President Robert Mugabe’s threats to descend on war veterans pushing for Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed him are an indication he is losing control of the ruling Zanu PF party that is being consumed by factionalism.
NEWS IN DEPTH BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Mugabe invoked the Gukurahandi atrocities where over 20 000 civilians were killed by the Fifth Brigade for supporting the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo in the 1980s as he warned war veterans to stay away from the Zanu PF succession debate.
The 92-year-old ruler spoke after war veterans held nationwide meetings where they allegedly vowed to make sure that Mnangagwa was Zimbabwe’s next leader.
Mugabe has in the past referred to the former fighters’ campaign as treasonous, but Thursday’s chilling threats were the latest indication that his relationship with one of Zanu PF’s most vibrant organs had deteriorated.
He reminded the former fighters that they were a mere affiliate of the party and could not dictate who should succeed him.
Mnangagwa’s faction is engaged in a vicious battle for the control of the ruling party with another group known as G40, which is coalescing around First Lady Grace Mugabe.
“The president is losing his grip on the party. He is clearly failing to take charge of the situation. His party is falling apart,” University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masungure added.
“Factionalism has not been resolved and keeps rearing its ugly head time and again.
“This is not the first or the last of such spats. More will come,” he said.
“The fissures in the ruling party have become all too apparent, with each team trying to position itself in the succession race.”
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said the ruling party was going through a turbulent time and Mugabe’s rant could be an indication of worse things to come.
“The dynamics are very tense right now. We are in a conflict zone and definitely we have not seen the last of this,” he said.
Mnangagwa is seen as a front runner in the race to succeed Mugabe, even though the ageing leader insists that he would run for another term.
Harare-based political analyst Alexander Rusero said Mugabe’s threats would do nothing to weaken Mnangagwa’s position in the succession race as Zimbabwe’s only leader since independence was losing influence in the party.
“The president has been reduced to a cry baby. His statements are not backed with action. He is just trying to manage the divisions,” he said.
Rusero said Mugabe had only proved that Mnangagwa was a formidable force and the desperate attempts to whip him into line were futile.
“Mnangagwa is no push over like Joice Mujuru. The president has kept the factionalism issue in the pending tray for too long,” he said.
In 2014, Mugabe fired Mujuru from government and the party for allegedly plotting to unseat him. Prior to her sacking, Mujuru had been locked in a vicious battle for the control of the party with Mnangagwa’s faction.
Masunungure said Mugabe would continue to use his time- tested tactics of playing the warring factions in Zanu PF against each other to buy time.
“Today he tries to please this faction by putting down another, tomorrow he changes posts and does it the other way,” he said.
He said Mugabe’s move to chastise Mnangagwa’s followers did not give any faction on advantage in the succession race.
“It was just a flash in the pan. It is no basis for G40 to celebrate, nor is it time for Team Lacoste to write its own obituary,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mugabe’s statements on Gukurahandi sparked outrage, with commentators saying it was an indication that he had not repented despite describing the killings as a “moment of madness”.
“His rant was a stark reminder of the sheer evil, hate and selfishness that drove Gukurahundi, whereby some people like Mugabe believed they were gods and could dictate who should live or be killed,” said MDC spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi.
“While it is easy to dismiss these utterances as being a result of senility and old age, it is clear that Mugabe through anger and hate allowed his guard to drop and spoke the evil that is truly in his heart.”
He said the president’s claims that war veterans must not have a say on who becomes the next Zanu PF leader showed that he was a hypocrite.
“That all of a sudden he realises that the role of war veterans is to lobby for the welfare of former liberation fighters and not engage in Zanu PF internal politics when for the past three decades he has used them to unleash violence on opposition supporters to assure his continued stay in power exposes Mugabe’s shameless hypocrisy,” Chihwayi added.
“It is clear Mugabe no longer has any use for the war veterans as long as they do not support his agenda of appointing his wife as his successor.”
For the past few years Mugabe has relied on war veterans to hang on to power at a time Zanu PF has been ravaged by factionalism.
The former fighters led violent election campaigns and the invasion of white-owned commercial farms to ensure that the Zanu PF leader remained in power despite waning support.
On Thursday, Mugabe said he would use the same tactics he employed against the so-called dissidents to whip the dissenting war veterans into line.
The so-called dissidents were former Zipra combatants who were frustrated into leaving the national army due to discrimination by Mugabe’s new government soon after independence.
Researchers say the number of the deserters did not warrant the deployment of Fife Brigade, which went on to commit atrocities and other human rights violations with impunity.
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s advisor Alex Magaisa said the statements showed that Mugabe was not apologetic and would not hesitate to use similar tactics against those who challenged his rule.
“This second Gukurahundi threat is not just directed at ‘dissident’ war veterans only,” Magaisa posted on Facebook.
“As everyone now knows [bar those with selective memory], the first Gukurahundi was unleashed against so-called dissidents but was in fact a brutal campaign against civilians in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions.
“Now Mugabe threatens to use the same method against war vets, but it will actually be against everyone who opposes his rule. These are not words of a man who feels any remorse for the Gukurahundi atrocities but one who feels what he did was completely justified.”
However, Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo claimed Mugabe was misquoted as he did not threaten to unleash Gukuruhundi on the war veterans.
“Pres Mugabe warned dissident war vets on bloodshed threats but didn’t warn their supporters or any civilian,” Moyo tweeted.
“Pres Mugabe responded to a report that some war vets threatened bloodshed if VP Mnangagwa is not his successor.
“The evil of Gukurahundi was the brutalisation of the civilian seen as supporters armed dissidents,” he added in a series of tweets.
Moyo has been at loggerheads with war veterans and Mnangagwa’s supporters who accuse him of trying to destroy Zanu PF from within.
Mnangagwa has not spoken about the latest accusations that he wants to succeed Mugabe.
But war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa said Mugabe was being fed false information by G40 members and has threatened to sue Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko over the matter.