PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe chose the recent Zanu PF Youth League Bindura interface rally to define for the first time his relationship with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the context of the liberation struggle and what is currently happening within the ruling party vis-à-vis the ongoing leadership succession power struggle.
Farai Maguwu,Civic activist
Although many interpretations and even conclusions have been drawn from what Mugabe has been saying about Mnangagwa of late, particularly in Bindura, the veteran leader chose a different style to attack and cut his deputy to the historical dimensions he wanted, with some mistakenly thinking there was a silver lining on the dark cloud hanging over the vice-president’s head as he was he was purportedly hailed for his heroics during the struggle, for instance blowing up a train in Masvingo and escaping the gallows by a whisker on a technicality.
While Mugabe highlighted some of Mnangagwa’s achievements, his main narrative was about minimising Mnangagwa’s liberation struggle role and historical significance to justify pulling the rug from under his feet on presidential succession ambitions.
Mugabe’s narrative on Mnangagwa’s liberation war history is reminiscent of how the president and some of the vice-president’s allies, especially war veterans leader and former minister Chris Mutsvangwa, demolished ex-vice-president Joice Mujuru’s own struggle credentials, signalling her spectacular fall from her lofty position and from grace in December 2014.
During Mujuru’s ascendancy to the vice-presidency in 2004 — at Mnangagwa’s expense — Zanu PF had claimed she was a brave revolutionary and ex-combatant who even downed a Rhodesian chopper during the war. She was branded as an unparalleled heroine of the struggle as in 2004 Mugabe even asked his party if it wanted her to only rise to position of vice-president or further to the helm.
However, when the Mujuru faction decapitation campaign started and reached its zenith some Zanu PF leaders started debunking myths about Mujuru in a bid to cut her to size and herald her expulsion. Mutsvangwa and other war veterans came out to say the story about Mujuru downing a helicopter during the war was simply false; it was part of wartime propaganda. During the war so many things were claimed, some of them untrue.
With the public knowing that some of the stories told during the war were propaganda meant to scare the Rhodesians and propel freedom fighters, Mujuru was suddenly stripped of her heroics and left vulnerable to attack and removal.
What made it easier to demystify Mujuru was that she never responded to the allegation that she had exaggerated or even lied about her liberation struggle heroics and thus benefitted from a false narrative.
In Bindura, Mugabe effectively told the rally that Mnanagwa was not only a liberation war deserter who had to be brought back from Zambia where he had been deported after being released from jail to join his parents, but was also the godfather of factionalism and tribalism in Zanu PF.
Mugabe also joined the chorus of those who accuse his deputy of being a brutal and cruel leader who by implication must never get anywhere near the throne.
Even though Mugabe was not as hard-hitting and brutal as his wife Grace, his account of Mannagagwa’s war history was extremely damaging as it came at a time when the vice-president’s Zanu PF faction, which include the greater chunk of war veterans and the security sector, was pushing for him to be the next party leader and state president.
Mugabe took the opportunity to remind Mnangagwa that it was him who invited him to the helm of Zanu in 1977, hence he had no moral authority to challenge him for the party leadership or tell him what to do.
“Tabva kuGeneva (Switzerland) muna 1976 ndopatakaronga, tichidaidza vamwe zvino kuti vachitijoinawo, vana Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi nana Cde Mnangagwa, tabva kuGeneva muna1976 …” Mugabe said.
Although he went on to chronicle Mnangagwa’s pre-1976, in fact 1960s, military training and bombing of a train in Masvingo, these were only mentioned in passing without making them central to the story.
If anything, Mugabe suggested Mnangagwga was arrested because of his own naivety, not bravery. He said Mnangagwa was caught napping because he did not know that some people, even leaders, were sellouts, hence akabatwa segurwe. He went further to detail how Mnangagwa escaped the gallows by a whisker, but then again he gave credit to himself and other Zanu leaders in detention who tasked the late Professor Walter Kamba to represent Mnangagwa.
“We tasked him, the late Professor Walter (Kamba), do whatever you can, we don’t want him (Mnangagwa) to be hanged,” said Mugabe. Kamba saw a loophole in the law which says if the crime was committed before one had turned 18 he could not be sentenced to death. Mugabe went further “nhasi uno taidai tichiti musi wemaheroes, that’s where Emmerson Mnangagwa lies, saka ndopatakamuyamura napo”, indicating that without us he would have been executed.
While Mugabe confirmed the existence of the G40 and Lacoste Zanu PF factions, his central message was not directed at G40, but rather he was subtly laying a charge against Mnangagwa — that of disloyalty and sabotage by way of creating a safe haven for rogue elements suspended or expelled from the party. This is a serious charge. It speaks to disloyalty and rebellion, charges which maybe career ending in Zanu PF.
On the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration of 2004, Mugabe again implicated Mnangagwa for trying to overthrow him, adding that as a lawyer he was clever and played it safe, hence he could not be pinned down on the charges of plotting a palace coup.
Reference to Zanu PF politburo member and Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo was only meant to hit his target in the process — Mnangagwa. Mugabe clearly has no beef with Moyo, his main enforcer against Mnangagwa at the moment.
Mugabe also cleverly used Moyo’s politburo representations to publicly charge Mnangagwa for being part of the Tsholotsho plot. So if anything, Mugabe was grateful to Moyo for openly implicating Mnangagwa in the Tsholotsho debacle, a charge that justifies the current campaign against him. And in Mugabe’s world, there no appeal. He is the judge, prosecutor and lawyer.
But the central message was Mugabe reminding Mnangagwa that it was him who brought him into the Zanu leadership and so he could not afford to plot against him.
“Ndakafunga kuti wakadaro, anodiwa pabasa iri (security) angave munhu anoziva murau, gweta, angave munhu ane fundo yepamusoro angave munhu zvekare ane rudzidzo rwepfuti. Ndopandakati kuna (Josiah) Tongogara, ahh hoo mada kuti ndisarudze iyeyo uyu (Cletus Chigove?), ndine mukomana wandinoziva wataiva naye kujeri anonzi Emmerson Mnangagwa,” Mugabe said.
This statement is loaded with many innuendos. First, Mugabe insinuates that until 1976, Mnangagwa was not known to liberation war leaders. By telling Tongogara, the Zanla comamnder, that “ndine mukomana wandinoziva wataiva naye kujeri anonzi Emmerson Mnangagwa”, Mugabe insinuates that Tongogara had no knowledge of Mnangagwa as such until 1976 when he introduced him to the top leadership and commanders. This means the contribution of Mnangagwa to the liberation struggle before 1976 was marginal, even though he has been arrested and jailed before being released and deported.
Mugabe went further to practically accuse Mnangagwa of being a war deserter and a reluctant leader who was dragged back to the struggle, to the warfront kicking and screaming.
“… asi paakabuda mujeri akangoti vabereki vari kuZambia ndokubva aenda kuZambia …,” Mugabe said.
Most senior Zanu leaders of the liberation struggle such as Mugabe himself and Edgar Tekere went to Mozambique after their release from detention, but Mnangagwa went to live with his parents in Zambia. Zapu leaders also did the same; they went to fight from Zambia were the party was based.
Remarks on Mnangagwa coming from a man who always preaches how Zimbabwe was liberated through the sacrifice and the barrel of the gun is a serious indictment of the vice-president’s liberation war credentials. Mugabe always preaches that they were ready to die for their country, but in Bindura he revealed how Mnangagwa’s fear conquered him and forced him to disappear from the liberation movement and struggle for some years.
“… takazonzwa kuti aenda ku-university akanoita law, uye ndinonzwa kuti akapedza. Wava kushanda nana (the late former Chief Justice Enoch) Dumbutshena. Dumbutshena waiva kuMashonaland West, akanga asingaende mberi kuva a frontrunner we struggle. Dzaida kungotaura dziri kumashure-shure uku,” he said.
With this statement Mugabe insinuates that as soon as Mnangagwa entered Zambia he cut off all communication with the Zanu leaders. He explained this by saying “takanzwa kuti” this and that, meaning they were relying on other people and rumours to inform them of the whereabouts of Mnangagwa.
A closer examination of the Mugabe’s account of Mnangagwa boils down to: “Look, this guy deserted the struggle, I brought him back and made him what he is today” and by extension “so you can’t challenge me or else you are gone.”
Mugabe further said: “Akatisiya tiri mujeri, ndopaakazoenda kuuniversity yekuZambia, ndisati ndamudana ini.” According to Mugabe, Mnangagwa seemed to have been broken by the 10 years of detention, hence his disappearance from the struggle after his release. He took up studies in Zambia at a time the likes of Mugabe were still in jail and later when they were re-organising and restructuring the party to intensify the struggle.
During Mnangawa’s hibernation, Mugabe alleges, Zanu leaders suffered much brutality in the trenches. Mugabe, for instance, said Herbert Ushewokunze, Tekere and many others were taken to a deep gorge to intimidate them. Ushewokunze was beaten with the butt of the gun and his skull fractured, while Tekere was also tortured by Chigove. Chigove was the Zanu chief of intelligence and security.
According to Mugabe, Mnangagwa reluctantly rejoined the struggle at his invitation after Tongogara had asked the Zanu leader to second someone who was educated enough to take over from Chigove who was not educated.
Mugabe said: “Ndakati ndinoda Emmerson Mnangagwa. Ndakanga ndisati ndanyatsomuzuvurura zvakanaka (I didn’t know him that well”. He said before that they had sent Mnangagwa for military training, first in Egypt and then in China. This, coupled with legal training, made Mnangagwa suitable for the position of security and intelligence chief. But when Mugabe invited Mnangagwa to take up the post, he was initially reluctant.
“Akati ‘ahh ndingauye zvangu asi tine tsaona kuno baba vangu vakashaya saka chimbondipai just one month to wind up affairs’ … after one month akauya tuturutu, up to today,” he said. The ideophone “tuturutu”, is usually used to depict the sudden arrival of a disorganised person. Mugabe said nothing about the contribution Mnangagwa later made as head of security and intelligence. He only mentioned how he came back to struggle, indicating the thrust of his message was to detail that process and his role in it.
Mugabe also drilled holes into Sekeramayi’s liberation war credentials. He said when Sekeramayi returned from Sweden, he had settled in Lusaka and started practicing medicine: “Apedza kudaro (studying) vakauyawo ndikanzwa kuti ari kupi, ari kuLusaka.
Ndikati ahh madzoka, huyai muzotijoinaka tiri kuda vana chiremba kuno, vakati haiwa tichambopedzisa zvatiri kuita tichauya …”
Sekeramayi is widely viewed as the G40’s candidate to succeed Mugabe, particularly after Moyo’s glorification of him during a public discussion at Sapes Trust Dialogue Series in June. Grace also seemed to insinuate in Bindura Sekeramayi was the preferred successor when she said he was brought into Mugabe’s bedroom after a case of suspected food poisoning had left the nonagenarian battling for life.
However, the fact that Mugabe did not dwell much on Sekeramayi means he was not the prime target of attacks, but just a diversion. The real target was Mnangagwa.
Mugabe went on to charge Mnangagwa with regionalism and tribalism, accusing him of forcing the late vice-president Simon Muzenda out of the Midlands province where he is a political godfather.
“VaMuzenda vakazoti ahhh ndakuda kuenda ku Masvingo. Ndatandwa kuMidlands, nevakomana, ivo vana Emmerson ava ndovainzi vanditanda naana Hove. Hatingambozvirambi izvozvo, handidi kunyepa. Vakazvitaura pachena ivo vana Emmerson vachiramba kuti hazvisiri izvo. (VaMuzenda) Vachiti ndatandwa,” Mugabe said as he continued to repeat that assertion.
With that charge Mugabe accuses his deputy of always being regional, divisive and cruel since the early days of independence.
This was a fatal blow which in a moment reduced Mnangagwa from being a national leader to a tribal leader. By allegedly forcing a Muzenda out of Midlands, Mnangagwa was presented as a dangerous schemer who does not respect his superiors. Mugabe showed he was also bitter about that.
In that context, Mugabe charged Mnanagwa with disloyalty and insubordination.
Mugabe appeared to justify Moyo’s relentless attacks on Mnangagwa, saying Moyo felt betrayed in 2004 because Mnangagwa did not come out openly to back his allies when they were being suspended and expelled from the party.
To cap a bad day for Mnangagwa, Mugabe also uncharacteristically laid bare his deputy’s private life in front of his wife. He repeated Grace’s charge, started by Moyo in his politburo video-documentary against Mnangagwa, of forcing veteran broadcaster, Godfrey Majonga, to jump from a high-rise building in a fight over a girlfriend of mutual interest. Mugabe said Majonga was asked by Mnangagwa to choose between sitting on a hot stove plate or to jump through the window, and he chose the latter which resulted in permanent disability.
For the greater part of Mugabe’s speech, Mnangagwa and his wife Auxillia sat pensively wondering what was about to befall them. It was clear Mugabe was announcing the beginning of the end for them in a way visible to the blind and audible to deaf!
Maguwu is founding director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, a Mutare-based organisation working on improved governance of natural resources in Zimbabwe. This article was first published in the Zimbabwe Independent