In December last year she was accused of leading a rebellious faction in Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party that threatened Mugabe’s renewed bid for the presidency.
She was unceremoniously stripped of her title as vice-president as punishment for her apparent betrayal and left politics and the capital, Harare, behind her.
The short exile seems to have been productive for the 60-year-old campaigner: last week, several newspapers published a new manifesto penned by Mujuru, a two-page document that pitched itself as a blueprint for the country’s future. Met with much fanfare, critics have been quick to speculate that the document is a sign Mujuru is about to announce her own political party to challenge Mugabe in the elections scheduled for 2018.
The new party is rumoured to be called the Zimbabwe African National Union – People First (Zanu-PF), which, once formally announced, will surely spark a legal battle with Mugabe’s own Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).
The manifesto, titled Build, has been greeted by both a groundswell of excitement and scepticism. Mujuru’s supporters agree that it’s a well-crafted economic strategy designed to appeal to voters on the centre, and to moderate but disgruntled Zanu-PF voters.
The manifesto comes at a time when the country’s economy is in crisis, Zanu-PF has been weakened by a series of recent purges, and confidence in Mugabe (91) is falling.
Regional research unit NKC African Economics has described Mujuru as “perhaps Zimbabwe’s last realistic hope of salvation”, saying she had more political clout than current opposition leaders.
One of Mujuru’s allies, Didymus Mutasa, has vowed that, along with a group of disaffected liberation struggle figures, the new Zanu-PF would dethrone Mugabe from power and “unshackle Zimbabweans from their current chains of servitude”.
But others remain cautious, and question Mujuru’s ability to survive Zimbabwe’s bruising political landscape. Following years of state repression and a series of electoral defeats and subsequent factional splits, the opposition in Zimbabwe is at its weakest point for a decade.
Though Mujuru brings with her a welcome dose of excitement, she is yet to demonstrate her ability to build a true mass movement, and convert it into votes.
What does she bring to the political scene?
Mujuru asserts the mantle of authenticity when she speaks of liberation ideals in Zimbabwe: she was a freedom fighter in the quest for liberation and was married to the first black chief of the country’s national army, General Solomon Mujuru.
The failure of other opposition figures such as Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube to align themselves with liberation politics and nationalism has long been a sticking point for the opposition, where invoking the fight against colonial rule is an important part of political rhetoric.
The former vice-president also brings powerful allies from the security sector with her: it’s well known in political circles that Mujuru remains close to the chief of police, Augustine Chihuri, and the head of the intelligence service, Happyton Bonyongwe – crucial figures to have on side if there is to be smooth transfer of power.
As vice-president, Mujuru also briefed Mugabe on the day-to-day running of the office of the presidency, giving her intimate knowledge of Zanu-PF’s strengths and weaknesses, its psychology and how it manipulates state machinery to suppress the opposition.
Does she pose a real threat?
Like any other opposition leader in Zimbabwe, Mujuru is a mortal, and we all know what happens when mortals anger a god. Mugabe is undoubtedly the god of Zimbabwean politics, which explains why he still commands such support in the party. If Mujuru tries to run against him there is no question that she will lose.
But if she runs against vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, she will have a different fight on her hands. Having been handpicked by Mugabe in 2014, Mnangagwa has a comfortable hold on the everyday running of the government, and his grip on party policy is tightening, with his well-known allies appointed as ministers in a recent Cabinet reshuffle.
However, he’s also incredibly unpopular, tarred by his alleged connection to the killing of more than 20 000 Ndebele civilians, which Mugabe has since admitted was a “moment of madness” by his government. The Ndebele, who constitute roughly 20% of the electorate, view Mnangagwa’s attempts to downplay his role in the atrocity as unpardonable, and Mujuru’s camp will undoubtedly marshal this hatred as a powerful political tool if they run against each other.
A Mujuru-led coalition?
Mujuru may stand a better chance if she enters into a coalition with the various other opposition parties, collaborating with Tsvangirai and Ncube, allowing her to tap into the broader voter market while maintaining her core base of moderate Zanu-PF supporters. She’s also likely to attract people who detest the politics of Mnangagwa, and those who still harbour warm feelings for her husband.
If she does decide to combine forces, it will be without precedent in the nation’s post-independence history, and may prove the best opportunity yet to topple the ruling party, now in power for 35 years.
Indeed, state-owned media has already gone into an overdrive, trying to project Mujuru as electorally weak. Writing in the Herald, political analyst Nick Mangwana accused Mujuru of having an “inflated ego”, and said the manifesto was a personal attack on the president.
Mugabe has also spoken about Mujuru’s re-entry into politics, saying that contrary to independent media reports, he is not afraid of her.
Zimbabwe’s longing for change runs deep, and though many voters find it hard to imagine the country without Mugabe’s leadership, even some of the most diehard Zanu-PF voters should be considered slippery, such is the depths of the country’s disillusionment with Mugabe and his party.