HARARE – Warring Zanu PF factions, which were hoping to use President Robert Mugabe’s return home from his month-long holiday in the Far East with his family to outmanoeuvre each other, were left bitterly disappointed when the wily nonagenarian quietly sneaked back into the country late Friday night.
Although the country’s typically unreasonable security personnel barred the Daily News from covering Mugabe’s arrival at Harare International Airport — only allowing State media to get close to, and talk to the country’s long-ruling leader — well-placed sources told the newspaper that the nonagenarian had deliberately chosen to sneak in quietly.
This was after warring Zanu PF factions had threatened to batter each other at the airport upon Mugabe’s arrival, as the ruling party’s seemingly unstoppable tribal, factional and succession brawls continue to escalate.
A top government official who spoke to the Daily News last night confirmed that Mugabe’s return back home had had to be “managed strategically” because of the threats of violence among feuding Zanu PF supporters.
“We couldn’t afford to have the usual gathering at the airport today to welcome the president because of the succession fights. All things being equal, we will have a rally at the airport next week when he returns from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa,” the bigwig said.
Another senior party official corroborated the claim saying there had been real fears that there could have been a bloodbath at the airport if Mugabe’s usual reception routines had not been changed.
“Gushungo’s (Mugabe’s) travel arrangements were successfully kept a hush-hush affair, with only very few people in the know about when and how he would return.
“I think this was very smart of the president and his close lieutenants because anything could have happened today had the usual routines been followed, with large crowds of bickering supporters there,” the official said.
Indeed, there were neither the usual crowds of rank and file supporters, nor the large contingent of Cabinet ministers and other senior government officials and top securocrats who normally throng the airport to welcome the nonagenarian each time he leaves or returns home from his myriad trips.
Even the police details who usually man all the capital city’s major intersections and traffic lights, along his home route from the airport, were conspicuous by their absence.
According to well-placed sources, Mugabe did not say much to the few officials who welcomed him upon his arrival, including vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, telling them about his leave, as well as his State visit to China.
On Thursday, disaffected war veterans threatened to beat up ruling party supporters who belong to Zanu PF’s Generation 40 (G40) faction who were planning to denounce Mnangagwa upon Mugabe’s return.
The war veterans, who want Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, claimed that the G40 group, which is rabidly opposed to the Midlands godfather’s ascendancy, was planning to transport thousands of party supporters to Harare International Airport, to not only welcome the nonagenarian and his family back, but to also humiliate Mnangagwa.
Another source who spoke to the Daily News last night also said it was in this light that intelligence operatives had deliberately sent the media and the warring Zanu PF factions on “a wild goose chase” about Mugabe’s travel arrangements.
“In the interests of everyone, it was felt that it was safer to confuse the warring factions and allow the president to arrive without facing this difficult situation of having to choose one faction over the other.
“So, it was decided to do what we did for the sake of Gushungo and making sure that no faction would claim psychological victory in the raging succession wars,” the senior Zanu PF official said.
Speaking on Thursday, the disaffected leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) said it had “impeccable intelligence” suggesting that the G40 had mobilised its supporters to embarrass Mnangagwa at the airport by brandishing placards denouncing the Midlands godfather for hobnobbing with sacked party officials during the festive season.
“We want to warn them (G40 kingpins and their supporters) that they are going too far. Kana vachienda kunogamuchira Mugabe ngavaende vanogamuchira Mugabe (If they want to go and welcome Mugabe, then they should do just that),” warned combative ZNLWVA secretary-general Victor Matemadanda.
“Vakada kusimudza maplacards ekunyomba (if they wave placards to embarrass and provoke) VP Mnangagwa, we as the group from the liberation struggle will fight back, not because we are saying Mugabe is not the president, but because we are fighting on behalf of a fellow comrade.
“We know that they are making placards and we have put our people on standby. Ngavafambe nawo maplacards acho tivone. Tinodzigura zviuno chembere idzodzo. Vakangofamba nemaplacards vachiti Ngwena kudii-dii tinovadira. Ende kumajere kwacho tavakukuziva tinokudzokera (Let them wave their placards against Mnangagwa and we will teach them a hard lesson. We will beat them up. We are not afraid to go back to jail),” he added.
“Iye president wacho ngaazive kuti varikuronga zvinhu zvavo vachida kusvoora ED (Mnangagwa) he must reprimand them. Even vasina kuita, he must tell them that this nonsense must come to an end, otherwise tozoti ndiye arikuvatuma. (Mugabe himself must stop them and if he does not we will conclude that he is the one who is behind them),” Matemadanda charged further.
Two weeks ago, the Daily News also reported that some G40 members were planning a meeting with Mugabe upon his return from his holiday, to raise their concerns over Mnangagwa’s alleged plotting against the nonagenarian, as well as against the infamous “Cupgate” saga.
Since the images of Mnangagwa holding the much-obsessed about coffee mug (written I Am The Boss) emerged in the public domain, the G40 had gone to town about the issue, interpreting it as the VP’s open statement that he had unbridled presidential ambitions.
G40-linked party officials, who subsequently met at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare, issued a statement in which they called for a probe into Mnangagwa for hobnobbing with the likes of war veterans’ leader Christopher Mutsvangwa and maverick businessman-cum politician, Energy Mutodi.