AS President Robert Mugabe’s days in office become numbered with less than 23 uncertain months before the expiry of his current disputed tenure that will end his controversial rule since 1980, the ruling Zanu PF is finding itself in a triple trap that is turning its long delayed and now acrimonious search for Mugabe’s successor into an ill-fated affair.
By Jonathan Moyo
This is due to the unresolved consequences of the increasingly topical yet hitherto undefined Tsholotsho Declaration of November 18, 2004 whose ghost is now haunting Zanu PF succession politics.
Because I am one of those who were intimately involved in the Tsholotsho Declaration, and because some Zanu PF politicians and sections of the media have claimed that I am the architect of that declaration which they say was a coup plot when it wasn’t, I believe that it is now in the national interest for me to make a full disclosure of what I know about the content of this declaration and its wider national implications without fear or favour.
But first let me explain what I mean by Zanu PF’s triple trap. It has three components which are: the virtual collapse of the economy with the present 913,6% inflation galloping towards 1 000% beyond any remedy by the Zanu PF government which is now in a policy paralysis; the growing international isolation of Zimbabwe, which is now a pariah state that can no longer be redressed without a comprehensive programme of political and economic reform in constitutional and structural terms; and, the Tsholotsho Declaration whose burning fires threaten to leave Zanu PF in political ashes unable to turn around the economy and to restore Zimbabwe’s international reputation.
While the first two components of this triple trap have received wide media coverage in terms of their content and consequence, there has been between little and nothing said to define the actual sum and substance of the Tsholotsho Declaration. Yet this declaration continues to influence Zimbabwe’s political landscape.
But President Mugabe and his Zanu PF cronies have to this day continued to assert and peddle outright falsehoods about the Tsholotsho Declaration, glibly claiming that it was a coup plot. What then is the Tsholotsho Declaration and why is it stubbornly refusing to fall away from the centre of politics in Zimbabwe to become forgotten history?
The Tsholotsho Declaration is made up of the following four key principles that define its political thrust: that the top four leadership positions in the ruling Zanu PF — president and first secretary, two vice-presidents and second secretaries and national chairman — which make up the party’s presidency, should reflect Zimbabwe’s regional diversity and ethnic balance between and among the country’s four major ethnic groupings, namely Karanga, Manyika, Zezuru and Ndebele in order to promote and maintain representative national cohesion, development, peace and stability while fostering a broad-based sense of national belonging and identity; that the top position of president and first secretary of the party should not be monopolised by one sub-tribe (or clan) but should reasonably rotate among the four major ethnic groupings; that the filling of these top four positions should not be by imposition by the party hierarchy but through democratic elections done by secret balloting; and, that the filling of the top four leadership positions and the democratic elections should be defined and be guided by and done in accordance with the constitution of the party to promote the rule of law within the party as a foundation for maintaining the rule of law in the country.
While this declaration was debated and adopted through the party’s provincial structures and affirmed in Bulawayo following the much talked about Dinyane speech and prize-giving day in Tsholotsho on November 18, 2004, it is not to be found in any written document as such, even though Nicholas Goche, former Minister of State for National Security and Zanu PF’s secretary for security, maliciously tried in vain to conjure up some false paperwork not worth the ink on it dramatised by his widely publicised embarrassing lie that Patrick Chinamasa and me travelled to Tsholotsho on a private plane belonging to John Bredenkemp.
The reason there is no written document is because the declaration was a culmination of a protracted internal Zanu PF process of debate, discussion and consultation that started soon after the June 2000 parliamentary elections in which the opposition shocked the ruling party into serious self-doubt by getting 57 out of 120 seats.
Up to now the Tsholotsho principles are still shared by all sensible Zanu PF officials and members outside the ethnic coterie which has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 without break. Most level-headed Zimbabweans would agree that it is unhealthy to institutionalise tribal and village politics as the current Zanu PF clique in power has done.
The results of such kind of an anachronistic political culture and practice are there for all to see.
One notable Zanu PF response to the opposition feat after the 2000 election was Mugabe’s appointment to the cabinet of a significant number of individuals that did not at the time hold any senior positions in the ruling party and some who were not even members of Zanu PF. Examples include Nkosana Moyo, Samuel Mumbengegwi, July Moyo, Francis Nhema, Joseph Made, Patrick Chinamasa, Simba Makoni and myself.
Another equally notable response was the establishment of a reform subcommittee by the Zanu PF central committee to look into the reasons why the ruling party had fared badly in the 2000 election and to make recommendations for the modernisation and democratic reform of the party to bring it up to speed with what was then seen as the changed and changing interests of Zimbabweans. That subcommittee was noteworthy because its composition was made up of people who were not senior in Zanu PF and some who were not even members of Zanu PF at the time. These included Nkosana Moyo, Patrick Chinamasa, Olivia Muchena, David Parirenyatwa, Moven Mahachi and myself.
This subcommittee came up with radical recommendations for reforming Zanu PF by transforming it from a party of the past based on patronage and arbitrary rule by the old guard led by President Mugabe, dominated by one ethnic grouping, to a modern party based on democracy, merit and the rule of law. Unfortunately, these recommendations never saw the light of day as they were steadily subverted by the dominant old guard and eventually abandoned as the subcommittee died a natural death after the December 2000 Zanu PF special congress.
But some members of the subcommittee, especially those who were co-opted into the Zanu PF politburo at the December 2000 special congress, kept alive some of its recommendations and pursued them through their party portfolios. This started the protracted process of debate, discussion and consultation that eventually came to be known as the Tsholotsho Declaration.
As part of this process, there were vigorous attempts spearheaded by some politicians linked to Solomon Mujuru’s camp that reached boiling point at the December 2001 Zanu PF national people’s congress in Victoria Falls to pressure President Mugabe to step down and retire ahead of the 2002 presidential election.
The same politicians tried but failed to get Joice Mujuru elevated to the position of national commissar after the death of Border Gezi, leaving Elliot Manyika to scrape through with support from outside Mashonaland provinces.
Again, as part of the same debate, discussion and consultation process, some Zanu PF backbenchers in parliament who had chosen Webster Shamu to lead them and who included Pearson Mbalekwa and Saviour Kasukuwere came within a whisker of moving a no confidence motion against Mugabe at a Zanu PF central committee after the 2002 presidential election in favour of the otherwise reluctant Simba Makoni.
This process of seeking to internally reform Zanu PF widened and deepened in the wake of two unrelated events that presented a common reform opportunity in 2003: One was the failure of the MDC’s “Final Push” campaign in July and the other was the death of Vice-President Simon Muzenda in September.
Even though it failed in the end, the MDC’s 2003 “Final Push” campaign sent shockwaves within Zanu PF by demonstrating the readiness and willingness of huge numbers of Zimbabweans to take to the streets or stay at home and bring public life to a crushing standstill to get Zanu PF out of power.
Some reformists within Zanu PF, some linked to the 2000 reform subcommittee that had become defunct, took maximum advantage of the shockwaves of the failed MDC “Final Push” campaign to open dialogue with the MDC on constitutional reforms against the backdrop of the failed South Africa/Nigeria brokered Zanu PF/MDC inter-party talks in 2002.
The reasoning at the time was that because Zanu PF did not then have a two thirds majority in parliament and because the old guard believed then that there was no likelihood of Zanu PF winning a two thirds majority in any future parliamentary election, it was opportune and strategic for Zanu PF reformists to engage the MDC and to agree on constitutional reform by taking advantage of the fact that the MDC had been weakened by its failed “Final Push” campaign and was therefore ready to compromise while the dominant Zanu PF old guard had been scared to death by the near success of the “Final Push” campaign.
This is the understanding that inspired the constitutional negotiations between Chinamasa and Welshman Ncube leading to their agreement on a draft new constitution that remains an important talking point to this day.
In the aftermath of the death of Vice-President Muzenda, the reformists within Zanu PF and others merely vying for political power for its own sake became particularly active within the context of the debate, discussion and consultation that started after the 2000 parliamentary election because there was now a key vacancy in the top hierarchy of the party.
It was clear that whoever filled the vacancy would be the successor to President Mugabe. Between October and November 2003 a lot of meetings were held at places such as Beatrice, Ruwa, Mazowe, Masvingo, Gweru, Kwekwe and Harare to find a candidate to fill the vacancy.
The momentum then was with those who favoured Emmerson Mnangagwa and the crescendo of his support reached fever pitch in December 2003 at the Zanu PF annual people’s conference in Masvingo.
But the fact that the Zanu PF annual people’s conference in December 2003 was not asked to fill the vacancy meant that Mnangagwa was denied a sure win opportunity and other interested parties, especially those linked to Solomon Mujuru’s camp, were relieved by this as they got an opportunity to regroup and live to fight another day ahead of the 2004 Zanu PF congress which was certain to fill the vacancy.
In early 2004 a clandestine meeting was held in Ruwa by some key politicians linked to Mujuru’s faction to discuss Mugabe’s succession, identify his successor and design a strategy for that agenda. That meeting, aware of the growing sentiment within the party against the monopolisation of the position of president and first secretary by one ethnic grouping and the need for ethnic balancing, identified Simba Makoni as the preferred successor to Mugabe.
A succession committee to move things forward was proposed with two representatives from each of the party’s 10 provinces except from Mashonaland West, Midlands and Bulawayo which were excluded.
Solomon Mujuru and Sydney Sekeramayi were proposed as representatives for Mashonaland East; John Nkomo and Obert Mpofu for Matabeleland North; Didymus Mutasa and Patrick Chinamasa for Manicaland; Stan Mudenge and the late Josiah Tungamirai for Masvingo; Elliot Manyika and Nicholas Goche for Mashonaland Central while Harare was left pending.
Some of the members of this succession committee got recklessly busy and engaged in a number of consultations and this triggered all sorts of reactions, some positive and others very negative, which soon overwhelmed the committee into inaction after some crippling questions were raised about its authenticity and mandate.
The fact that the committee fell outside party structures, that it operated clandestinely and that its composition was incomplete, unrepresentative and thus suspect did not help matters.
By the time of the Zanu PF Youth Congress on July 1 2004, the four key principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration as defined earlier had been widely debated and were now broadly shared within Zanu PF although some elements among the old guard remained unhappy with those principles as events later showed.
What is particularly significant is the fact that the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration and their procedural implications were the subject of three joint meetings of Zanu PF provincial chairmen and provincial governors under the chairmanship of Manyika, the party’s national commissar.
This is very significant in so far as it proves that there was nothing clandestine or untoward about the application of the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration on November 18 2004 because it was the culmination of properly constituted party structures with the knowledge of the top leadership, including Mugabe.
On November 18 2004, the emergency politburo meeting started just before 11:00am. President Robert Mugabe indicated that he had called for the meeting in response to concerns that some members of the politburo had raised regarding procedures for the nominations of the top leadership of the party scheduled for November 21 2004 ahead of the party’s congress.
In particular there were concerns that the nominations were supposed to be done by provincial executive councils, that the position of one of the vice-presidents and second secretaries had not been reserved for a woman as directed by Mugabe at the Zanu PF women’s congress in September and that there had been reports indicating that some provinces did not have funds to facilitate the nomination meetings.
Apparently, as it transpired, Nicholas Goche and John Nkomo had raised these complaints with Mugabe. Reports that there were no funds for the provinces to facilitate the nomination meetings were clarified and shown to be false.
Regarding the procedures for the nominations, Emmerson Mnangagwa as secretary for administration explained that he had followed the provisions of the party’s constitution and that he had consulted extensively with Elliot Manyika — the national commissar — and that he had sought specific approval from Mugabe of his letter of November 11 2004 spelling out the procedures. Patrick Chinamasa, then Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs, also confirmed that Mnangagwa’s letter of November 11 detailing the procedures for nominations was consistent with the constitution.
When it became clear to all and sundry at the emergency meeting that the procedures for nominations in Mnangagwa’s letter of November 11 2004 were indeed in terms of the constitution, those members of the politburo who are associated with Solomon Mujuru’s camp demanded the instant amendment of the party’s constitution there and then to accommodate their interests and wishes.
Thus the provision requiring that nominations for the party’s top four leadership positions be made by provincial executives in a secret ballot was amended so that the nominations would be done by provincial coordinating committees without a secret ballot. This ensured that politburo members would also participate in the nominations which members who demanded this amendment hoped to influence.
Even more shocking was that the same members demanded an amendment of the party’s constitution to include a provision requiring that there be “four members being the president and first secretary, the two vice- presidents and second secretaries with one of the vice-presidents and second secretaries being a woman, and the national chairman of the party”.
Mnangagwa was directed to withdraw his earlier letter of November 11 on the procedures for nominating the top four leadership positions of the party and to issue a new letter dated November 18 2004 based on the new amendment of the constitution by the politburo. This amendment was illegally effected on November 18 and implemented immediately by an organ of the party, the politburo, which has no powers to amend the constitution.
The purpose of the illegal amendment was not just to attack the constitution of the party but to also give the impression that only one of the top four positions, the one previously held by the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda, was vacant and that it had to be filled by a woman. Specifically the amendment was designed to annul the decisions of the provincial chairmen and provincial governors meeting in Harare on August 23 and in Zvimba on August 30 under the chairmanship of Manyika in support of principles of what has become known as the Tsholotsho Declaration.
During this politburo meeting, it became clear that the Zanu PF old guard in general, especially those linked with Mujuru’s camp, and Mugabe in particular are not committed to democracy, transparency and constitutional procedures. Above all, it became clear that there is a clique in Zanu PF that unashamedly believes in the domination of national politics by one ethnic group under the cover of some self-serving language of revolutionary nationalism and the Unity Accord of 1987.
For example, under the Unity Accord, the ruling clique in Zanu PF has taken the view that former Zapu leaders are entitled to one of the positions of vice-president and that whoever occupies that position, even if they do not come from Matabeleland as is the case with Joseph Msika, necessarily represents Matabeleland as if Zapu and Matabeleland mean one and the same thing.
Zapu is no more while Matabeleland lives with political interests that must be addressed along with the interests of other regions in the country. Even worse, the ruling clique in Zanu PF has interpreted the Unity Accord to mean that the best that Matabeleland can aspire to is the vice-presidency. Such a view is neither revolutionary nor national — it is tribal, reactionary and wholly unacceptable.
After the emergency meeting, Mnangagwa said he could no longer travel to Tsholotsho as he had to make and effect the constitutional amendments that had been illegally sanctioned by the politburo. He asked Chinamasa to represent him and to read his speech at Dinyane High School.
So I travelled to Tsholotsho with Chinamasa and we reached Dinyane High School just before 5:00pm on November 18 2004 for an event that had been scheduled to start at 10:00am. By the time we got there six provincial chairmen and other Zanu PF leaders who were in attendance had already gotten wind of the emergency politburo meeting earlier in the day and they wanted to get first-hand information about it from Chinamasa who told them to wait until after the Dinyane programme which had to be rushed through.
During the Dinyane programme, nothing political was said or expected. It was truly a speech and prize-giving day during which a number of the high-ranking guests pledged support and gifts to the school, yet to be honoured.
Because the event started late, it ended just after 7:00pm following which the visitors from outside Tsholotsho immediately left for Bulawayo to have dinner at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel and wait for Chinamasa to brief them about the decisions of the emergency politburo meeting. I remained for a little while with Chinamasa because the school authorities wanted him to inspect some facilities as the stand-in guest of honour.
When Chinamasa and I got to the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel we found the six provincial chairmen from Matabeleland North, Midlands, Matabeleland South, Masvingo, Bulawayo and Manicaland and other senior Zanu PF politicians including then Masvingo governor Josiah Hungwe, deputy ministers Abednico Ncube and Andrew Langa and minister Flora Bhuka, who had attended the speech and prize-giving day in Tsholotsho, and other Bulawayo-based politicians who had been told that Chinamasa was going to give an informal briefing on what had transpired at the emergency politburo meeting earlier that day in Harare.
We joined them for dinner and later around 11:00pm asked the hotel staff to find us a conference room where Chinamasa could give his briefing.
Chinamasa explained in detail how the emergency politburo meeting had been called after complaints to Mugabe by Nkomo and Goche over the procedures for the nomination of the four top positions in the leadership of the party. He further gave a detailed narration of how the emergency politburo meeting had amended the constitution and how it had also directed that one of the positions for vice-president and second secretary, which was falsely presented as the only vacant position, should be filled by a woman and that the nominations should be made by provincial coordinating committees through consensus and not by provincial executive committees in secret balloting.
The informal meeting’s reaction to Chinamasa’s briefing was of animated anger at, and contempt for, the politburo mainly because of a widely held view to this day that the politburo had no right or power to amend the party’s constitution in the manner it did on November 18 2004. The view of the informal meeting was that the politburo had to be defied at all costs because it had blatantly violated the party’s constitution.
Chinamasa, with my active support and intervention, cautioned against this view and strongly advised that even if the politburo had erred by amending the party’s constitution when it did not have the power to do so, loyal party members were duty-bound to respect the decision of the politburo and to find other legal ways of registering their outrage at what had happened.
After a protracted debate that took about four hours, the meeting finally agreed to respect the politburo decision but rejected the view that the only vacant position was that previously held by the late Muzenda and that it had to be filled by Joice Mujuru as had been widely reported in newspapers since the women’s congress in September 2004.
Various speakers at the meeting argued that all of the top four positions, including that held by Mugabe, were vacant and that Mujuru was not the most senior or most qualified woman to be nominated as one of the two vice-presidents and second secretaries of the party.
It was proposed and agreed by all of us at the Rainbow Hotel meeting that the top four leadership positions of the party should reflect the regional diversity and ethnic balance of the country as a whole; that the elections should be democratic and held by secret ballot and that the constitution as illegally amended by the politburo should be reluctantly respected in accordance with the guidelines in the letter of November 18 2004 from the secretary for administration which replaced the one he had sent on November 11 2004.
More specifically, we proposed to nominate Mugabe for the position of president and first secretary coming from the Zezuru ethnic grouping; Mnangagwa for the position of vice-president and second secretary from the Karanga ethnic grouping; Thenjiwe Lesabe for the position of vice-president and second secretary reserved for women from the Ndebele ethnic grouping, and Chinamasa for the position of national chairman from the Manyika ethnic grouping.
The Zvimba meeting in August had proposd the nomination of Mugabe, Msika, Mnangagwa and Nkomo for the top four positions. Msika and Nkomo fell off the equation at the Rainbow meeting.
Chinamasa was nominated at Rainbow Hotel over Didymus Mutasa, who had also been proposed for the post, because it was strongly felt that the position of national chairman should be filled by a qualified and experienced lawyer who would respect the disciplinary procedures in the Zanu PF constitution, something which Nkomo had dismally failed to respect or understand.
The agreement reached at the Rainbow Hotel in Bulawayo was dubbed the Tsholotsho Declaration by those opposed to ethnic balance in the top four leadership positions in Zanu PF selected through democratic elections under a democratic constitution.
This oral agreement was consistent with the principles — which are the pillars of the Tsholotsho Declaration — that emerged from the long debate, discussion and consultation within Zanu PF that started soon after the June 2000 parliamentary election when the need for modernising and democratising Zanu PF became as self-evident as it is today.
The agreement was consistent with the deliberations and decisions of the provincial chairmen and provincial governors at the three meetings chaired by Manyika on August 16, 23 and 30 2004 — the first two in Harare and the last in Zvimba.
This position was immediately communicated to all party structures ahead of the nomination day on November 21 2004. Even though there was little time between the communication and nomination day, the results of the elections indicated to any serious-minded person that the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration about the need for balanced ethnic representation in the top leadership that is constitutionally and democratically elected is very strong and widely shared within Zanu PF and that is why there are still very serious divisions in the ruling party that threaten to turn President Mugabe’s succession into a nightmare for the old guard who have squandered all opportunities to reform Zanu PF since the June 2000 election.
Therefore, the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration did not carry the day on November 21 2004 not because Zanu PF members are opposed to them but because the ruling hierarchy among the Zanu PF old guard which had no shame in using the politburo to illegally amend the party constitution used some elements of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to impose the current top leadership of Zanu PF whose composition is not reflective of the regional and ethnic balance of the country and is not based on merit in terms of performance.
Indeed, Mugabe boldly told me in the one-and-a-half hour meeting I had with him and Joice Mujuru on February 17 2005, which he has discussed a lot in public at my expense, that if the Tsholotsho Declaration had succeeded through the party nominations and elections, the leadership would have rejected the result. This kind of unbalanced leadership always ready to use the hammer to crush democracy is also bereft of a national vision and lacks the representative legitimacy and competence to deal with the unprecedented economic and political problems crippling the country today.
In his closing speech at the December 2004 Zanu PF congress, Mugabe angrily reacted to the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration by attacking those whom he said were accusing him of tribalism and charged that he took exception to what he said was an insulting accusation because he is a revolutionary and not a triballist.
Well, maybe so but there are no discernible revolutionary principles in corrupting the Unity Accord and mutilating and personalising the constitution of the party in order to end up with the current situation in which three of the top four leaders in Zanu PF and the government, Mugabe, Mujuru and Msika, come from one ethnic grouping not as an outcome of democratic elections but because of an imposition from a deliberately manipulated constitution, relying not on politics but on the brutal use of CIO agents.
Mugabe has been in power for more than a generation and that is destabilising to our nation and it is against the national interest to impose a successor from the president’s ethnic grouping under these trying circumstances in our country’s history. Such attempts at ethnic domination of the diversified nation by one group through foul means are not different from similar colonial and UDI attempts that sought to impose racial domination and failed.
It is very ironic and rather sad that those behind the project of ethnic domination call themselves nationalist and anti-colonialists when their deeds tell a different story. The situation would of course be very different if Mugabe had served for two or even three terms only and if the country was not facing an economic meltdown underwritten by policy paralysis in Mugabe’s government.
Zimbabweans need and must have a change of government not just in terms of personnel in political leadership but in ideological, constitutional, structural and policy terms.
As someone who was both in the Zanu PF leadership and government, and who therefore must take some responsibility not only for the failure of the Tsholotsho Declaration but also some of the policies that have not worked well for our country, I can say without any doubt that Zimbabwe today would be different and better off had the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration carried the day on November 21 2004. This is because Zanu PF would have changed for the better and that change would have impacted on the country’s policies and institutions positively.
The current political and economic problems facing Zimbabwe are due to the fact that the country is being ruled by a hopelessly clueless, tired and terrified undemocratic clique which desperately wants to cling to power by fair means or foul at the clear expense of national interest.
The first meeting of Zanu PF provincial chairmen and provincial governors that specifically deliberated on the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration chaired by Elliot Manyika took place in Harare on August 16, 2004. This meeting reviewed the party’s constitution and various resolutions by the key organs of the party on the procedures for nominating and electing the top four leaders of the party.
A week later on August 23, another meeting of the same provincial chairmen and provincial governors still chaired by Manyika was again held in Harare. At this meeting the seven provinces of Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Mashonaland West voted in favour of the principles that later became known as the Tsholotsho Declaration regarding the procedures for the nomination of the top four leaders of Zanu PF while this was opposed by the three provinces of Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Harare.
It became clear from the deliberations of this meeting and the outcome of the vote that Emmerson Mnangagwa would be elected as one of the two vice-presidents and second secretaries and would be poised to succeed Mugabe.
A final meeting on the same subject by the provincial chairmen and provincial governors, again under the chairmanship of Manyika, was held in Zvimba, President Mugabe’s home area, on August 30, 2004. At this crucial meeting the vote in favour of the principles now generally known as the Tsholotsho Declaration and its electoral implications increased from seven provinces to eight when Chen Chimutengwende, as chairman of Mashonaland Central province, added his vote although the other chairmen doubted his capacity to carry his province with him.
After this meeting, Manyika went to brief the then Zanu PF secretary for administration, Mnangagwa, about the outcome of the deliberations of provincial chairmen and provincial governors, an outcome whose essence was to adopt the principles of what has come to be known as the Tsholotsho Declaration.
On the same day, August 30, 2004, Mnangagwa sent a letter to provincial chairmen advising them to notify all party structures under them about the convening of the fourth annual people’s congress due in December 2004 and the business of that congress including the election of the party leadership and the procedures thereof.
Because a vote had been taken in favour of the principles of what later became known as the Tsholotsho Declaration by the two meetings of the provincial chairmen and provincial governors on August 23 and 30, 2004, it is common cause that this result was conveyed to the party leadership including President Mugabe who also knew that the last vote was taken in Zvimba, his home area. There was nothing clandestine or sinister about it.
A week or so before the Zanu PF Women’s Congress that was held on September 2, 2004, there was a meeting in Beatrice in Mashonaland East of some Zanu PF politicians and technocrats linked to Solomon Mujuru’s camp and elements from the three provinces — Mashonaland Central, Harare and Mashonaland East — that had voted against the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration at the meeting of provincial chairmen and provincial governors on August 23, 2004.
The specific purpose of this Beatrice meeting was to throw spanners into the works of the decisions by provincial chairmen and provincial governors on the application of the principles that later defined the Tsholotsho Declaration in order to scuttle what was then seen as the impending inevitable election of Mnangagwa which would break the Zezuru ethnic monopoly of presidential power.
At that meeting, Nathan Shamuyarira is said to have proposed that there was a need to find a vice-president who would not overshadow President Mugabe in both stature and capacity and that the best strategy for achieving that was to use the women’s congress on September 2, 2004, to garner support for a woman candidate, Joice Mujuru.
This would kill two birds with one stone: block the application of the principles of what became known as the Tsholotsho Declaration thereby effectively blocking Mnangagwa’s ascendancy while enabling the emergence of a second vice- president who would not overshadow Mugabe but who would maintain the Zezuru ethnic domination and hegemony in Zimbabwean politics.
This strategy was pursued at the women’s congress as both First Lady Grace Mugabe and President Mugabe himself were roped in to use their addresses at this congress to shock the meeting and the nation by declaring that the vacant post for vice-president and second secretary previously held by the late Vice President Simon Muzenda should be reserved for a woman.
This high-profile intervention by the first family in this manner shocked many in the party and the country because it flew in the face of the party’s constitution and commonsense.
Also by this time, through the formal structures of the party, a circular from the secretary of administration had already gone out on August 30, 2004, advising provincial chairmen to prepare for the December 2004 congress in terms of the party’s constitution which did not have a provision reserving one of the positions of vice-president and second secretary for a woman.
On November 11, 2004, in consultation with Manyika as political commissar and with the specific approval of President Mugabe, Mnangagwa sent another letter to provincial chairmen as a follow-up to his August 30, 2004, letter as required by the party’s constitution, informing them about the procedures for the nomination of the top four leadership positions ahead of the December 2004 congress and confirming November 21, 2004, as the nomination date.
By this time everyone in the party knew that the nominations for the top four leadership positions in the party and central committee members would be done by provincial executives on November 21, 2004. More specifically, it was common knowledge in the party that the principles of what later became the Tsholotsho Declaration would apply as supported by at least seven and possibly eight provinces of the party.
On November 14, 2004, the chairman of the Tsholotsho Zanu PF district coordinating committee, Believe Gaule, and the Tsholotsho rural district council chairman, Alois Ndebele, approached me in Bulawayo requesting that I help them invite Mnangagwa in his capacity both as secretary for administration in the party and speaker of parliament to be the guest of honour at a speech and prize giving day at Dinyane High School in Tsholotsho on November 18, 2004.
I was very reluctant to agree because of the short notice and also because I knew that the secretary for administration was busy with preparations for the party congress scheduled for December 2004.
But Gaule and Ndebele put a lot of pressure on me arguing that they had seen how Mnangagwa had been to Ntalale Secondary School in Matabeleland South as a guest of honour at a speech and prize giving day which had tremendously benefited the school hardly a week earlier and that we needed to try and bring similar benefits to Dinyane High School in Tsholotsho.
They also argued that I needed to take advantage of an event such as they were proposing to bring the senior leadership of the party, especially provincial chairmen, to Tsholotsho as part of our parliamentary election campaign for the March 2005 election which we had by then started in earnest. Upon assessing the implications of their argument, I agreed although I still doubted if Mnangagwa would be able to attend due to the short notice.
On November 15, 2004, I spent the whole day in Tsholotsho trying to reach Mnangagwa in Harare without success. Towards the end of the day, I telephoned Francis Nhema and told him of the request from Tsholotsho and asked him to help relay the message to Mnangagwa if he could find him and he agreed to do that.
Nhema called later that night to advise that he had found Mnangagwa who had agreed to be the guest of honour at the Dinyane High School speech and prize giving day and that I should give him details of the event, expectations of the school and to prepare a draft speech when I get to Harare the next day.
I then contacted George Charamba about the event and asked him to help with the provision of the necessary logistical arrangements. I also asked him to draft a speech for Mnangagwa appropriate for the occasion which he did rather well. On the same night I called several chairmen of the party that I could find and told them about the event and invited them to attend and to bring gifts for the school.
The majority of them said they would attend except, interestingly enough, those like Amos Midzi who had voted against the principles of what became known as the Tsholotsho Declaration on August 23, 2004, in Harare and on August 30, 2004, in Zvimba.
On November 16, I discussed the invitation with Mnangagwa at parliament and we agreed that we would leave for Tsholotsho on November 18 in the morning by Air Zimbabwe to Bulawayo and drive from there to Dinyane High School in Tsholotsho. The next day on the morning of November 17, I forwarded to Mnangagwa’s office the draft speech and confirmed travel arrangements as well as logistical preparations in Tsholotsho itself.
To my utter shock, later on that day, I got a call from Mnangagwa asking me to urgently go to his office in parliament as there was a new development that could affect the Dinyane High School event the next day. I rushed there wondering what had happened.
Mnangagwa said it was no longer possible for us to travel by Air Zimbabwe in the morning as previously arranged because he had been called by President Mugabe and told to convene an emergency Zanu PF politburo meeting the next day — November 18 — to discuss very serious complaints Mugabe had received about preparations for the nomination of the party’s leadership scheduled for November 21, 2004, as per the letter that Mnangagwa had sent to provinces with Mugabe’s specific approval.
We considered cancelling the Tsholotsho event in the light of this development that there would be a previously unscheduled politburo meeting on the same day. But there had been a tremendous public response
to the Dinyane High School event and, after making a few calls suggesting we cancel or reschedule, it became clear that the event had to happen.
Upon being told by Mnangagwa that President Mugabe had said the emergency politburo meeting would be brief because the president was scheduled to depart that afternoon for Zanzibar, I then suggested that we would see if we could hire a private plane or helicopter to Tsholotsho and I immediately asked my office to look into that given the new situation that had arisen.
Later my office confirmed that we could hire a private plane to Bulawayo and drive to Tsholotsho from there using funds that we had raised outside treasury but from national sources.