2 October 2003

Zimbabwe: Zanu PF Split Over Zvobgo

Harare — ZANU PF, going through a crisis of confidence has, for fear of sparking off a political storm, granted a stay of execution to its enigmatic key member Eddison Zvobgo, scheduled to have been hauled before a disciplinary hearing for allegedly decampaigning President Robert Mugabe in the last presidential election.

The latest twist to the Zvobgo saga threatens to split the ruling party amid niggling disappointment among those miffed at ZANU PF's failure to discipline its Masvingo strongman.

There are several party members who thought they had Zvobgo on the ropes and wanted his head on the stick.

Zvobgo, the brusque and sometimes cryptic communicator who has been called many things by political phraseologists has, during his illustrious political career, had his fair share of problems with some of his colleagues in ZANU PF who are increasingly wary of what they consider his fading commitment to the cause of the ruling party.

Party officials who indicated that the issue could be water under the bridge, were this week unanimous that proceeding with the hearing could not only be a gross error of judgment on the part of ZANU PF but would also be a monument to its political ineptitude, particularly at this irksome moment in the face of the death of Vice President Simon Muzenda.

Even though Zvobgo was seemingly balancing on a political knife-edge, the ruling party would be shooting itself in the foot if it dragged him to a disciplinary hearing especially at a time when the party was riven by factionalism in Masvingo. Zvobgo would have been expelled from the party if found guilty.

The move would also work against the ruling party in its quest to retain the Gutu North seat, they said.

The seat fell vacant after the death of Muzenda last week. The veteran politician and ZANU PF chief strategist Muzenda, 81, died a fortnight ago at Parirenyatwa Hospital, Harare, of an undisclosed ailment. His death has re-vitalised power struggles in Masvingo province where he was the party's provincial godfather. This has tended to accelerate jockeying for President Mugabe's position as it emerged that whoever takes over from the late head of state's confidante could be the chosen successor to the political hot seat.

Retired Chief Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai strongly warned that it would be dangerous to expel the Masvingo South legislator from the ruling party as the ripple effect could spell doom for ZANU PF in that province.

"It's very dangerous to expel Zvobgo as this may divide the province," Tungamirai said. "We saw that when we expelled Edgar Tekere from the party. He went out there and formed his own political party, which gave us sleepless nights. We saw the dangers in that and if we want to keep our party intact we need to be more tactful and not expel people willy-nilly."

Tekere, a firebrand who at one time had Zimbabweans eating from his hands, has since been condemned to the political wilderness although it has since been suggested and not denied that the increasingly unpopular ZANU PF is frantically trying to lure back the maverick politician to shore up its waning support.

"It would be detrimental to bring Zvobgo in front of a disciplinary hearing because we may lose the much-needed support he enjoys in Masvingo," said a senior party official who refused to be named but indicated that pushing the hearing could finally be the lever that prises apart the party's fragile harmony, especially in Masvingo province.

"It's untimely taking into consideration the death of our gallant fighter for liberation Vice President Muzenda who was the strongman in the province. Unless the party wants to be careless and test the waters then they would try him. But be rest assured ZANU PF supporters in Masvingo will not take it lightly. The party should just let it go and concentrate on keeping the province together and retaining the Gutu North seat."

Last week, President Mugabe urged in the strongest possible terms the ZANU PF leadership in Masvingo not to let his lieutenant's death further From Page 1

divide them but instead do everything possible to make sure that the ruling party does not lose its grip on the province.

Zvobgo, whose hearing was meant to have kicked off two weeks ago but failed because he was out of the country, has since dismissed the allegations levelled against him, saying it was the work of detractors within ZANU PF wishing to see him expelled from the party on trumped up charges.

ZANU PF's national chairman and head of the disciplinary committee, John Nkomo, told this newspaper that a new date was yet to be set for Zvobgo's hearing. Without giving reasons, Nkomo said: "We have not set a new date yet."

This comes against a background of rife speculation that Commander of the Defence Forces,Vitalis Zvinavashe, who has reportedly indicated his intentions to retire in the past, is now set to leave the army in December and embark on a new political career laid before him.

Zvinavashe caused havoc and panic within the opposition MDC last year when he publicly announced that the uniformed forces would not salute any leader without war credentials ahead of the March 2002 presidential election controversially won by President Mugabe.

The army boss is tipped to take over from Muzenda as the godfather of Masvingo province, but is likely to meet stiff resistance from Tungamirai, a founder member of ZANU PF who belonged to the ruling party's liberation war council Dare re Chimurenga.

"To be a godfather you need to be in the party structures which start at cell level all the way up to the politburo. I am aware that Zvinavashe was a member of the central committee by virtue of his position in the army, but I am unaware of his current position in the party structures. He rarely attended central committee meetings," said the highly respected Tungamirai.

"To be a provincial leader, you need to be built by the province. However, the President can appoint a person to the politburo and that can happen either during our congresses or annual conferences, but I don't believe that will happen. But it will emerge soon anyway who will fill in the late vice president's shoes in Masvingo. We are still mourning Muzenda."

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