FORMER president Robert Mugabe’s anti-coup resistance movement, the National Patriotic Front (NPF), is in turmoil and seems to be on a downward spiral, in similar fashion to the dramatic events between May and November last year at the height of Zanu PF succession battles which culminated in the coup.
By Owen Gagare
This came as details of Mugabe’s publicly unknown May 2017 Mexico Declaration — which catalysed his succession war — for him to retire last December and install former Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi as his successor fully emerged.
The NPF has its roots in Zanu PF’s defeated G40 faction which was fronted by former first lady Grace Mugabe, but had the ex-president’s support behind-the-scenes. The party’s founders and 39-member interim national executive committee (Nec), led by former minister, MP and Zipra liberation war commander Ambrose Mutinhiri, met on Wednesday in Harare, amid chaos to prepare for the launch this month.
Informed insiders say Mutinhiri has regained control of the party destabilised by a rumoured rival project led by former G40 kingpin Saviour Kasukuwere, who was said to have been contemplating a splinter group, the Zimbabwe National Patriotic Front.
However, sources close to Kasukuwere said he has no intention of doing that. One source said he only wanted to come back home to pursue personal and business interests — at least for now.
There was a storm during the week after an NPF provincial meeting in Bindura last Sunday appeared to support Kasukuwere, not officially an NPF member, as the preferred party leader or to form a splinter group to contest the general elections in July.
Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, who is also not officially an NPF member, came out guns blazing against Kasukuwere, his former G40 ally, suggesting he had been secretly negotiating with authorities in Harare to come back home and sabotage the NPF. Zhuwao said Kasukuwere wanted to return to lead a splinter to aid and abet President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to neutralise NPF, seen as a credible threat to Zanu PF in terms of dividing votes.
Former G40 strategist Jonathan Moyo also came out indirectly attacking Kasukuwere, insinuating he was supporting Mnangagwa’s regime to come back home. Moyo said Kasukuwere was the first prominent political player to urge people to accept the “new dispensation” — a term he used soon after Mugabe’s forced resignation on November 21 last year — before the current government leaders started using it, indicating his readiness to cosy up to the new regime.
However, a source close to Kasukuwere yesterday said he would not respond to what Moyo said, as his words were “taken out of context”, and Zhuwao’s “outbursts”.
“Kasukuwere will not speak,” a source close to him said. “The issue is people were sold a dummy that Kasukuwere is coming back to lead NPF or a splinter, but that is not true. It’s disinformation. So why should he respond? Of course, he will come back as soon as possible as he has family and business interests.”
NPF has been rocked by leadership wrangles. Soon after Mutinhiri took over in March, he went for weeks missing in action. This prompted agitation for leadership change. In the subsequent political computation, several names to replace him were considered by the party’s architects. Those considered to replace Mutinhiri included Sekeramayi, former minister and opposition leader Gorden Moyo, prominent lawyer Farai Mutamangira and Grace Mugabe. Some even wanted Joice Mujuru, Dumiso Dabengwa or Thokozani Khupe to lead it.
Sekeramayi, initially the NPF’s first choice to be leader, and Gorden Moyo refused the offer. Grace was seen as polarising and toxic.
Mutamangira — who has had close interactions with Mugabe in recent months over a wide range of undisclosed issues — emerged as the best choice for some, but refused the offer saying he is only interested in business not politics.
NPF spokesman Jealously Mawarire yesterday said his party leaders met on Wednesday to discuss the official launch, not the tumultuous events around it.
“The Nec met to discuss, among other things, our imminent launch. Remember we have been holding provincial inter-district meetings, only three are left now. We have also been building structures around the country, so are now ready to launch,” he said.
“We didn’t discuss issues about Moyo, Kasukuwere and Zhuwao or any other leaders because they are not our members.
“In NPF there has never been a question about leadership, save for those mischievous media stories on that.”
The NPF’s short history has been as dramatic as events which led to its emergence. The idea of forming the NPF first came up on November 18 last year when Mugabe and his allies were planning how to resist the November 14-15, 2017 coup. At that time, the military was holding Mugabe and his family hostage at his Blue Roof mansion in Harare, while some ministers’ homes had been raided during the night by the army, forcing them to flee across the country’s borders in terror. As ensuing negotiations dragged on, G40 temporarily thought a solution could be found, possibly through local or regional intervention, hence the anti-coup resistance movement initiative.
After Mugabe’s infamous “asante sana” speech, the idea was consolidated when G40 members, who had been sent scampering across borders after the military night raids, gathered in Tete, Mozambique, to form the group. The plan, however, quickly crumbled when Mugabe resigned on November 21, resulting in G40 members scattering in different directions across Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and even as far as conflict-torn Burundi in the Great Lakes.
Moyo and Kasukuwere headed to Maputo, where they were received by President Filipe Nyusi, before proceeding further to Kenya to seek refuge.
While Moyo has remained there, Kasukuwere, whose family is now back, has moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. After Mugabe’s forced resignation, G40 members last December resumed consultations about forming a new party. Things gathered pace after cabinet was sworn in on December 4 last year. A 15-member team met on December 7 to discuss how to respond.
The process lasted until Mugabe’s birthday in February. Mugabe was in the thick of action as he was consulted throughout. He confirmed this to the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview at his mansion on March 15. In the process, it was agreed Mugabe will not be directly involved, although he would be consulted; Grace will also not be directly involved; the same applies to Moyo, Kasukuwere and Zhuwao; NPF must go beyond the G40 framework and the party should be a broad church.
Mutinhiri was then mandated with leading the party and he resigned from Zanu PF at the beginning of March. In his resignation letter dated March 2, the former Zipra commander said he could not support the “unconstitutional overthrow of Mugabe”.
Events which led to the coup accelerated at the end of May last year after Mugabe went to Cancun, Mexico, to attend the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. He was accompanied by three ministers: Kasukuwere, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and Oppah Muchinguri.
“While at the conference, Mugabe decided to finally take a decisive step to resolve the Zanu PF succession issue. He assigned Kasukuwere as the party national political commissar to lead the process,” an official who was there said.
“In his own words, Mugabe told Kasukuwere, simudzai (raise) Sekeramayi and roverai Mnangagwa pasi (undermine Mnangagwa). Mugabe told Kasukuwere to relay the message to Sekeramayi. His plan, however, alarmed Mumbengegwi and Muchinguri, Mnangagwa’s allies.”
Officials said Mugabe had given Kasukuwere the task because he was the national commissar, energetic and also to contain his raw power ambitions. At the time, Kasukuwere was fighting for political survival after being bruised by internal infighting and demonstrations against him, which Grace initially supported to checkmate him.
While in Mexico, Kasukuwere had told Moyo about his crucial assignment. Since he was politically limping and vulnerable at the time, he needed Moyo’s help.
Typically, Moyo immediately swung into action and moved to address a Sapes Dialogue Series meeting in Harare, where he endorsed Sekeramayi to succeed Mugabe ahead of Mnangagwa. All the while, Grace was unaware of Mugabe’s endorsement of Sekeramayi, as she was not in Mexico.
Upon his return from Cancun, Kasukuwere dutifully delivered the message to Sekeramayi that he was the anointed one. Sekeramayi, whose house had been broken into around mid-June, then made an appointment with Mugabe at his Blue Roof residence for a meeting. He wanted to discuss the break-in and confirm what Kasukuwere had told him. Mugabe confirmed and asked him if he was interested and up to the task. Sekeramayi said as a loyal cadre he would take any assignment given to him by his leader. Grace was then invited into the meeting and the three of them agreed Sekeramayi would succeed Mugabe.
Prior to that, Grace, who had got wind of the plan, had invited Kasukuwere and Zhuwao for lunch at the Blue Roof soon after the burial of Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu on June 3 last year at Heroes Acre in Harare.
During the lunch, Grace, who was not happy with the developments, asked Kasukuwere to tell her what was happening. This was after Moyo’s Sapes speech on June 1, 2017. So by the time Mugabe had dinner with Sekeramayi, Grace was now in the loop after meeting Kasukuwere and Zhuwao.
Sekeramayi had explained to Mugabe what Kasukuwere had told him. Mugabe then said to Sekeramayi in Shona: “Mushure mekunge vaKasukuwere vataura, ivo vaSekeramayi vakazoti chii pavakaudzwa? (After Kasukuwere delivered the message, what did Sekeramayi say about that?).
Sekeramayi replied: “I have always been a loyal cadre, if it is coming from you I can’t refuse. I accept the offer.”
Hot on the heels of Moyo’s Sapes delivery, on June 2, Mugabe embarked on provincial youth interactive rallies, starting with Marondera, where he tacitly endorsed Sekeramayi to succeed him, with the words: “When the sun sets, it shall rise from Mashonaland East”. By that time, the military, which was aware of the Mexico Declaration, became deeply involved in Zanu PF succession politics, intensifying manoeuvres and preparations to intervene to block Sekeramayi and install Mnangagwa.
By late July, Mugabe was getting increasingly worried by the military’s activities. Addressing the Zanu PF Women’s League National Assembly meeting on July 26 at the ruling party’s headquarters in Harare, Mugabe emphasised that politics should lead the gun. He blasted the military for meddling in succession, thundering their actions were tantamount to plotting a coup. “Iyoyo inenge yava coup iyo. (That would amount to a coup). The gun should not lead politics, but politics the gun, that is the principle.”
At the same meeting, Grace hysterically demanded Mugabe should name his preferred successor so that the party supports him or her. Insiders, however, say Mugabe was reluctant to show his hand too early as the party’s December congress was still too far and that could trigger military intervention to scuttle his plans.
Zanu PF insiders say Mugabe had an agreement with the military that Mnangagwa would succeed him after it rescued him when he lost the first round of the presidential polling to the late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008. One of the major obstacles to the agreement was, however, the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, who also wanted Sekeramayi, even though his wife Joice Mujuru’s star was steadily rising since she was appointed vice-president in 2004, blocking Mnangagwa.
In 2011, a momentous incident happened: Mujuru died in a mysterious fire at his Beatrice farm. There have been various theories about the death, including that he was killed by the military.
After his death, Joice was left exposed and vulnerable. She was later to be expelled from the party at the acrimonious 2014 congress, leading to the decimation of her faction by the military and Mnangagwa’s rise to replace her, while he inched closer to power.
Insiders say although Mugabe and Mnangagwa had worked together for over 50 years, there was no love lost between them. Mugabe wanted Sekeramayi and had previously informed former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who visited Harare to discuss the issue last August.
From June, all the way to October, Mugabe, Grace and their G40 allies, backed by the youth, launched a political tsunami to sweep away Mnangagwa. As matters rose to a head, Mugabe fired Mnangagwa from government on November 6, before he fled to South Africa, via Mozambique. He was assisted by the army to flee and was kept in Pretoria by businessman Justice Maphosa. Former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga, now vice-president, was in China when Mnangagwa was fired.
Events quickened and moved faster after that. Upon his return, Chiwenga survived an attempted arrest by police on November 12, triggering a chain of episodes which led to the military coup on November 14-15.
In between, state security forces, the military, police and intelligence service, had been working and plotting against each other, realising a coup was looming.
On November 13, Chiwenga had held a press conference at military barracks in Harare, warning the military could “step in” to avert a potential crisis caused by Zanu PF infighting.
Mugabe was, however, paralysed by old age and failing capacity. He did not do much to prevent the coup until he was toppled and forced to resign, leading to the formation of NPF and subsequent events.