…as Mnangagwa, Mutsvangwa fight back
THE vicious political warfare between President Robert Mugabe and his lieutenants on one side and the war veterans, backed by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the military on the other, intensified this week to boiling point amid a fierce backlash on ex-combatants by the veteran leader.
By Elias Mambo
In the aftermath of Mugabe’s ominous threats on Wednesday to resort to the liberation war-style reign of terror to crush ex-combatants and civic groups fuelling a potential uprising against his regime, Mnangagwa and war veterans’ leader Chris Mutsvangwa, however, remained defiant yesterday.
The current round of intense battles was triggered by the war veterans’ unprecedented attacks on Mugabe last week.
War veterans are now under siege with the arrest of their leaders spokesman Douglas Mahiya on Wednesday and secretary-general Victor Matemadanda yesterday.
Mahiya is being charged with violating Section 22 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for subverting a constitutional government. He is also being accused of violating Section 33 of the Act by allegedly insulting the Office of the President.
The crackdown has not only targeted war veterans’ leaders, but also those working in state institutions who attended last week’s meeting.
Sources said police arrested a police officer identified as Sergeant Tangwena, who works at Parliament Building under the Police Protection Unit, for attending the meeting. Tangwena, arrested on Tuesday, is currently detained at Chikurubi prison.
The war veterans are fighting to push out Mugabe and replace him with Mnangagwa, but for now their strategy has backfired.
The vice-president was brutally attacked at the Zanu PF gathering in solidarity with Mugabe on Wednesday at the party headquarters by Manicaland provincial minister Mandi Chimene, who demanded an extraordinary congress to remove him or that he be expelled from the party.
Mnangagwa, however, yesterday reacted to the attacks showing gloves are off in Zanu PF. On the sidelines of an Arda tour in Norton, the vice-president told journalists that those confronting him actually strengthen his resolve.
“Izvozvo ndizvo zvinondipa simba. Kana zvikashaikwa ndinoshaya simba rekushanda. Ko ichokwadi here? Ko ndidzo politics ka dzaunenge uchingonenegwawo. Asi iwe uchingoinda, uchingoinda chete vanovukura (vanohukura) vachipa simba. Ngavavukure (ngavahukure), vachingovukura (vachingohukura) ini ndichingoinda. (What they are saying gives me strength. Detractors will always be there but it gives me strength to continue work hard performing my duties. They can bark and bark, but I will continue moving forward),” Mnangagwa said, adding that: “Do l look like l’m worried”.
Hardly 24 hours after the war veterans issued their stinging communiqué, Mugabe sprang into action to start a series of crisis meetings to contain the fallout.
Last Friday Mugabe pressed the panic button and summoned his deputies, Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, State Security minister Kembo Mohadi, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo to a crisis meeting at State House.
A top government official said Mugabe was so rattled by the war veterans’ attacks that he expressed fury at the meetings and ordered a crackdown them.
“Mugabe demanded that the army should rein in the war veterans since they fall under the Defence Act,” a senior government official said.
“He also urged the police to be vigilant and arrest anyone trying to incite protests and fuel an uprising. He further ordered the security officials to investigate what happened at the war veterans meeting last Thursday as well as arrest their leaders.”
Another official said Mugabe also demanded a crackdown on civil society, the media and foreign embassies. Mugabe and his allies dropped hints on these issues on Wednesday.
“He also said the Zanu PF youths should be mobilised to counter demonstrations as they did with their recent protests against protests,” the official said.
While Mugabe held crisis meetings, the G40 Zanu PF faction, which has coalesced around First Lady Grace, came up with strategies to rally people behind him.
Although it was billed as a war veterans’ meeting, Wednesday’s assembly turned out to be a party gathering in solidarity with Mugabe. Only a handful of war veterans attended, indicating that Mugabe had lost support of the former freedom fighters.
Before his address on Wednesday, Mugabe held a critical meeting with a splinter group of the war veterans led by Chimene.
Sources who attended the meeting said Mugabe was accompanied by Grace, Sekeramayi, Chombo, Mohadi, and war veterans minister Tshinga Dube, while the splinter group was represented by Chimene, George Mlala and Patrick Nyaruwata.
“Chimene was their spokesperson in the meeting,” the source said, adding that: “The two vice-presidents were asked to go out by Mugabe, while the group nailed Mnangagwa”.
The source said Chimene told Mugabe that the war veterans who had “rebelled” against him were getting funding from a section of the military. She also accused Mnangagwa of planning to overthrow him, working with the war veterans and some army commanders.
“Chimene also said this was not the first time that Mnangagwa has been touted as the war veterans’ preferred successor to Mugabe, but he has never publicly denied it and denounced them. She said Mnangagwa was plotting another Tsholotsho-like palace coup against Mugabe,” another source said.
After Chimene’s presentation, the two VPs were asked to re-join the meeting, but Mugabe did not brief them on the issues raised by the war veterans. He only told the war veterans to go and tell thousands of party supporters what they had briefed him, hence Chimene’s unrestrained assault on Mnangagwa.
“He did not respond to issues raised by the war veterans, but said they can go and tell the people what they had told him, except military issues,” a source said.
Addressing the gathering, Chimene accused Mnangagwa of planning to oust Mugabe, before calling on the president to fire him.
Chimene said Mnangagwa, referred to as ngwena (crocodile), should be dumped and thrown into a river where crocodiles belong.
Although he said the party’s leadership should remain united and challenged Mnangagwa to dissociate himself from the war veterans behind the communiqué, Mugabe threatened to deal with “dissidents” the same way he did during the liberation war.
With a self-satisfied smile, he reminisced on how “rebels”, who included Rugare Gumbo, Simpson Mutambanengwe, Wilfred Mhanda, Augustine Chihuri and David Thondhlana, were barricaded underground for two years “like rats”.
In an interview yesterday, Gumbo said he was shocked Mugabe was openly proud of his cruelty.
“I am really surprised how he has not forgotten his cruelty which took place 40 years ago,” Gumbo said. “What did not surprise me though is that the man has not and will not change. This reflects what I said in 1980 about him.”
Mutsvangwa condemned the crackdown on the war veterans.
“This high-handed over-reaction is surely uncalled for,” he said. “Even the worst architects of the Rhodesian racist terror that led to genocide of thousands never got as much as this treatment after our independence.”
Tensions between Mugabe and army bosses have been rising since the Zanu PF December annual conference in Victoria Falls where he took a swipe at the state security service chiefs for dabbling in his party’s succession politics.
His wife Grace also attacked army commanders at her Chiweshe rally in February, fuelling a war of attrition between Mugabe and the military.