Sensing danger, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was apparently forced to beg for his political life in the warring Zanu PF on Thursday, disowning restless war veterans and other senior ruling party officials in the process who have been agitating for him to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
Consistently reliable Zanu PF sources told the Daily News yesterday that the embattled VP had allegedly taken the humiliating decision of begging Mugabe for mercy publicly, saying he had nothing to do with the dissenting former freedom fighters and the campaigns of other senior party officials who are operating in his name, after the angry nonagenarian threatened to deal severely with all of his offending followers.
Analysts said yesterday that if the claims were true, this would be the second time in the last 12 years that Mnangagwa has left his most vocal supporters within the brawling ruling party hanging high and dry, without political cover and like lambs to the proverbial slaughter.
Zanu PF is currently split along two main factions, one loyal to Mnangagwa and going by the moniker Team Lacoste, and another one that is fiercely opposed to him succeeding Mugabe and going by the name Generation 40 (G40).
Shooting from the hip, Mugabe reminded war veterans loyal to Mnangagwa on Thursday that he would deal ruthlessly with any dissenting voices within Zanu PF, likening their behaviour to those of dissidents, and in the process invoking ugly memories of the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s.
A well-placed source who attended the closed door meeting where Mnangagwa allegedly begged for mercy from Mugabe after the nonagenarian undressing war veterans was adamant that Mnangagwa had “pleaded for forgiveness from Gushungo”.
“He read the signs well and rightly felt obliged to beg for mercy. As you all saw, the president was very angry and made it clear that the war veterans were being sent by someone to cause pandemonium within the party,” the Zanu PF bigwig said.
According to another source, Mnangagwa — who enjoys the support of war veterans’ leaders such as Christopher Mutsvangwa, Victor Matemadanda and Douglas Mahiya — allegedly told Mugabe that people were “abusing” his name.
“He apologised indeed and duly disowned the war veterans,” the second source said.
It was not clear yesterday what the way forward would be for the usually-boisterous war veterans, who want to be seen as “country stockholders”. None of them would comment on all the developments of the past two days.
An angry Mugabe launched one of his fiercest attacks on his own party members to date on Thursday, threatening to deal severely with disaffected war veterans who are pushing for Mnangagwa to succeed him.
Addressing a Zanu PF central committee meeting in Harare, Mugabe shocked party members when he described recent pronouncements on the matter by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) as tantamount to a rebellion.
“The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association was formed to cater for the welfare of our veterans and not to champion the struggle for political change, not to be the boss of the party and never to be the bully of the party, nor the entity to make the choices of who should be and who should not, never ever!
“Expect that within the party, always within the party and not outside the party. The dissidents tried it, they were war veterans, and you know what happened. Lots of trouble, lots of fighting, lots of suffering of course to our people, and these dissents activities cannot be allowed.
“Do we see another rise of dissident activity? The leadership with our experience says no to the war veterans association. It’s not your function, it’s not your business to talk a lot on who shall succeed the president.
“Dissident activities cannot be allowed. It ended in December 1987 when Joshua Nkomo and I put our hands together and our hearts together to say never again shall we allow this to happen,” the visibly agitated Mugabe said.
The president’s reference to the dark era of the early 1980s when the government unleashed the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade that massacred an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians mainly in Matabeleland and the Midlands dropped jaws and sent a chill down the spines of most of the gathered Zanu PF bigwigs.
Mugabe was insistent that it was not the responsibility of the ZNLWVA to anoint his successor, but that of Zanu PF.
I am stunned on what they do. You want to spill the blood again? We say to them that could not be allowed and steps are going to be taken (against them).
“It is not proper for any man to use the war veterans association as a platform to attack party top leadership, or seeking to direct party processes in the same direction preferred by some individuals in that same body.
“The mandate of the association does not allow directing party directions. It’s not your function. Yours is to improve the welfare of the war veterans,” Mugabe fumed.
He said the Zanu PF constitution was clear about the issue of succession and that “it remains the bible of all of us. We must respect the rules drawn by the party and organs of the party must be respected”.
Mugabe’s diatribe came after the Mutsvangwa-led war veterans had increasingly appeared to challenge the nonagenarian’s authority and those of his key lieutenants.
Only last week, the former freedom fighters responded with interest to a savage assault on them by Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko who had accused them of engaging in “treason” by endorsing Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s shoo-in successor.
In his polemic, delivered while addressing a Zanu PF Matabeleland North provincial committee meeting in Lupane, Mphoko warned the pro-Mnangagwa war veterans against talking about Mugabe’s succession while the increasingly frail nonagenarian was still on the throne.
Responding to the attack, the secretary-general of the main faction of the ZNLWVA, Victor Matemadanda, roundly savaged Mphoko, once again accusing the under-fire VP of having deserted Zimbabwe’s war of liberation.
“What do you think is more treasonous between saying Mnangagwa is the most senior person in the Zanla (Zanu PF military wing) ranks and deserting the war, going to Mozambique and selling guns meant for waging the liberation struggle?
“What is the bigger crime between saying Mnangagwa is senior and staying in a hotel for two years, refusing to stay in a $3 million house in a country where the economy is struggling?” Matemadanda asked angrily, referring to Mphoko’s continued and controversial stay in a five-star Harare hotel.
To highlight their resolve to fight Mphoko to the bitter end in Zanu PF’s worsening factional and succession wars, he added ominously that war veterans were “ready to defend themselves” in court if it came to that.
“We will not be intimidated by his misuse of the word treason. We never said Mnangagwa should take over today or tomorrow. We are simply investing in our future as Zanla and Mphoko must not interfere because we never interfere in Zipra (Zapu military wing) issues.
“He is annoyed by our discourse because he is the face of G40 and he thinks either Jonathan Moyo or (Saviour) Kasukuwere should be president. But that will never happen, unfortunately. That will not be decided by one who deserted the war.
“What is so special about him and his Mozambican wife? He must just quietly enjoy the good life that he was given by our president which he does not deserve anyway.
“He is least qualified to talk about our revolution because he was not part of its critical stages after he deserted,” Matemadanda said, adding that the only reason why they had a semblance of respect for Mphoko was because he was appointed by “our president”.
Jumping into the melee feet first, no-nonsense ZNLWVA spokesperson Douglas Mahiya told the Daily News that Mphoko “has no knowledge of the issues he is commenting on”.
“We have not endorsed anybody. We were simply discussing the arrangement we had during the war of liberation. We were in Zanla and he (Mphoko) was in Zipra. How does he know events that took place in Zanla?
“In our Zanla camp, we knew Mugabe was our number one candidate followed by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Is he (Mphoko) refuting that arrangement when he was not part of our Zanla group?
“In any event, are we not allowed to discuss and speak about our history? What kind of a country is it where you are not allowed to discuss your history?” Mahiya asked, dismissing Mphoko’s treason claim as “a fruitless plot by the G40” camp.