ZANU PF’s new secretary for information and publicity, Rugare Gumbo, has reportedly sharply criticised President Robert Mugabe over who the most senior party official in the Midlands province should be as he battles to displace bitter rival Emmerson Mnangagwa as the political titan of the deeply-divided region.Gumbo’s unexpected criticism of Mugabe, which could trigger a fierce backlash, during last weekend’s provincial development committee meeting in Gweru left senior party officials shocked and wondering whether their long-serving leader’s grip on the fractured movement was faltering.
The meeting was attended by Zanu PF politburo and central committee members, MPs, councillors and civil servants.
Inside Zanu PF sources said Gumbo stuck a knife into Mugabe after a heated debate on who between Mnangagwa and himself was the top dog in the Midlands. It is said Gumbo dismissed Mugabe’s assertion at a politburo meeting on February 24 that Mnangagwa was the kingpin of the Midlands, saying it was “misleading and unconstitutional”.
“The debate on who is senior between Gumbo and Mnangagwa has been going on since the announcement of the new Zanu politburo. However, the situation boiled over last Saturday when it was openly raised,” a senior party official said. “The issue exploded and the fight intensified at the meeting last weekend.”
Mnangagwa confirmed last night that the issue was raised at the meeting, but was quick to say there was no leadership wrangle in the province.
He said it was clear that he is the most senior member of the party in the province as he has been active for the past 30 years.
When asked to comment on Gumbo’s pronouncement that he was more senior by virtue of Zanu PF’s constitution, Mnangagwa chuckled and said: “Hakuna zvakadaro (there is nothing like that). Why don’t you go and ask Gumbo? I can’t speak on his behalf. People at the meeting said dhara harisati rafa (the kingpin is still alive, referring to Mnangagwa).”
Sources said the dispute erupted after Mberengwa East MP Makhosini Hlongwane demanded to know who was senior between Gumbo and Mnangagwa at the start of the meeting which was chaired by Midlands provincial governor Jason Machaya.
“Hlongwane asked at the beginning of the meeting who was senior between the two. Machaya tried to blockcome at the end of the meeting under the any other issues session. So at the end of the meeting Hlongwane asked the question again and all hell broke loose after that,” a source said.
Sources said Machaya — who supports the Zanu PF faction led by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru against the Mnangagwa camp — stuttered when he tried to tackle the issue. It is said he then deferred the matter to Mnangagwa himself.
Before Mnangagwa could defend his turf, it is said the new Zanu PF Youth League deputy secretary Edison Chakanyuka chipped in and made a disclosure which most provincial party officials did not know.
Sources said Chakanyuka, a Mnangagwa loyalist, told the gathering that Mugabe had on February 24 clearly told the politburo that Mnangagwa was senior to Gumbo after the issue had reached his attention following a provincial coordinating meeting where it initially came up.
“Chakanyuka said the president had explained to the politburo that seniority in the party has not changed because of the new politburo appointments. He said it was now clear who was senior and there was loud cheering,” a source said.
However, Gumbo is said to have fought back immediately after that. Sources said Gumbo rejected Mugabe’s intervention, saying it was “misleading and unconstitutional”. They said the new Zanu PF spokesman insisted the “there is nothing like that; the constitution is very clear”.
Gumbo is said to have stated he was senior to Mnangagwa both by history and now by hierarchy. It is said he insisted Mnangagwa was a student while he was a senior member of the Zanu PF Dare ReChimurenga (war council) in Zambia in the early 1970s and through his latest appointment he had just got back his old position.
However, Mnangagwa’s loyalists disagree vehemently. Although Mnangagwa was at the University of Zambia between 1973 and 1975 when Gumbo was already a powerful party official, he has a long history in Zanu PF which was much more illustrious than that of his rival, they say.
Mnangagwa’s adherents say their principal participated in all the liberation movements from NDP to Zapu and then Zanu. He trained as a soldier and was imprisoned for a long time during the struggle. Mnangagwa, they say, escaped the hangman’s noose due to being “under-age” when he was arrested for allegedly blowing up a locomotive in Masvingo. He was jailed for 10 years.
“If you look at their record Mnangagwa is clearly senior,” a party official said. “Gumbo is better off raising the constitutional argument because he has a case there.”
In terms of the party hierarchy reflected in politburo rankings, Gumbo is number 10 while Mnangagwa is number 11. Mugabe told the politburo last month that this did not mean anything when it comes to precedence in the party.
Sources said the problem had initially surfaced during a provincial coordinating meeting in Gweru which came after the new politburo was announced on February 12. It is understood at the meeting Machaya had stoked the fires by allowing Gumbo to close the proceedings in his capacity as “the most senior official in the province”.
That did not go down well with the Mnangagwa camp which was said to have discussed the issue afterwards and resolved that their leader should meet Mugabe to sort out the matter, sources said.
This led to Mugabe’s intervention in the politburo where he stated that Mnangagwa was the most senior party official in Midlands. Mugabe’s remarks were said to have left most of the politburo members, who belong to the Mujuru faction, dismayed and angry.
Gumbo, backed by the Mujuru faction, especially within his province which is now deeply divided between the two camps, has however been holding his ground.