HARARE – The war tearing apart the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) took a surprise turn yesterday when war veterans threw their weight behind one of the troubled party’s two factions — the one led by the outfit’s elders, Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo.
Although the Daily News was unable to thread together the full import of this unexpected development at the time of going to press last night, the leadership of the war veterans who attended the national executive meeting of the Mutasa camp in Harare said they had done so “in solidarity” with ZPF’s two founding fathers who stunningly fell out with former Vice President Joice Mujuru last week.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) bigwigs who attended the meeting were secretary-general Victor Matemadanda and national spokesperson Douglas Mahiya.
“We have not come here as ZPF members, but we came after we heard that there were comrades gathered here, and we wanted to tell you to stop the insults because this is what has removed people from where we came from.
“We also came here because we said we are going to engage war veterans. People like VaGumbo are the only members of the Dare (War Council) still with us,” Matemadanda told the gathering.
“We are going to get to a point when all war veterans meet and we will ask where did the party (Zanu PF) lose the plot.
“We were all used on different levels when we were still in Zanu PF, and you should be aware that Zanu PF is good at destroying other political parties,” Matemadanda added.
Independent legislator for Norton Temba Mliswa also made a surprise appearance at the ZPF meeting, saying Mujuru’s supposed departure from the party was a chance for Mutasa and his faction to move forward.
But it was the presence of the two senior war veterans which set tongues wagging both within ZPF and the ruling Zanu PF.
Disaffected former freedom fighters have been feuding with President Robert Mugabe ever since their stunning fallout with him mid last year, when they ended their 41-year relationship with the nonagenarian which dates back to the days of the country’s liberation struggle.
And since that fallout first burst out into the open in July, after they released a damning communiqué in which they savaged the Zanu PF leader before serving him with divorce papers, the ex-combatants have not missed an opportunity to attack Mugabe.
They have also claimed that Mugabe’s continued stay in power is now a stumbling block to the country’s development, adding rather mockingly that the nonagenarian would be “a hard-sell” if he ever contemplated contesting the 2018 presidential poll.
The disgruntled former freedom fighters have also recently been ratcheting up their loud calls for Mugabe to retire and pave the way for his long-time aide, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, to take over the reins at both party and government levels.
They have also warned ominously that blood could be shed in the country if Mnangagwa does not succeed the veteran Zanu PF leader, who turns a mature 93 next Tuesday.
Gumbo, who reiterated his party faction’s desire to be involved in a grand coalition of opposition parties, showered the war veterans with praises yesterday.
“They have demonstrated real comradeship. This is the problem (not supporting each other in times of need) that we were having because we were discriminating against other members.
“We want comrades to be united because we are all fighting for the same thing, the creation of strong institutions,” he said.
Gumbo also announced that his faction would soon be meeting to choose Mujuru’s successor as the party’s leader.
“Party elders, founding members and the steering committee will in due course meet to choose an interim president who will lead the party pending an elective convention, as we strive for unity in our fight against a much-loathed Zanu PF.
“We urge Mujuru to do a thorough soul-searching and possibly redress her leadership philosophy and approach, so that she can also meaningfully contribute to the opposition cause against the sitting regime, for the restoration of Zimbabwe to its former glory,” he said.
Mutasa, Gumbo and other ZPF party bigwigs have been feuding with Mujuru since their stunning public fallout last week, which left the one-year-old movement on the brink.
This was after Mujuru expelled the two elders, together with five other party heavyweights — on account of them being alleged Zanu PF agents and working to topple her from her interim position.
But no sooner had she completed her briefing than the situation turned into a complete farce, when Mutasa and Gumbo announced at their own press conference that they had also similarly and summarily expelled Mujuru from ZPF.
Mutasa and Gumbo have since taken control of the party’s affairs after they claimed they were the rightful owners of the fledgling opposition party and its image rights.
Apart from her bickering with Mutasa and the other senior officials, Mujuru was also subsequently dealt a body blow when she suffered mass desertions, including receiving resignations from some of her longtime aides such as Sylvester Nguni, Ray Kaukonde and Retired Brigadier-General Aggripa Mutambara.
Mutasa, on Tuesday moved to blame Mujuru for allegedly causing mayhem in ZPF, when he sensationally claimed that she was allegedly working with the country’s dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
While responding to claims by the Mujuru camp that he and Gumbo, were working with intelligence operatives to derail her, Mutasa — who superintended over the CIO for a long time while still in government — counter-claimed that it was in fact the former VP who was allegedly collaborating with spooks.
He also said that contrary to the belief by many members of the public, Mujuru was still being “guarded and protected” by intelligence operatives, more than two years after she was hounded out of the ruling Zanu PF and subsequently fired from government by Mugabe.
However, and according to the law, Mujuru is entitled to all the benefits accorded to seating vice presidents — including pensions and holiday allowances, although there is no specific mention of security.
“I have not talked to any official in Zanu PF other than the president. How could we be infiltrated as we stand? We are surprised that that accusation (about working with Zanu PF and the CIO) comes from her because she is the one who is working with the CIO,” Mutasa told the Daily News in the exclusive interview.
“She is surrounded by the CIO, from her driver to her back people. The people who support her are people that I know very well. I even know them by name, so it is surprising to me that she would make such accusations.
“That accusation against Gumbo and myself . . . is what she is doing, and she thinks that is what we are also doing. If I was (working with the CIO) you would be the first to know,” the miffed Mutasa added.
But ZPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire scoffed at Mutasa’s claims, accusing him and other fired officials of working against progressive ideas.
“I used to think he is old, but I think he has gone beyond what old signifies. He was part of us and being the former CIO minister, it should have been his duty to fish out these elements for the good of the party.
“That he didn’t, and those CIO elements are still in the party as he claims, shows two things. Either that Mutasa is deliberately lying in a futile attempt to alienate supporters from the party, or that those elements were planted by him and were doing work for him,” Mawarire fumed.