Former vice-president Joice Mujuru was the biggest newsmaker last week after her shock announcement that she had fired seven senior members of her Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) party for allegedly plotting a coup.
the big interview BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
Mujuru expelled her former Zanu PF allies, Rugare Gumbo, Didymus Mutasa, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Margret Dongo and three others, as she accused them of working with Zanu PF to derail the opposition party.
The expulsion triggered the resignation of other senior ZimPF members, who included Mujuru’s former aide, Sylvester Nguni, Ray Kaukonde and Zimbabwe’s former ambassador to Mozambique, Agrippa Mutambara, among others.
Those who resigned accused Mujuru of incompetence, while those expelled by Mujuru said they had taken over the leadership of the party, marking what could be the beginning of a long battle for the control of ZimPF.
Our Chief Reporter Everson Mushava (EM) yesterday caught up with ZimPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire (JM) to get an insight into the developments in the party.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
EM: A lot of interesting developments happened this (last) week in ZimPF, like the expulsion of former allies, Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa and five others by party leader Joice Mujuru. Can you briefly tell us what triggered the developments?
JM: There are three fundamental things that give background to what happened last week on Wednesday. The first is that the expelled members were against the party going for a convention to choose a substantive leadership.
I am sure you can see from the statements that they have been making that they are not prepared to lose control of the political party.
This was, however, inevitable that they were going to lose control of the party because they are not popular.
But because they had that warped understanding that they are the owners of the political party, they didn’t want a legal democratic process that would lead to the election of a people-chosen leadership. For them, our going to an elective convention was tantamount to being expelled.
They knew they stood no chance in hell to win political positions at the elective convention.
So, what they then set out to do was to put spanners into every programme that would be leading to the convention because they had that warped belief that they owned the party and that the party does not belong to the people, as the name reflects, but to them, as the founders of the party.
You know, there are a lot of people who founded ZimPF. I am also one of those people. Even the expelled members played a role at the formation of the party, but some have never, at any point, said they owned the party.
I am surprised by people like VaMutasa and VaGumbo, that they have developed this culture that every party they had been members of, they end up claiming that they own the political party.
We have seen that with Zanu PF. When they were expelled from Zanu PF, they were claiming that they are the original Zanu PF.
At the time that we announced officially on the first of March 2016 that we had since notified the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that we now had a party called ZimPF, VaMutasa and VaGumbo were still challenging their expulsion from Zanu PF.
The court records are clear. By the time we formed Zimbabwe People First, they had a court process challenging their expulsion from Zanu PF and registering their intent to go back to Zanu PF.
The second thing is that, this group was anti-coalition. They didn’t want a coalition. A coalition threatened their oppositionist attitude toward politics.
They wanted a political formation, a political dispensation where they controlled the political party, but a coalition then threatened the status quo.
The third issue is that they were against inclusivity; they didn’t want anyone who was not coming from Zanu PF to take up a prominent position in People First.
If you look at the people who were expelled, and those who resigned in solidarity with them, there is an undercutting and discernible characteristic, which is their root in Zanu PF.
And this is the group that was resisting those from other parties and others coming into politics for the first time.
EM: From what you have said, it seems the antagonism has been going on for a long time. What then really broke the carmel’s back for Mujuru to send them packing?
JM: It is the consultation that the president has been doing with the provincial executive councils. The message is very clear from the provincial executive council, that people wanted to go to the convention to select a substantive leadership.
The only way, therefore, we could go for the convention was when we have dealt with the obstacles in the party, and the obstacle was this group that was trying to use everything at its disposal to stop the party from going to the convention.
They were doing quite a lot of things, including sabotaging the constitutional-making process in the party.
It took us months to just have them allow us to sit down to go through the draft constitution that our lawyers had worked on.
What happened on Wednesday — the expulsion — was a way of trying to clear the way for the party to go for the convention. They sabotaged any way that would give the party a substantive leadership.
EM: When Mujuru made the decision to expel them, were they informed of the decision prior to its implementation? In short, why were they not given room to defend themselves in a disciplinary hearing?
JM: A process was initiated and they were invited for a disciplinary hearing and they snubbed it because they said they owned the party, so no organ in the party could call them to order.
EM: When were they invited?
JM: They were invited more than a month ago.
EM:Did they respond?
JM: No, they did not respond because they said they owned the party and I think that behaviour is discernible in the statements that they are giving now, that they own the party when we say, no, this is a people’s party.
EM: Some people have suggested that Mujuru’s decision to fire them was a counter-move because the group was waiting for her at the party’s headquarters to fire her? Is there any grain of truth in that?
JM: I think they have responded to that. I think VaGumbo has been quoted saying they have been waiting for the president to come so that they could deliberate on issues. I don’t think they wanted to fire her because they had no powers to do so.
EM: There have been reports of a fight over the use of the party name. What is the position?
JM: The party belongs to the people. It does not belong to VaGumbo, VaMutasa or even president Mujuru. It is clear that the people want Mai Mujuru to be their leader, so ZimPF remains the ZimPF led by Mai Mujuru. That is the reason why you see we have not stopped our party programmes. We had our national executive meeting on Thursday.
Tomorrow [today], we are going to have a provincial executive council, where the president meets the Masvingo provincial executive. On Monday, she is meeting the Mashonaland Central provincial executive council.
The party programmes are going on and our people know which group is ZimPF. There is no need to fight over the name, the people know.
EM: Don’t you think that the fight for the name can spill into the courts?
JM: They can do that. They have done that before. They tried to fight for the name Zanu PF when they were expelled from Zanu PF. They said they were the original Zanu PF and they took [President Robert] Mugabe to court.
They can do it again now and am telling you, this will be a futile exercise. I don’t think the courts would waste their time because when we officially formed the People First, their cases were still before the courts in their fight to go back to Zanu PF.
In any case, it is not for the court to decide who is ZimPF and who is not. In Zimbabwe, political parties are not registered. They are voluntary organisations.
There are no legal instruments they can use to go to court to fight for a name because they don’t own the name. They can make whatever noise in the newspapers. The bottom line is the people of Zimbabwe know who People First is.
It is unfortunate that VaMutasa and VaGumbo seem not to have learnt anything from their past experiences — the futile attempts to hold on to the name Zanu PF.
They are doing exactly the same now that they have been expelled from ZimPF. We appreciate their contribution to the liberation struggle and the formation of ZimPF, we all contributed in our individual capacities.
EM: So as we speak, who is in control of the party, Mujuru or those she fired?
JM: Ray Kaukonde, Sylvester Nguni, and Cougan Matanhire have directed their resignations to Mai Mujuru. It shows you who is in charge. It is a clear demonstration that Mai Mujuru is the leader of ZimPF.
EM: Gumbo and Mutasa said they called Mujuru to lead them and she was showing ingratitude in firing them. What is your comment?
JM: Yes, they initiated it like anyone else, but it is actually the youth who visited her at the farm. The youth who persuaded VaGumbo and Mutasa to form a party when they claimed they were the original Zanu PF. They did not want to accept the reality that they had been expelled. We told them to do away with the bitterness and positionist tendency of trying to own Zanu PF the same way they now do with ZimPF.
The people are the owners of the party. The taletell signs were there, that these men wanted to claim ownership of the party. That is why the late Retired Colonel Kudzai Mbudzi had a go at VaMutasa, telling him last year to form his own party because ZimPF was a people’s party.
That was sound advice that I thought an intelligent person like VaMutasa would heed.
EM: The seven fired by Mujuru have made several allegations against her, some of them describing her as incompetent, indecisive, and treating the party as a family business. They said she would be best as a family woman than a national leader because she lacks direction. What is your response to that?
JM: With all due respect, I think VaGumbo and VaMutasa are seasoned politicians who have seen a lot. The amount of work they did in liberating this country is there for everyone to see.
They know that the best person to lead ZimPF is Mai Mujuru. It does not make sense for them to claim that she is incompetent, at the same time claiming that they invited her to lead the party.
How can they call someone who is incompetent to lead them?
EM: They said they never had the opportunity to study her closely while in Zanu PF when she was vice-president because she was overshadowed by Mugabe. They claim they only got to see it now when she had been thrust into the deep end.
JM: But they are being dishonest. They have worked with Mai Mujuru for a long time. VaGumbo worked with her since 1974 and he knows that she is a woman of distinguished leadership.
He knows that Mai Mujuru is decisive and that is the reason why she made a bold step to fire them.
That is a sign of being decisive.
She is clear on where she wants to take the party and the country. That is why she has decided to fire them to save the party and the country.
EM: What is your response to the allegations that she surrounds herself with relatives, making the party a family or tribal institution?
JM: It is not true. They know their bone of contention with Mai Mujuru is her decision to include people from other parties and those who have never been in politics when they want it to be made up of people coming from Zanu PF.
That is what they were against. She was very clear, that this political party will be carried forward if she included everyone. ZimPF is a cosmopolitan party.
EM: There have been mixed reactions to the decision by Mujuru to fire Gumbo and Mutasa and others. Some have described her as a dictator whose Zanu PF tendencies have remained in her bloodstream. What is your comment on that?
JM: The unfortunate thing is that the media and the victims have been trying to portray the decision to dismiss the seven as a unilateral action. But she had been very clear that the decision was a result of wide consultations by party structures.
It is the party structures that decided that these people were stalling the development of the party and the president should fire them. Mai Mujuru simply announced their expulsions which came from the people.
That is why nine out of the 10 provinces and the various party wings like war veterans, women, and youths have all endorsed the decision.
EM: Don’t you think that the squabbles in the party can jeopardise coalition talks?
JM: This will actually help the coalition talks. The people opposed to them are gone. We have been trying to resuscitate the political lives of some of them and we have decided we cannot continue trying to resuscitate dying political lives. We need to put the interests of the party and country ahead of everything else.
EM: When she fired Gumbo and company, Mujuru insinuated that they were agents of Zanu PF. Can you clarify on that?
JM: It is clear even today that these people are doing Zanu PF’s bidding. We know that Zanu PF is working hard to foil a coalition that involves Mai Mujuru and (MDC-T leader Morgan) Tsvangirai.
And even now, the amount of state media coverage that this group is receiving, you can see that clearly that the state is trying to give them relevance and use them to give a picture that ZimPF has disintegrated.
We know that they are Zanu PF’s trojan horses to stifle the coalition.
For them to succeed, they didn’t want the party to have a substantive leadership so that no coalition could be signed by an interim leadership.
It is clear that they were being used by Zanu PF. That is why when Tsvangirai announced that he was going to seal the coalition deal by June, they immediately said that we are going to have an election convention in September, so that there would be no chance to enter into coalition with the MDC.
It was well-planned. What they did not expect was the decision later taken to fire them.