TOMORROW’S by-election in Norton is a litmus test for Zanu PF’s squabbling factions which are using the contest to mount a proxy war as deep divisions rocking the party escalate.
By Elias Mambo
This comes as mainstream opposition parties and veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation struggle are backing independent candidate Temba Mliswa in what is a bruising fight that has raised political temperatures.
The Norton parliamentary seat fell vacant after Zanu PF expelled Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) leader Christopher Mutsvangwa in July for allegedly fuelling factionalism and disrespecting the First Family. Mutsvangwa had solidly stood behind Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was being attacked by First Lady Grace Mugabe and the Generation 40 (G40) faction.
Mutsvangwa is a key member of the Mnangagwa faction, known as Lacoste. Ahead of the by-election, Mnangagwa and members of his faction have shown little appetite to campaign for the Zanu PF candidate, Ronald Chindedza, amid disclosures they prefer Mliswa to win.
The Mnangagwa faction is unhappy that Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere imposed the party’s candidate and is also eager to send a strong statement that firing Mutsvangwa was a monumental blunder.
The Mnangagwa faction, which prefers a war veteran to hold the influential political commissar’s position, also wants Kasukuwere to fail.
The G40 faction, on the other hand, has been on the ground campaigning for Chindedza and giving support to Kasukuwere.
Key G40 members who have campaigned in Norton include Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, youth leader Kudzanai Chipanga and President Robert Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao.
Mliswa has also received support from opposition parties, including MDC-T and Zimbabwe People First. MDC-T vice-president Nelson Chamisa last week attended Mliswa’s rally which was disrupted by police who fired teargas resulting in several people being injured. Several war veterans also attended the rally.
Mliswa this week said he was confident of victory. He said he was grateful for the support he has received from some war veterans and opposition parties.
“I have never felt Zimbabwean like I did last weekend when all progressive forces rallied their support behind my candidature,” Mliswa said. “This shows Zimbabweans are tired and are ready for change. I saw the war veterans and the MDC bigwigs gracing my rally. Zimbabwe People First senior officials were also present. We are blending both the old and the young generation to push for change.”
Mliswa also said serious divisions in Zanu PF have helped him because those opposing G40 are now backing him as well.
“It is only the G40 members who have been to Norton to campaign. They want to show Lacoste that they are capable of winning elections but that will be not possible,” he said.
Campaigning for the polls has been blighted by violence. Mliswa blamed Zanu PF for the violence.
“Violence is their language in the face of defeat. The support I am getting from the war veterans shows that I have managed to dismantle the Zanu PF machinery. War veterans have been Zanu PF’s foot soldiers so I have managed to dismantle its machinery because they are now backing an independent candidate,” said Mliswa.
Kasukuwere did not respond to questions from the Zimbabwe Independent.