There is no love lost between veteran opposition politician Margret Dongo and former vice-president Joice Mujuru.
Dongo, who was fired by Mujuru from the Zimbabwe People First Party (ZimPF) in a clear out that also claimed the scalps of former senior Zanu PF leaders Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo, has spoken for the first time about the ugly fallout.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
The former Zanu PF MP claimed that although Mujuru had always shown signs of being a dictator, she least expected her drastic move to fire her and other ZimPF founding members who invited her to lead the party.
“Mujuru’s decision to expel me from ZimPF is the culmination of months of self-defeating politics borrowed from Zanu PF’s playbook,” Dongo told The Standard in an interview after days of prodding.
“They are politics of insecurity and a debilitating inability to apply the principles of civility to political conflict. I only learned about my expulsion through the media,” she added.
Dongo said in 2014 she was approached by Gumbo who wanted her to persuade Mujuru to lead ZimPF.
She said on several occasions she drove to the former VP’s farm outside Harare to convince her to enter opposition politics after her dramatic expulsion from Zanu PF on allegations that she was plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.
“She was hesitant,” Dongo said. “Her heart was still with Zanu PF.
“I was forced to assure her that I would come on board and support her. I had a series of meetings with war veterans at my house.
“Later, I invited women from all the 10 provinces to meet her.
“ZimPF women should question Mujuru’s commitment to the empowerment of Zimbabwean women.
“Zimbabweans should question Mujuru’s commitment to gender equality in politics.”
Dongo said her relationship with Mujuru started to deteriorate just after Mugabe’s former protege accepted to lead ZimPF.
“At first she just ignored me. I continued to mobilise people to support her,” she said.
“Mujuru’s growing insecurity immediately morphed into conceited efforts to undermine me.
“While appointing people to positions on the national leadership, she called for elections involving women from all provinces to decide my future in the party.
“I won the elections, held on September 22 2015, forcing Mujuru to grudgingly accept me as ZimPF’s interim [women] national chairperson.
“Thereafter, Mujuru actively and repeatedly undermined my work and authority.
“She made sure that I did not receive all the resources required to implement programmes for the women I was supposed to lead and empower. I financed most of my meetings.”
The former Zimbabwe Union of Democrats leader alleged that Mujuru made it no secret during meetings that she was never comfortable sitting next to her and that she wasn’t personally interested in her contributions.
Dongo alleged that during rallies she was often barred from speaking beyond just introducing Mujuru.
“Mujuru’s strange discomfort found its greatest expression when supporters applauded and chanted ‘Dongo! Dongo! Dongo!’ After I had just introduced myself at the party’s first rally in Bulawayo, and after I had addressed the party’s rally in Mutare,” Dongo added.
“Sensing her growing discomfort I recommended that she appoints someone she would be comfortable to work with.
There was no response.”
In 2016, Dongo said women expressed their discontent with the fact that they were not adequately represented in ZimPF committees.
She said women complained about interference in their operations by individuals from the national leadership and why the party president surrounded herself with men wherever she went.
Dongo said Mujuru last had a meeting with women in September 2015 before she forced a meeting on January 27 2017 after getting concerned about a growing disconnect between her and female leaders from the provinces.
It was during that meeting, according to Dongo, that women took Mujuru to task.
“They presented stories of rampant factionalism, power struggles, meddling by members of the national leadership and frustrated members leaving the party,” she said.
“The provincial leadership from Masvingo reported serious problems, implicating Dzikamai Mavhaire.
“The women reported that the problems, which can also be blamed for the party’s loss in Bikita West, required the attention of the national leadership.
“Mujuru’s solution to these problems was to fire me and make libelous accusations.”
Dongo said she had a long-standing history of fighting for women’s rights and equal opportunities. She challenged Mujuru to show what she had done to fight for women’s cause.
In some of the minutes from the women’s wing meetings that were sent to Mujuru, the women expressed discontent over the ZimPF leader’s leadership style.
A storm was brewing behind the scenes and knives were turning against Mujuru before she pre-emptied those plotting against her by firing Dongo, it has been revealed.
“Mujuru’s insecurity undermines Zimbabwean women’s continuing struggle for genuine representation at the highest levels of the country’s political, social and economic institutions. It undermines the struggle against Robert Mugabe. It undermines Zimbabwean democracy,” Dongo said.
“To be clear, I feel betrayed. But this isn’t just about Margaret Dongo. It’s about a cancer that has ravished our politics across all party lines since independence.”
She added: “The current ZimPF leadership remains stuck in poisonous methods imported from Zanu PF, where the old guard is too hostile to youthful leadership and new ideas.”
Dongo said Mujuru was fast-becoming the female figurehead of a leadership that was isolated from the people it claimed to lead.
However, Marian Chombo, Dongo’s successor in Mujuru’s camp, hit back saying there was no truth in the allegations.
“Nothing can be far from the truth. If you look at the reason why she [Mujuru] was against Gumbo and Mutasa’s queen bee strategy, it was because of its male chauvinistic nature,” she said.
“The queen bee syndrome entails that a woman who has excelled in a male-dominated area is used to suppress other women from reaching the same heights and this is what Mujuru was against.
“Mujuru has done a lot for the women’s movement. Look at the fights she had to ensure equal opportunities for women through legislative pieces that she championed, like the Legal Age of Majority Act of 1982 which allowed women to own properties in their names and the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1985 which recognised, for the first time in the history of this country, a wife’s direct and indirect contribution to family property to be considered when distributing assets at divorce.”
She added: “These are just but a few examples of the many things that Mujuru has done for the women’s movement.”
Mujuru brushed aside charges by Mutasa and Gumbo that they are now the new ZimPF leaders and continues to meet her party’s structures.