Internal disagreements within the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party led by former vice president Joice Mujuru came to the fore yesterday when her formation imploded, leading to dismissals and counter-dismissals.
Mujuru set the ball rolling when she started the day by dismissing seven senior members of the party whom she accused of having links with the ruling ZANU-PF party whence most of ZPF’s leaders were sacked on allegations of trying to remove President Robert Mugabe from power.
Top on the list of those that Mujuru gave the marching orders are the Elders’ Advisory Council duo of Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo, who ironically appointed her to the position of interim president of the party when ZPF was formed in early 2015.
The other five senior members that were shown the exits are former Zimbabwe Union of Democrats leader, Margaret Dongo; former ZANU-PF Politburo member Kudakwashe Bhasikiti; former cabinet member Munacho Mutezo; former ZANU-PF Bikita West legislator Claudius Makova and former ZANU-PF Mashonaland East provincial youth chairperson Luckson Kandemiri.
“As a result, we have decided to eject some of the colleagues and comrades we thought would stand with the people’s cause, but have chosen to be agents of the regime. All sorts of tricks, ranging from coup d’état and sophisticated infiltration, have taken centre stage with a view to delaying the people’s cause of unequivocal liberation,” said Mujuru in a statement in which she claimed to have executive powers to make such decisions.
“We assure Zimbabweans that more heads are going to roll in this revolutionary cleansing exercise. We remain committed to the democratisation of Zimbabwe. We remain committed to a coalition of progressive opposition forces to fight and remove ZANU-PF from office,” the statement said.
However, the group of seven responded to Mujuru’s move by calling a press conference where they rejected their purported dismissal, claiming that if anything, they were fed-up with Mujuru’s inept leadership and dictatorial tendencies such that their dismissal came at a time they were finalising moves to recall her from her position as the interim leader of the party.
Mujuru’s move could have been a pre-emptive strike as reports suggested that the group, which has in the past weeks been holding a series of meetings in her absence, had decided to remove her from the leadership of the party.
Mutasa said as the ZPF elders who seconded Mujuru to the leadership of the party and never gave her any such sweeping powers her latest stunt had been the last straw and so they would proceed to expel her from the party. Effectively, ZPF has split before its second anniversary.
He said Mujuru had misled the nation by convening a press conference purportedly expelling the seven – a move that convinced the elders beyond doubt that she should be expelled from the party.
“She has not only misled you, but the entire public of Zimbabwe and it is for that reason that we may consider not to have her as the leader anymore. But we haven’t made that decision yet, but we are waiting for all of you to digest this information and think about it,” Mutasa said.
The “rebels”— who referred to Mujuru as “the former interim president of the ZPF”— alleged that they had clashed with Mujuru’s desire for a ZANU-PF styled one centre of power in which members of the national executive were to be appointed by the party president instead of through an elective congress.
“You wake up and announce things that we have never discussed and running with things that are contrary to the principles of the party. So how do you want us to have confidence in your leadership when you are now exhibiting the one centre of power that we ran away from (when we left) ZANU-PF?” Bhasikiti said.
Mutasa accused Mujuru of betraying all the members of the party who came from ZANU-PF because they were all expelled for allegedly supporting her.
“If she was intelligent, she would not have expelled Cde Gumbo and I because we were expelled on her account and anyone with any intelligence would actually say these are untouchable,” he said.
For a long time, relations have been strained in ZPF and it was just a matter of time before the situation boiled over.
Founded on my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend principle, the differences between ZPF leaders cut across personality issues, strategy, ideology and style.
The only thing that had brought them together was their hatred towards ZANU-PF, after they were all given their marching orders between 2014 and last year.
Beyond their anger over their dismissal, like water and oil, ZPF leaders had very little in common serve for their common ZANU-PF background.
Temba Mliswa and Jimmy Kunaka were the first pioneering figures in ZPF to bolt out, having been disappointed with what they alleged as Mujuru’s ineffectual leadership.
Former war veterans’ leader, Jabulani Sibanda, was also once actively involved in ZPF at the beginning, but his enthusiasm evaporated in no time.
Sibanda has since gone quiet and is no longer involving himself in the business of the party, preferring to play it safe from his Bulawayo base.
He has also been spotted while in the company of known ZANU-PF members, raising speculation that he may be retracing his footsteps back into President Mugabe’s party.
Relations between ZPF’s founding fathers, among them Mutasa, Gumbo, Dzikamai Mavhaire, Bhasikiti and Mujuru, hit a tipping point over the party’s participation in Bikita West by-election on January 21.
A section of the party was against contesting in the by-election in the absence of electoral reforms, while another group wanted to test the waters. Mujuru and Mavhaire belonged to the last group that was hopeful of victory in the poll, which victory they wanted to use in their fundraising efforts.
ZPF had been desperate for money to fund its activities and was longing for something they could use as evidence to prove their popularity in their engagements with potential backers.
Following the party’s defeat, it has been back to the drawing board for ZPF.
Another bone of contention for ZPF has been when and how it would hold its inaugural convention to usher into office a substantive leadership.
The convention was seen as a precursor for coalition talks with Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) and other smaller opposition parties to enhance their chances of toppling ZANU-PF from power.
That they were approaching the same financiers as the MDC-T had complicated ZPF’s relations with Tsvangirai, who had responded by withholding his endorsement of ZPF’s candidate in the Bikita West by-election held last month.
Recently, harsh words were exchanged in one of the party’s meetings over Mujuru’s failure to implement positions that would have been agreed on.
Ever since the burst-up, Mujuru, who seems to be allergic to criticism, was now treating the vocal members of the party like political outcasts.
The old guard in ZPF namely Mutasa and Gumbo, among others, had previously complained bitterly to Mujuru that they were being cast away by the party despite being the brains behind its formation.
At some point, it had seemed Mujuru was now reposing a lot of faith in political nonentities and taking advice outside party structures hence her reluctance to implement plans that would have been agreed on formal forums.
The dominant view emerging from these disagreements was that Mujuru was not being decisive and still had too much respect for her former boss, President Mugabe, whom she tries by all means to avoid going into conflict with and yet the ZANU-PF leader was perceived as the elephant in the room.
These differences have resulted in the party failing to hold its elective congress, which many thought should have been held in September last year.
Indications are that the party could have been infiltrated by ZANU-PF sponsored State goons to dilute its chances of posing a significant threat to the ruling party.
Early last year, President Mugabe sarcastically predicted that ZPF might disintegrate.
“Avo vakabvawo kwedu vakamboedza kuti vangatore zita redu vakari nzvengesa. Vakati tinoda kuti tizonzi People First. Aaaaah uchanzwa People First, People Second, People Third, People Fourth. Regera. Zvinoramba zvakaita mutorododo zvakadarowo mumugwagwa. ZANU-PF will remain ZANU-PF, very strong, no change,” he said.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said the future of the party was now uncertain.
He suspected there could be outside forces fomenting problems in ZPF.
“It is not surprising because there are invisible disputes within the party, with elders unhappy with the state of the party and the outcome of the Bikita West by-election when they lost to ZANU-PF,” he said.
“It is also a question of the party being disorganised and drifting apart because they have been postponing congress to the end of the year. We have to come to terms with the fact that there is confusion within the party. The future of the party is not certain since it is yet to establish itself with a clear legitimate structure. The Bikita West by-election outcome didn’t help in creating a coherent party structure.”
Political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu, opined that ZPF’s split represented the party’s failed ideological base, which had not unified all the founding elders expelled from ZANU-PF.
“Their hearts and souls are still in ZANU-PF. This was shown when Didymus Mutasa two months ago made a call to President Mugabe which is strange because he made the call when they no longer had relations with President Mugabe. The party was bound to struggle and drift apart because it had no central idea and they did not have the energy or motivation to stick together since they were all focused on their anger against President Mugabe and not establishing a sound political party,” said Mukundu.