HARARE – Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has added his voice to those of other prominent Zanu PF figures who have fingered President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace as the lynchpin of the ongoing brutal purges of party officials perceived to be close to former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
In an unusually forthright interview with State media at the weekend, the normally cagey Mnangagwa said he was not part of the group of party hardliners who had plotted the ouster of Mujuru and others linked to her.
He added candidly that until mid-last year, all had been set for the former VP to be confirmed in her position at Zanu PF’s damp squib “elective” congress that that was held in Harare last December, until the controversial First Lady openly entered the political fray.
“Until Amai Mugabe began those rallies, I think everybody was accepting that when we go to Congress, Mai Mujuru will be confirmed as Vice-President.
“The area we had doubt as to who was going to come (as the other VP) was that of the Zapu element. We didn’t know who was going to come.
“But then when the First Lady began doing those rallies and revelations which were now coming out; we were taken by storm and this was done within a period of less than four eeks, five weeks, thereabouts,” Mnangagwa told the Sunday Mail.
Mnangagwa’s revelations dovetail with what former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa said in an interview with the Daily News last week, that the quarrelsome First Lady is now indisputably in charge of the ruling party, and not her nonagenarian husband.
Mugabe himself told his supporters at the party’s disputed December congress that he was now being told what to do by Grace.
In his weekend interview, Mnangagwa added that after Grace’s untested accusations against Mujuru had been made public, no one in the party was sure whether Mujuru would be fired or not.
“We didn’t know how the President was going to resolve that one. But we were satisfied (with the outcome) individually, I think: not that there was any meeting which sat together and said no, no,” he said.
Even after Mugabe had fired Mujuru, Mnangagwa said he did not know that he was going to be appointed one of the nonagenarian’s deputies.
“Until the last minute, he never confided in me to say he wants to make me Vice-President. Never. He just announced. I didn’t know whether to jump or sit. So, it took everybody by surprise.”
A relaxed Mutasa added fuel to the fire raging within Mugabe’s warring Zanu PF, stating matter-of-factly last week that Grace was now indisputably in charge of the ruling party.
Mutasa, for long a close confidante of Mugabe and a former Cabinet minister in charge of the country’s spooks, said Grace was now unequivocally the “centre of power” in the ruling party.
His insider comments followed his expected “expulsion” from the party last Wednesday, together with his voluble nephew Temba Mliswa — as the former liberation movement continues with its brutal purges of all senior officials perceived to be sympathetic to Mujuru.
“Yes. I expected it (his purported expulsion). They said so a long time ago.
“They were waiting for the First Lady. Now she is back and they have shown where the centre of their power is.
“However, they did not specify which Zanu PF they expelled me from, the real one which puts people first, or the unlawful one to which they belong to,” the seemingly unflappable Mutasa said.
His pointed comments regarding Grace’s undue influence in Zanu PF came as social media speculation around the issue went gaga last week, amid snide comments to the effect that Mugabe had allegedly accompanied Grace to last Wednesday’s politburo meeting.
The frenetic online debates came after State media showed images of Grace surprisingly sitting next to Mugabe in the politburo meeting, and not second vice president Phelekezela Mphoko, as would normally be demanded by protocol.
Mutasa’s comments also followed those made by former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda late last year, who was quoted saying, “I am not going to allow any coup both in the boardroom and in the bedroom” at the height of the Grace-fronted anarchy that is still devouring Zanu PF.
So biting and resonant with ordinary Zimbabweans was that quote that it ultimately contributed to authorities dragging the popular war veteran to court where he is facing charges of insulting or undermining Mugabe’s authority.
In the meantime, Grace demonstrated the immense power she now wields within Zimbabwe’s body politic when Cabinet ministers, service chiefs and Zanu PF bigwigs scrambled to Harare International Airport to welcome her back to the country a fortnight ago after she had been away in the Far East for more than two months.
Observers said the fact that these bigwigs had felt compelled to converge at the airport together with hundreds of ruling party supporters to welcome her back to Zimbabwe in the manner they did spoke volumes about how much political power she now wielded in the country.
There was so much pomp and ceremony as she arrived back in the country on the day that one senior Zanu PF official who spoke to the Daily News described her welcome as “fitting for a Queen”.
“She (Grace) is now probably the most powerful politician in Zimbabwe, which is why her welcome back to the country today almost rivalled the treatment that the president gets when he returns from his trips abroad.
“To not go and pay homage to Amai at the moment amounts to virtual political suicide and everyone knows this. Her welcome was fitting for a Queen,” the central committee member, who requested anonymity, said.
Among the bigwigs at the airport on the day were Mnangagwa, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, politburo member Shuvai Mahofa and fast-rising youth league boss Pupurai Togarepi.
Meanwhile, and with the long-mooted court action by disaffected Zanu PF stalwarts now set to reach the bench this week, the likelihood of the ruling party splitting into two bitterly opposed camps is becoming more real.
The spokesperson for the aggrieved party pioneers, Rugare Gumbo, told the Daily News on Sunday at the weekend that they were hopeful that their court challenge regarding the alleged illegality of the disputed Zanu PF congress would begin today.
“…Yes, the court papers should be filed at the High Court on Monday.
“Everything that’s needed to be done has been done and we are now ready. I can’t say much more now because the court process will determine everything,” Gumbo said.
A well-placed source also confirmed the imminence of the court action, revealing further that “several top legal brains in the country have volunteered to work on the application, which is going to be one of the most bruising and intriguing legal battles ever fought in Zimbabwean courts”.
“There are dozens of affidavits from bona fide Zanu PF members, party officials and others who were illegally kicked out by the illegal congress.
“This court case will expose President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF as tyrants who think they are above the law. It will be a very interesting case for the judges because the illegalities around that fake congress are so obvious and glaring, and there for all to see,” the source said.
Retired, but hugely respected party elder, Cephas Msipa, was among the first prominent party members to criticise Mugabe openly last year for failing to deal with Zanu PF’s often violent infighting and for refusing to take advice on the party’s escalating factionalism.
In an interview with the Daily News that was carried in mid-October last year, Msipa said pointedly that he feared for the worst for Zanu PF if intra-party relations remained as fractious as they were in the ruling party.
“If people continue being dissatisfied with what is happening, it is possible to have a split. I think the president has the key to all these issues. I hate factionalism and if it continues I don’t know what will become of the party,” he said ruefully.
He also attacked the party faction aligned to Mnangagwa for behaving as if it “owned” Grace — a development that he said was fuelling factionalism inside the party.