x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mugabe's Zanu-PF weeds out dissenters

Restructuring exercise promotes loyalists while those of suspect loyalty are being purged, further stoking factional tensions.

Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, has blamed party members for Zanu-PF's losses in recent elections.
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, has blamed party members for Zanu-PF's losses in recent elections.

BULAWAYO, zimbabwe // Robert Mugabe's party, Zanu-PF, has rolled out a controversial nationwide restructuring exercise, six months after it performed dismally in presidential and parliamentary elections. But the restructuring exercise, in which loyalists are being rewarded with posts and those of suspect loyalty are being purged, has further stoked factional tensions and reignited fierce rivalry in a party that has dominated local politics since the 1970s war of liberation. There are two distinct factions in the party, each of which is fighting to have its preferred candidate succeed Mr Mugabe, 84. One is led by Mr Mugabe's trusted lieutenant, minister and heir apparent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the other by Solomon Mujuru, a powerful and wealthy former army general. Mr Mujuru is also husband to a vice president, Joice Mujuru. Party insiders say Mr Mnangagwa, now seen as a leading contender in the race to succeed Mr Mugabe is pushing his loyalists to secure influential posts in the party, from grassroots to provincial structures, in a move designed to secure his expected bid for the top job. Mr Mujuru's supporters are being systematically sidelined in the well-knit plot. Although he does not have presidential ambitions of his own, Mr Mujuru orchestrated the rise of his wife to the post of vice president in 2004, by pushing Mr Mnangagwa aside. Again, in February this year, he was accused of leading a rebel faction which sponsored Simba Makoni, a former minister and member of Zanu-PF's inner politburo, to challenge Mr Mugabe in the March elections. "The plot is clear," said a provincial executive member for southern Masvingo province, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of political reprisals. "Mnangagwa is on top of the situation now and he is putting his people into the structures and we are being pushed out. However, this will certainly cause more divisions in the party, which may not heal." For the first time since the president's party led the country to independence from British colonial rule in 1980, Zanu-PF had a dramatic reversal of fortunes in the elections. From being a political organisation that used to take its dominance in parliament for granted, it is now a minority party in parliament after the March 29 poll in which Mr Mugabe also lost the presidential election to his nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. In the March elections, Zanu-PF won 99 seats in parliament, while the two factions of the MDC, which have a pact to work together in the House, got 110. Apart from losing legislative control, Mr Mugabe was beaten at the polls by Mr Tsvangirai by more than 100,000 votes in the election that observers say jolted the veteran politician. However, the presidential vote result was not enough for Mr Tsvangirai to form a government in terms of the law. This led to a second round of voting in June that Mr Tsvangirai boycotted, citing widespread violence that claimed about 100 of his supporters. Unopposed, Mr Mugabe claimed victory. Mr Mugabe has blamed Mr Makoni, Mr Mujuru and their backers for Zanu-PF's losses, hence his decision to unseat cadres suspected of interfering with the restructuring exercise. The purges have already seen top officials loyal to Mr Mujuru losing their positions as provincial governors to Mr Mnangagwa's people. Last month, Ray Kaukonde, Mr Mujuru's top ally, was fired from his post as governor for north-eastern Mashonaland East province and was replaced by Aeneas Chigwedere of the Mnangagwa faction. Mr Kaukonde is known to manage Mr Mujuru's vast business interests. In addition to Mr Kaukonde, other provincial governors who back Mr Mujuru and were kicked out are Ephraim Masawi (Mashonaland Central), Willard Chiwewe (Masvingo), Tinaye Chigudu (Manicaland) and Cephas Msipa (Midlands). Not satisfied with his sacking, Mr Chiwewe's political enemies want more - to evict him from a white-owned farm he invaded two years ago. "Those who want me to leave the farm house are my political enemies. I do not belong to any faction," Mr Chiwewe said. Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said Mr Mugabe wants to weed out the bad apples so that he remains with a core support of dependable cadres. However, he warned, sacking so-called undesirables is a risky enterprise. "There are many who feel sidelined," Mr Masunungure said. "They think they have been unfairly treated and according to what we hear, some of them are mobilising. It is always a risky enterprise restructuring a party of the size of Zanu-PF in the way they are doing it." But Mr Mujuru's sympathisers in Masvingo have vowed to fight back, which is likely to further weaken the party. Alex Mudavanhu, the provincial chairman who is facing the axe, said: "As I have said before, the restructuring exercise was forced on us. Such actions must not be taken to destroy the party by settling scores but to strengthen and properly reorganise it." In the March elections, the MDC made stunning inroads into Mr Mugabe's traditional rural strongholds and looks to capitalise on the growing factionalism in Zanu-PF. Elliot Manyika, head of the commissariat, rejected the notion that the restructuring exercise is further widening divisions or targeting any faction. "There are no factions in Zanu -PF," he said, despite glaring evidence to the contrary. "We restructure the party's organs from time to time when the need arises not to purge certain elements as you say. The exercise is to rejuvenate our structures after the lessons we learnt in March elections. We do not want that to happen again." Despite the concerted effort to undermine his influence, Mr Mujuru is quietly strategising. His supporters are being quoted extensively in the independent media, threatening to mount a vote of no confidence in Mr Mugabe at Zanu-PF's conference in December. In western Matabeleland region, where he also draws his loyalists, Mr Mugabe managed to resist moves to oust them. Likening the party to an unsaleable commodity, Mr Masunungure said the effort to rebrand it was unlikely to bring positive results. "As it stands, the party is not marketable," he said. "Whether they will achieve that or not, is a big unknown." * The National