HARARE – A tension-filled extraordinary congress is in the offing for the ruling party as the influential Zanu PF Women’s League has started rallying its structures across the country to lend support behind First Lady Grace Mugabe as the sole beneficiary of a constitutional amendment seeking to create space for a female vice president.
By Farai Machakaire
The Daily News can reveal that the women’s assembly is having consultative meetings in all the 10 political provinces to amplify its demands for gender parity to be mainstreamed at the vice president level of Zanu PF.
It was at the party’s 2015 national people’s conference in the resort town of Victoria Falls where the league came up with the resolution to have the quota system revived.
Until now, the wing had stayed clear of naming its preferred candidate to assume the position. But with the extraordinary Zanu PF congress only a few weeks away, that cover has been blown off.
At one of the Zanu PF Women’s League’s consultative meetings, its national secretary for administration, Letina Undenge, is heard in a recording calling on members to be united in campaigning for Grace to earn a place in the presidium, as one of President Robert Mugabe’s deputies.
Undenge confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that it was indeed her voice in the recording.
The wife of Energy and Power Development minister Samuel Undenge is heard saying it was the women’s league that invited Grace to take up the leadership of the wing in 2014 and that they were, by the same token, asking her to represent them in the presidium – comprising the president, his two deputies and the national chairman.
She said Grace was fit for the job as she was able to handle pressure.
“Ndoanonzi ma cake (she is a gem),” said Undenge, as she heaped praises on Grace.
“We are the ones who asked her (to take up her current position in the league) and she agreed, we actually (want) more women in positions of authority.”
The Manicaland branch of the women’s league has already engaged Zanu PF women in a number of districts such as Chimanimani, Chipinge and Mutare, canvassing support for the first lady.
The message would be spread to other districts, among them Makoni, Mutasa and Nyanga.
“Kubva 2014 tichingokumbira semapenzi, 2015 tichingokumbira, 2016, 2017 tozo jambwa ne congress futi arghh, this time around bodo (We have been clamouring for this since 2014 and you want to skip us again in 2017. No we won’t accept that). We know the woman we want and that woman is Amai Mugabe and no one can refuse us that right. Who says you should choose for us? If you don’t want her then why are you are singing for her…this job involves a lot. You should be strong, you should be clever and you should have the ability. It’s a very high-demanding position,” Undenge told her audience during one of the meetings in Buhera over the weekend.
“…Some people don’t want us to say our ambitions as women. We only had a small taste (of power) in 2014 when (Joice) Mujuru was vice president.”
Undenge urged the women’s league executive members to vote for the amendment of the party’s constitution to achieve some semblance of gender parity in the top echelons of Zanu PF.
“This was said at conference, it’s not a rumour. We agreed that among the VPs may we have one of our own. We agreed on this at conference. Is there anyone who no longer agrees with this resolution that we agreed on? This is not new to our constitution and that’s why Mujuru got to VP. We want more women in decision-making positions because as it is now we are suffering,” said Undenge.
The quota system was abandoned in 2014 as Zanu PF sought to get rid of Mujuru, the former vice president.
Following Mujuru’s catastrophic fall which left a trail of broken political souls in its wake, Emmerson Mnangagwa emerged as the biggest beneficiary when he replaced the wife of the late general Solomon Mujuru.
But there has been a re-alignment of political forces in Zanu PF, with Mnangagwa, initially believed to be Mugabe’s heir apparent, appearing to be losing support in the party.
A clear confirmation of that loss of confidence has been Mugabe’s proclamation of an extraordinary congress next month.
The 10 political provinces in the country have made their intentions known going into the congress. While all of them are backing Mugabe as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2018 polls, eight of them want the Zanu PF constitution tweaked to accommodate a woman as one of the two vice presidents.
On that score, Masvingo and Midlands provinces have broken ranks with the rest, saying they do not fathom any positional changes at congress.
Masvingo and the Midlands provinces are home to the Team Lacoste faction, which is campaigning for Mnangagwa to take-over from Mugabe whenever he decides to relinquish power.
That desire by the Team Lacoste faction is under threat from the rival Generation 40 (G40) faction, which does not believe Mnangagwa has what it takes to succeed Mugabe.
While the women’s league is making its intentions clear, a number of scenario are emerging ahead of congress.
One of the emerging scenarios is that Mnangagwa could be pushed out of the top three to accommodate a female vice president.
The other scenario is that Mugabe may expand the presidium to achieve the twin objectives of saving Mnangagwa and accommodating a third vice president who, in this case, would be a woman.
Another scenario that appears distant is whereby the axe could fall on Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko to give effect to the quota system.
This, however, appears unlikely because Mphoko owes his position to the 1987 Unity Accord that reserves his position to former Zapu cadres.
The Accord was struck by former Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe (representing Zanu) to end ugly disturbances in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions which, according to some accounts, claimed the lives of more than 20 000 people.
The Daily News has also previously reported that the Team Lacoste faction is mulling throwing the name of Water and Climate Change minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri for the post of vice president in the event Mnangagwa is thrown under the bus.
Reached for comment yesterday, Undenge confirmed she was backing Grace, arguing there was nothing untoward about their meetings.
“It’s my job to talk to women and also deliver the projects being funded by Amai. If we also discuss issues to do with the congress, what is wrong with that? Why are people concerned about (the) women’s league’s issues? Maybe it’s an excitement (around the quota system) but I am not afraid to say the resolutions we made. Women have been asking for promotion and that’s the general trend around the world.”
The executive women’s league meetings are expected to be followed by youth league meetings where the women’s arm of Zanu PF will be canvassing for support for Grace to ascend to the vice president post.
Last month, Zanu PF Manicaland youth chair Mubuso Chinguno declared that youths were clamouring for Grace to replace Mnangagwa, claiming the vice president had become a divisive figure in Zanu PF.
Chinguno, who was suspended from the youth league this week following allegations of impropriety, had been part of the women’s league meetings held in Manicaland before his suspension.
During the meetings, Chinguno declared his undying support for Grace to be in the presidium, saying his pronouncements had set him on a collision course with other members of the youth league who are backing Mnangagwa’s presidential ambitions.
“My life has been hell. I am being marked for supporting the First Lady. I am not a thief. I tell you as I stand here if they kill me or not, let them suspend me or not, I don’t care. I will not be removed from supporting Amai Mugabe. Based on merit let’s give the title to Amai Mugabe. A wife of a traditional healer will become a traditional healer, a wife of a prophet ends up knowing how to prophesy, so Amai has stayed with Mugabe for a long time she has the notes and she is suitable to be the vice president of this country. So please let’s go to congress in December and put Amai Mugabe as our vice president,” said the suspended Zanu PF youth leader. – Daily News