THERE were heated exchanges in an explosive Zanu PF politburo meeting on Wednesday, where President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga openly confronted each other in front of bemused party bigwigs, as factional intrigue hit a climax.
ANDREW KUNAMBURA/ TINASHE KAIRIZA
As reported by the Zimbabwe Independent in the past two years, there is a simmering power struggle between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga since the two men conspired to overthrow the late former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Chiwenga is widely seen as leader of a faction in Zanu PF and is reportedly itching to take over from the 77-year-old incumbent, who is planning to seek a second term in 2023.
Zanu PF has roundly endorsed Mnangagwa as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 general election.
Analysts say since the November 2017 coup, Mnangagwa’s camp has been working to decimate Chiwenga’s power base by weakening his influence on the military and other state departments. Mnangagwa has been making sweeping changes in the military and reassigning those perceived to be loyal to the vice-president.
However, the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, who orchestrated the coup, remains influential in the military.
Tension between the two has escalated dramatically over the past month amid claims some senior Zanu PF officials are working with opposition parties to organise today’s planned nationwide protests against corruption by Mnangagwa’s administration.
Party insiders said the issue came to a head at Wednesday’s politburo meeting where Mnangagwa plainly accused senior party officials of plotting against him.
The accusations were, according to party officials who attended the meeting, strongly refuted in what became a heated debate.
Mnangagwa’s recriminations, the sources said, came soon after the party’s secretary for security, Lovemore Matuke, presented a report which implicated unmanned senior party members in plots against the President.
Matuke’s report was reportedly supported by Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo and his deputy Walter Tapfumaneyi who also attended the meeting.
Sources said contrary to inaccurate earlier press reports, Moyo and Tapfumaneyi did not present reports at the meeting, but only supported what Matuke said as it tallied with their own findings.
“It’s actually Matuke who was asked to present a report in view of tomorrow’s demonstrations and, in his report; he said he was aware of some party members who were involved in the plot against the President. So after he had made his presentation, Moyo and Tapfumaneyi supported him, saying their own assessments had yielded the same results but did not make any presentations of their own,” a party official who attended the meeting said.
The source said Matuke’s presentation nailed politburo committee member Cleveria Chizema, whom he accused of working with opposition parties and pressure groups to topple Mnangagwa.
Chizema was found in possession of printed fliers denouncing Mnangagwa. “So basically, what happened is that Matuke made it clear that he had instituted an investigation, which revealed that there were some people claiming to be working with the Vice-President (without mentioning any names) to undermine the President and he had been told by some lower-ranking party officials that the issue had been reported to Chizema, but she had not escalated it to her seniors. This naturally led to the suspicion that she was working with them and that is why she ended up being suspended from the party.”
“However, when she was asked to respond to the allegations, she said she had not taken the issue seriously and that is why she had not reported it, but the President would have none of that,” the source said.
“So soon afterwards, the President spoke out, saying there was clear evidence that there were some party members plotting against him although he did not mention names,” a party source said.
Chiwenga’s co-Vice-President, Kembo Mohadi, spoke immediately after Mnangagwa, urging members to desist from fanning factionalism.
“Mohadi did not say much. He simply said he was greatly disturbed by reports of factionalism and urged members to desist from such and work together for the good of the party and in support of the President,” the source said.
However, retired Zimbabwe National Army major-general Angelbert Rugeje — who was fired by Mnangagwa last year from his position as Zanu PF political commissar for his alleged close connection to Chiwenga — seemed not happy with the President’s submissions. He openly accused him of paying too much attention to rumours and to the grapevine. He also accused him of entertaining too many people at his Kwekwe farm where the inner circle congregates on weekends.
“Rugeje was very frank in his submissions. He said the biggest mistake that he (Mnangagwa) was making was to listen to everyone and entertain every narrative.
It was actually Rugeje who particularly mentioned Chiwenga’s name. He said the problem now was that the President has been made to believe that Chiwenga was fighting him when this was not really the case,” another party insider said.
“Rugeje also accused Mnangagwa of entertaining too many guests at his farm in Kwekwe. He absolved Chiwenga of any wrongdoing, saying if it were true that he is as power hungry as depicted by some, Chiwenga would not have invited Mnangagwa to take over power after orchestrating the coup in November 2017,” the source said.
Rugeje reportedly accused Local Government minister July Moyo and war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who did not attend the meeting, of allegedly being key instigators of factionalism.
On his part, July Moyo reportedly distanced himself from the allegations, declaring himself as “the most loyal party member”.
Rugeje ended his speech by urging Mnangagwa and Chiwenga to sit down and iron out their issues since they have a long history together.
Chiwenga reportedly said while he was aware of the accusations, they were far from being true.
“He (Chiwenga) spent a lot of time chronicling his history with Mnangagwa from the days of the liberation struggle and said there was no way he could now turn against him. He also repeated Rugeje’s statements that Mnangagwa was making a mistake of listening to different narratives without caring to establish the facts. Chiwenga also said he was aware of some people who were trying to alienate him from the President by tarnishing his image and most of them came from the Midlands province.
When he had finished speaking, people clapped hands in applause. He spoke very well,” another senior Zanu PF official said.
“Chiwenga also took a dig at Chizema, accusing her of soiling his image. There was no one in her corner and, by this time, she held her peace until she was told her presence was no longer required. You could clearly see that the tension between our two leaders is real,” a source said.
Mnangagwa’s panicky administration is leaving nothing to chance regarding today’s protests and has lined-up the security forces to thwart demonstrators.
The chief co-ordinator of the protests, opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume, is languishing in remand prison after he was arrested two weeks ago on allegations of inciting public violence.
He is set to appear in court on August 7.