HARARE – President Robert Mugabe continues to outwit his warring Zanu PF lieutenants, proving for the umpteenth time on Friday that he remains the troubled ruling party’s ultimate conductor and puppeteer despite his advanced age and poor health.
Zanu PF bigwigs who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday admitted as much, saying the way he had taken the wind out of the sails of the ruling party’s brawling factions — when he returned from his month-long holiday to the Far East on Friday — showed that he was still “the centre of the universe” in the former liberation movement.
“The way he decided to deal with the warring factions by changing his travel arrangements on his return and choosing, correctly, to dispense with the usual airport rally was a classic Gushungo (Mugabe) move.
“Firstly, this meant that there was no drama at the airport as had been threatened by both the Generation 40 (G40) and Team Lacoste camps.
“But more importantly, it meant that neither faction could use the president to advance their divisive succession interests, which is very important for party unity and as the 2018 elections approach.
“Many of us are worried sick about what will happen to Zanu PF and Zim when Gushungo is no longer around or at the helm to steer things,” one of the bigwigs, who has consistently claimed to be “non-aligned”, said.
These sentiments came after Mugabe quietly sneaked into the country from his Far East holidays, neutralising in the process the dangerous gamesmanship that had been threatened by the ruling party’s two major factions which have been going at each other hammer during his absence in the last few weeks.
The ugly tribal, factional and succession wars have escalated since the beginning of the year as Team Lacoste, which is rallying behind Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations, and the Generation 40 (G40) group, which is rabidly opposed to the VP succeeding Mugabe, have been trading deadly blows on all fronts.
But this all proved to be in vain on Friday when Mugabe returned home — upon which the nonagenarian chose to ignore both factions which were childishly and dangerously so, clamouring for his attention.
Political analysts who spoke to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday were also agreed that Mugabe had acted wisely in this sordid affair.
“I also didn’t think that the airport (Harare International) was the appropriate place for such encounters and sharp differences. It was childish and dangerous,” he said.
Businessman-cum politician, and an avowed Mnangagwa supporter, Energy Mutodi, also praised Mugabe for his “shrewdness” in the way he had handled the differences.
“It shows maturity. The president is realising the risk being caused by the divisions within the party. There is now also the real risk that the party will perform badly in 2018.
“Supporters of VP Mnangagwa may decide to vote the opposition if Mugabe continues to work with the G40. The people now know that the G40 is composed of people who suffer from fear of the unknown.
‘But in the big scheme of things, it (Mugabe’s handling of the differences) is actually a victory for Team Lacoste because the president has now realised the risk of playing to the whims of the G40,” Mutodi said.
But rights lawyer and political analyst, Dewa Mavinga, said it was difficult at this stage to predict which direction Mugabe would go in the party’s succession brawls, as he had “proved time and time again the art of playing the two factions”.
“Currently it seems Mnangagwa’s political star is shining bright, but the pendulum can very easily swing the other way.
“The tricky part of the succession battle is that nothing can be taken for granted unless Mugabe openly declares who his preferred successor is, or what succession process will be followed.
“It is like the Shona saying that loosely interpreted says the buffalo’s meal is the grass that is already in its stomach, for it may die before swallowing the grass in its mouth,” Mavhinga told the Daily News On Sunday.
Last week, warring Zanu PF factions had threatened to batter each other at the airport upon Mugbae’s arrival, as the ruling party’s seemingly unstoppable tribal, factional and succession brawls continue to escalate.
On Thursday, angry war veterans threatened to beat up ruling party supporters who belong to the G40 faction, who were planning to denounce Mnangagwa upon Mugabe’s return.
Speaking on Thursday, the disaffected leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) claimed that 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, some G40 members had similarly told our sister publication, the Daily News, that they 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.
This was after Mnangagwa had hosted sacked Zanu PF officials at his rural home during the festive season, with his party foes alleging that this was in fact a meeting organised to plot the ouster of Mugabe from power.
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, also issued a statement in which they called for a probe into Mnangagwa for hobnobbing with the likes of war veterans’ leader Christopher Mutsvangwa and the maverick Mutodi.