THE treason season is upon Zimbabwe once again. As usual, it comes when President Robert Mugabe (90) feels his grip on power is under threat from rivals as the party heads for its December elective congress.
It has become tradition that whenever Mugabe feels threatened by someone he considers to be a strong competitor or feels his power is being usurped he plays the now familiar treason card — often to devastating effect.
A conviction of treason in Zimbabwe carriesr life imprisonment or a death sentence.
The latest victims of treason allegations are Vice-President Joice Mujuru, suspended politburo member Rugare Gumbo and his colleagues Didymus Mutasa and Nicholas Goche who have been accused of co-conspiring in an attempt to overthrow Mugabe. So far the allegations have not been substantiated by concrete evidence or arrests, but that has not stopped suspensions and expulsions.
Addressing a motley group officially described as college students at her Children’s Home in Mazowe on Tuesday, Grace made sensational claims that she had video and audio recordings where Mujuru was captured plotting to remove Mugabe.
Grace even went further to claim that Mujuru wanted to kill her the “Gaddaffi way”. The late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011 from bullet wounds after a failed attempt to escape from fighters of the National Transitional Council.
Gumbo and Mutasa, according to state media reports, are accused of being involved in an assassination plot to topple Mugabe. Gumbo has dismissed this as “rubbish”.
Reports are that there is a voice recording of Gumbo making the assassination threat, and a report to party authorities of Mutasa saying to a lover “Mugabe will be shot”.
Goche is accused of going to Israel and South Africa in search of hitmen to kill Mugabe.
However, Mujuru in a statement this week denied the allegations of incompetence, misuse of public office, corruption and treason made against her and advised her lawyers to take the necessary steps, at law, to restore her “good reputation, political standing and dignity”.
“I stand ready to defend myself before the party, and in any court of law on any of the allegations made against me, at any time, in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe,” she said.
Mujuru, Gumbo, Goche and Mutasa join the long list of alleged coup plotters, which includes Gumbo and a group referred to as Vashandi in 1978, the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku (former Zipra commanders), Ndabaningi Sithole (Zanu-Ndonga), Abel Muzorewa (UANC), the late Enock Dumbutshena (Forum party), Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Tendai Biti (former MDC-T secretary-general).
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the alleged treason charges against Mujuru are a pattern consistent with Zanu PF whenever someone is perceived to be too near to the centre of power.
Masunungure said: “We tend to have these treason charges surfacing with no concrete evidence but some vague assertions with the effect that Gumbo and Mutasa talked about it. The aim is to ensure challengers do not succeed in occupying State House.
“This is, however, the first time we are seeing the number two in the party (Mujuru) being accused of planning an assassination of Mugabe.
“Previously, it was politicians who would have left the party and considered rivals, for example Dumbutshena, Sithole, Dabengwa and many others. We wait to hear about the evidence.”
Human rights lawyer Andrew Makoni said: “It is highly defamatory to make such unsubstantiated allegations against people. If there is any reasonable suspicion that there are plots to assassinate the First family, the logical thing to do is to report to the police and not to sing about it daily in the press.”
While the accused were not convicted, except for Sithole, the time and resources involved were huge.
In 1982, Joshua Nkomo (PF-Zapu president), Dabengwa (Zipra intelligence chief) and Masuku (Zipra commander) were accused of plotting a coup after alleged apartheid South Africa agents attempting to cause conflict between Zapu and Zanu planted arms on Zapu-owned farms and then tipped Mugabe off.
Nkomo fled the country, while Dabengwa, now the president of the revived Zapu, together with Masuku, were in 1982 arrested for high treason. They were acquitted in 1983 due to lack of evidence but were re-detained under emergency regulations. Masuku was released on March 11 1986 due to poor health and died the following month on April 5.
Dabengwa was released in 1987 after the unity accord was signed.
Muzorewa, the leader of the short-lived Zimbabwe Rhodesia of 1979 was arrested in 1983 under Operation Chinyavada (scorpion), accused of sending 5 000 auxiliaries to the then apartheid South Africa in preparation for a coup.
Muzorewa, whose party had won three seats in the 1980 elections, was later released.
Sithole was charged, tried and convicted for leading a dissident group, Chimwenje, and plotting to kill Mugabe using explosives in 1997. He died in 2000 while appealing against a guilty verdict.
In 2004, Tsvangirai was cleared of treason charges emanating from his involvement with Dickens & Madson, a political consultancy firm led by Ari Ben Menashe, where they allegedly discussed the “elimination” of Mugabe.
Biti was in 2008 accused of writing a treasonous document ahead of the inconclusive harmonised elections. The case was later withdrawn.