Tekere, who was the last secretary-general of Zanu PF until his dismissal in 1981, details how he and Mugabe crossed into Mozambique with the assistance of Chief Rekayi Tangwena and how they moved from camp to camp until they arrived in Chimoio where they encountered Mujuru. Mujuru, already an accomplished fighter by the time she crossed into Mozambique in 1973 after taking part in a number of battles in Dande, gave them their first military training

“Teurai (Mujuru’s nom de guerre) was the first woman fighter I had encountered, and I was very impressed as she was extremely accomplished. I submitted with pleasure to her orders to crawl and roll on the ground,” reads the book.

“… Our real military training only began with the arrival of Teurai and her group of fighters, and she was my first instructor (instructress), and we practised with wooden toy guns. There was a high level of discipline, and the women commanders were highly respected.”

Despite working together for a long time, Mujuru now finds herself having to choose between the fight-or-flight options.

If she decides to take the fight option, like South African President Jacob Zuma did when he was fired by Thabo Mbeki in 2005, Mujuru may need to mobilise the party structures for support ahead of congress in December.

Zuma was fired after being fingered in a corruption scandal in which Judge Hilary Squires ruled that he and Schabir Shaik had a “generally corrupt relationship”, although the judge later distanced himself from that phrase. This was after Zuma allegedly received cash inducements from Shaik to facilitate arms deals.

After being fired and facing criminal charges, including rape, Zuma hit the campaign trail and mobilised ANC structures as well as Cosatu, before finally winning his battle at the ANC congress in Polokwane in 2007.

But Mujuru risks a backlash if she fights but loses her battle at congress. If she, however, proves she has popular support, Mugabe may be forced to reach a compromise with her. If she kneels and begs Mugabe, she still risks being sidelined.

Mujuru is Zimbabwe’s first female vice-president. She was born on April 15, 1955 in Mt Darwin and is considered one of the frontrunners to succeed Mugabe (90), who has ruled the country since Independence in 1980.

Mujuru is the youngest ever cabinet minister in the history of Zimbabwe. She was appointed minister in 1980, shortly after her 25th birthday. Alongside another presidential hopeful Mnangagwa and dark horse Sydney Sekeramayi (Defence), Mujuru is one of only three people to have served in Mugabe’s successive cabinets since Independence.

She at one time held the record of youngest ever legislator in Zimbabwe until her record was broken by the MDC’s Tafadzwa Musekiwa in the 2000 elections. She remains the youngest ever female legislator. She did her primary education at Chawanda Primary School in Mt Darwin before going to Howard Institute in Chiweshe for secondary education.

In 1973, at the tender age of 18 and while in Form 2, she left school and joined the liberation struggle where she distinguished herself and managed to rise through the ranks to become one of the few female commanders. Her nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood). She is said to have downed a helicopter with a machine gun on February 17, 1974 after her group came under attack from Rhodesian forces.

However, war veteran Christopher Mutsvangwa and Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who has recently become a vicious critic of the Vice-President, have suggested the helicopter downing story is a lie.

In 1977, she married the late General Solomon Mujuru, known then as Rex Nhongo, deputy commander-in-chief of Zanla forces who took command of the Zimbabwe National Army at Independence in 1980. Her husband, who was the leader of her faction which has grappled with the Mnangagwa faction for years, died in a mysterious inferno at his farm in Beatrice in August 2011. When Mujuru was appointed Minister of Youth, Sports and Recreation in 1980, she was semi-literate. She, however, resumed studies while serving in government resulting in her passing her “O” and “A” Level examinations.

Mujuru continued studying and in 2005 graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management and Entrepreneurial Development from the Women’s University in Africa. She graduated with a Master of Science in Strategic Management Degree from the Chinhoyi University of Technology in 2008 after which she studied for a Doctor of Philosophy degree with the University of Zimbabwe. She was conferred with a doctorate two months ago.

Used to having her powerful husband — who liked operating behind the scenes — fight her battles, Mujuru is now fighting the most crucial battle of her political life as the resurgent Mnangagwa faction, with the aid of Grace, is on a mission to stop her march towards the presidency by among other schemes protests, purges of her allies and amending the constitution to allow Mugabe to appoint his deputies.