10:15 pm
23 October 2016

She’s Back: Mugabe’s New Headache as Ex-VP Challenges Him To a Duel—And Why This Is No Ordinary Fight

DESPITE President Robert Mugabe’s ruthless crushing and expulsion of his former vice president Joice Mujuru from the ruling Zanu PF party amid unprecedented purges of her high profile allies — which occurred three years after the mysterious death of her husband in a mysterious farmhouse blaze — the veteran leader’s deputy still poses a serious threat from outside, according to secret intelligence reports.

State intelligence sources have told the Zimbabwe Independent that Mujuru, whose husband Solomon was seemingly killed as a precursor to stopping her from claiming Zimbabwe’s presidency, remains a serious threat to Mugabe and Zanu PF as she commands support from within state institutions and the political grassroots.

While Zanu PF and some opposition officials have tried to downplay Mujuru’s dramatic entry into the political scene, sources say recent intelligence reports filed by operatives trailing her show that she has significant support on the ground in five key provinces — Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Masvingo.

The reports have also indicated that the system must not underestimate Mujuru as she been secretly and quietly working to build structures and mobilise supporters before launching her party, Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), in the capital Harare last Tuesday.

Despite criticisms over why she announced the launch of the party at the five-star Meikles Hotel and what some say was her stuttering delivery at the event, Mujuru’s move has sent ripples across what is the southern Africa country’s vibrant political landscape.


Opposition parties, civil society and ordinary Zimbabweans generally welcomed her entry into opposition politics despite some concerns on the need for a coalition to challenge Zanu PF. Critics also say Mujuru is a political has-been driven by vengeance, not new ideas and vision.

“Intelligence services have done reports on Mujuru and they show that she can’t be underestimated as she has some support in Mashonaland provinces, Manicaland and Masvingo,” a senior intelligence officer said. “The reports also suggest she could in the next 24 months before elections build a party that could erode Zanu PF’s rural support base and divide the ruling party’s traditional strongholds.

The country goes to the poll in 2018.

“The reports also further indicate that (MDC-T leader Morgan) Tsvangirai remains strong in the urban areas and thus a threat although his party has been fractured and weakened by in-fighting and splits. A Tsvangirai coalition with Mujuru can possibly defeat President Mugabe and Zanu PF in 2018.”

Team Mugabe: First Lady Grace congratulates her husband on being sworn in for a sixth term in office in Harare, on June 29, 2008.

Although Mujuru said on Tuesday she has not yet met Tsvangirai, both parties have expressed willingness to work together. Other opposition parties are also willing to form a grand coalition against Zanu PF.

Besides the threat posed by Mujuru’s grassroots support and a possible coalition with Tsvangirai, sources say authorities also fear that she retains critical allies and support within key state institutions, including the security sector and the high-ranking Joint Operations Command (JOC) in particular.

Some of the senior state security service chiefs who are reportedly aligned to Mujuru, although there have been shifts and changes since 2014, include Central Intelligence Organisation boss retired Maj-Gen Happyton Bonyongwe, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services chief retired Maj-Gen Paradzai Zimondi and Police Commissioner Gen Augustine Chihuri.

In the military, Mujuru reportedly has links with Airforce of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri and other senior army officers.

The majority of the top army brass however supports Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, locked in a fierce battle with First Lady Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband.

Liberation credentials

The sources said Mujuru is also a problem to Zanu PF because she has strong liberation war credentials, a key advantage in the country’s political environment.

The ex-VP joined the war in Mozambique in 1973, where she took the nom-de-guerre Teurai Ropa (spill blood), and was in Zanu PF until her expulsion in April 2015, after losing the state and party vice-presidency at the acrimonious December 2014 congress.

Her strong liberation credentials, which reach into the region, have won her crucial support from elements within the military, war veterans and former nationalists. She is also seen in some quarters as a breath of fresh air given the stale and tiresome opposition messages centred on the tired “Mugabe-must-go” mantra.

“Her biggest problem, however, is that she is not experienced in operating in rough opposition terrain. All along she was used to commandeering state resources for her political campaigns while in the ruling party and government,” another intelligence officer said.

The other obstacle: Vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa

There is also lingering suspicion that she is reluctant to come out in a head-on clash with Mugabe as shown by her remarks in which she avoided attacking him directly.

Her cautious approach, sources say, can cost her votes in a country where attacking Mugabe is the stock-in-trade of opposition leaders like Tsvangirai.

Mujuru’s party could also be crippled by lack of resources in an environment where funding from well-wishers and other sources seems to be drying up as shown by the case of the opposition MDC formations.

After her ascendancy to the vice-presidency at the expense of Mnangagwa in 2004 amid clear signals from Mugabe that she would not stop at that position, Mujuru appeared a shoo-in with the backing of her then-powerful late husband army commander retired Gen Solomon Mujuru. It appeared nothing would stop her from becoming president.

However, things changed in 2006 when the late Gen Mujuru blocked Mugabe’s attempt to extend his stay in power by two years from 2008 to 2010 without elections at the Zanu PF conference in Goromonzi.

Mugabe had also been angered by academic Ibbo Mandaza’s decision to publish the memoirs of his former close ally and former Zanu PF secretary-general, the late Edgar Tekere, which cast aspersions on his liberation war credentials. Mugabe blamed Mujuru for the publication. He subsequently gave an interview to the state broadcaster ZBC during which he used the phrase “vairasa” (they miscalculated) in reference to the Mujuru faction.

Mysterious fire

Things got worse in 2007 when Gen Mujuru, with the support of former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa and ex-Finance minister Simba Makoni, forced Mugabe to convene an extra-ordinary congress over his candidacy in the 2008 election.

Having failed to block Mugabe as their candidate for the 2008 election, Gen Mujuru and his faction resorted to the “Bhora Musango” (sabotage) tactic, resulting in his defeat by Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential election.

The election had to go to a run-off in June that year, but Tsvangirai pulled out citing political violence and killings. Even if Mujuru swept through nine out of 10 provinces in the Zanu PF congress in 2009, relations with Mugabe had already soured and further deteriorated.

In 2011, Gen Mujuru died in a mysterious fire at his farm house, which seemed calculated to destroy the faction backing his widow.

A top-ranked Oxford University African Affairs journal published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal African Society last month says Mujuru was politically assassinated.

Two weeks ago, Mujuru said that her husband was killed before he was burnt to ashes with an accelerant which produced a bluish flame.

In 2014, Mugabe unleashed his wife Grace on Mujuru and her faction, leading to her expulsion and fierce purges before and after the December 2014 Zanu PF congress.

The journal says Mugabe used the military intelligence to decimate the Mujuru faction.

However, despite being kicked out, latest intelligence reports indicate Mujuru is still a threat from outside and thus a continued headache for Mugabe and Zanu PF.