Former War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa’s political obituary had been written well before the Zanu PF politburo suspended him for three years last month on charges of insulting President Robert Mugabe.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA/BLESSED MHLANGA
The prophecies of doom were inspired by Mugabe’s unusual step to deliver a televised state of the nation address to chasticise Mutsvangwa for leading an ill-fated demonstration by former freedom fighters in Harare on February 18.
An angry Mugabe accused the former fighters of insulting his wife and vowed to take tough action against their leader.
A few days later Mutsvangwa was fired from government and expectations were high that he would immediately lose his post as Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association (ZNWVA) chairman.
After all, precedence had been set in 2014 after Mugabe personally saw to it that Mutsvangwa’s predecessor Jabulani Sibanda was pushed out for saying First Lady Grace Mugabe wanted to “stage a bedroom coup”.
Sibanda was arrested at his Nyamandlovu farm near Bulawayo and driven to Harare in humiliating fashion. His case is yet to be concluded by the courts a year on and he may never be allowed to lead the association again.
Yet, Mutsvangwa is still standing after wading off a faction of war veterans linked to Grace’s G40 faction who tried to pass a vote-of-no-confidence in his executive.
On Thursday, the former minister will lead the war vets as they meet Mugabe in what Mutsvangwa describes as a make-or-break event for fractured Zanu PF.
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans will be watching closely to see if Mutsvangwa will have the courage to tell Mugabe to his face the issues he has been raising.
War veteran George Valentine Chipwanyira Makombe believes Mutsvangwa has survived the onslaught against him and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s faction because he enjoys strong support from war veterans.
“We went to war and during that time we shared certain ideals and when those are violated, then we speak out,” he said.
“It is normally not easy to deal with a person like Mutsvangwa who has support from those that hold those ideas.”
Makombe, who in 1980 was a member of the Joint High Command chaired by Mnangagwa and was responsible for the integration of freedom fighters into the national army, said during his time as minister Mutsvangwa had his ears to the ground.
“The meeting with the president should not only be looked at from the viewpoint of the current disturbances as this has been in the pipeline since Mutsvangwa took over the ministry. He has always wanted to address the issues of our welfare and for that, he has the ear and support of war veterans,” he said.
One of Mutsvangwa’s close allies said Zimbabwe’s former ambassador to China also enjoyed backing from securocrats.
Mugabe has in the past complained that police, the military and intelligence are meddling in Zanu PF politics over his succession.
Mutsvangwa was himself catapulted into power by the military in the wake of a vicious purge against former Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s supporters.
The securocrats are believed to be fighting in Mnangagwa’s corner against G40 and Mustvangwa is believed to be their foot soldier.
“He has serious backing from the military; rather, he is their spokesperson [and] this is why they allowed him to use the Presidential Guard barracks in Harare or his meetings,” the source alleged.
“Some elements in the military despise this G40 but because they are serving in the army, they can’t speak out, so Chris is the man for the job.”
The military’s hand was visible in the past fortnight as Defence minister Sydney Sekeremayi parried attempts by the Mandi Chimene-led ZNWVA faction to stop Mutsvangwa from attending the meeting with Mugabe.
Another war veteran and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Wilbert Sadomba, said Mutsvangwa had gained unwavering support from war veterans even against Mugabe.
“What if this rift continues and war veterans see the need to mobilise the whole populace against Mugabe?
“What if war veterans start to demand power from the cult leader, arguing that they gave him that power through the Mgagao Declaration and now it is enough?” asked Sadomba.
He said Mugabe would not want to antagonise the former fighters further by engineering Mutsvangwa’s ouster.
“And by war veterans, I mean the whole movement, now including so-called former refugees, former military youth [not just mujibhas], those within the uniformed forces, etc,” he said.
“The thought of it would cause you to command an abrupt stop to planned rallies of a wayward personality of the cult’s inner circle.”
Sadomba said war veterans had nothing to fear when they meet Mugabe since they had demonstrated their power.
“This means in their meeting they need to be bold and as I said, anything less than discussing power arrangements towards succession is as futile as it is myopia beyond any singing of it,” he said.
Political analyst Maxwell Sau-ngweme said Mugabe had no energy to push Mutsvangwa to the end because he was hard-pressed to douse raging flames in Zanu PF.
“There are many within the war vets quarters who support him and Mugabe knows that. The power behind him is the massive support he has from war vets,” he said.
“I think Mugabe has many battles to fight within his factional party imploding and Mutsvangwa’s ouster is a battle he can afford to postpone as there are more serious and urgent battles.”
Mutsvangwa said he never felt threatened by G40’s increasing influence in Zanu PF.
“My allegiance to Zanu PF is etched in service to the party. I am a far cry from the rent-seeking arrivists and wartime deserters who now clamour from the heart of a party they have scant knowledge and they seek to subvert and hijack,” he said.
Mugabe is the ZNVWA patron and last month he complained that some of the former fighters wanted him to step down.
He appealed to his opponents to wait until he finishes his term in 2018.
But during his visit to Japan last week, Mugabe claimed Zimbabweans would be angry if anyone suggested that he should step down despite being at the helm for 36 years.