Zanu PF supporters fought running battles at the burial of national hero Sikhanyiso Ndlovu in Harare on Saturday, as the rivalry between camps backing First Lady Grace Mugabe and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa turned violent.
A group believed to be aligned to Grace and led by the Mbare Chimurenga Choir had come to the National Heroes Acre wearing Tshirts emblazoned with pictures of the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo and President Robert Mugabe in front, while at the back they had messages praising the First Lady.
The group had earlier in the week promised to take the T-shirts to all public functions in what they said would be a demonstration against Mnangagwa’s utterances denigrating Nkomo.
Mnangagwa was recently in the eye of a storm after he claimed Ian Smith told President Robert Mugabe at independence that Nkomo and other nationalists lost the 1980 elections because they represented white interests.
At the Heroes Acre, angry youths confronted members of the Mbare Chimurenga Choir, comprising women, and demanded to know who had distributed the T-shirts, and also which “mother” was being referred to in the messages at the back of the T-shirts?
The message at the back of the T-shirts reads: “The unity that shall never collapse. Munhu wese kuna Amai [Everybody should support the mother]
There were near-fisticuffs when the group loyal to Grace was manhandled for wearing T-shirts with
clearly anti-Mnangagwa messages.
The fracas took place when Mugabe and other top government and party officials had left their seats for the grave of the former Information minister and ex- Mpopoma Member of Parliament.
When Mugabe was returning minutes later, the quarrelling youths briefly stopped attacking each other.
They all chanted “Gushungo, Gushungo, Gushungo” ostensibly to hide their anger from Mugabe and other leaders.
Harare South MP, Shadreck Mashayamombe was at the centre of the storm when he tried to protect the Mbare Chimurenga Choir and scores of youths and women who were wearing the T-shirts.
The angry youths, clad in green uniforms of graduates from the Border Gezi national youth service, could not be easily restrained.
They demanded to know the agenda behind the regalia before confronting Mashayamombe for an explanation.
Grace loyalists want the T-shirts to be won at all Zanu PF gatherings and Saturday marked the first time they have been worn in public — a development which did not go down well with the Mnangagwa camp.
After the official programme and Mugabe’s exit, the youths resumed hunting for all people clad in the T-shirts, stating that it was improper to do that as it divided the party.
But Mashayamombe defended the T-shirts saying: “What is wrong with having T-shirts that call for unity in the party? What is wrong with having our President and the late Vice-President (on the TShirts)? I don’t see anything wrong even with the statement you are asking me about.”
But the Mnangagwa loyalists would have none of it.
“We want answers. We want to know the meaning of the statement ‘Munhu wese kuna Amai?’” shouted one of the youths.
“We don’t want people pushing their agendas here. Why did you bring those T-shirts and why distribute
Another youth shouted at Mashayamombe: “Why are there pictures of Nkomo and the President, then a statement about Amai at the back? What are you trying to prove? Who is that Amai?”
But Mashayamombe stood firm, insisting there was nothing wrong with people putting on the T-shirts,or messages written on them.
“People should not be stopped from putting on the T-shirts. What is wrong with the T-shirts?” asked
It took the intervention of several State security agents to control the situation.
The angry youths threatened they would follow all those putting on the T-shirts to their vehicles
and beat them up.
“Wait for the President to leave and we will deal with them. We will follow you to your buses and
demand answers,” fumed one of the youths.
As reported by our sister paper NewsDay last week, a group allegedly linked to Grace mobilised and printed T-shirts to protest against Mnangagwa’s statement perceived to have been attacking Nkomo.
Mnangagwa’s statement was condemned by those allegedly fighting the VP, including Politburo member Jonathan Moyo who wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter, that suggestions Nkomo was a sell-out were “offensive and unacceptable”.
Mnangagwa has remained quiet about the matter, but his loyalists accuse rivals of twisting his words to suit a political agenda.
Meanwhile, Mugabe delivered a speech devoid of his usual barrage of attacks targeted at political rivals and the West. He stuck to his prepared speech, focusing on Ndlovu and his achievements in his lifetime.
Ndlovu (78) died on Tuesday in Bulawayo after suffering a stroke and an asthma attack.
Mugabe arrived together with Grace who was holding his hand while they walked slowly to the podium.
The turn-out at the Heroes Acre was low, with mostly soldiers and police offices in attendance.