AN unexpected Zanu PF succession drama, precipitated by controversial remarks by a daring woman party official, rocked a central committee meeting chaired by President Robert Mugabe at the party's headquarters in Harare yesterday, forcing a postponement of debate on the issue as tempers flared and emotions ran high.
Although the explosive succession issue and factionalism were not on the agenda cleared by the decision-making politburo on Wednesday and approved by the central committee, the hot potato was dropped onto the table by a controversial Manicaland provincial official, Mandy Chimene.
Chimene, an ex-combatant and a well-known forthright speaker, shocked Mugabe and central committee members, including senior party leaders, when she told Mugabe that he was supping with the devil as top party leaders sitting at the high table were always plotting to oust him.
Senior party leaders who attended the tense meeting told the Zimbabwe Independent last night Mugabe was stunned and did not know how to handle the issue. Instead of allowing debate to flow after senior party leaders, including Vice-President Joice Mujuru had joined the fray, Mugabe postponed the debate, saying there was no time as party members had to travel to Gweru for today's official opening of Zanu PF's annual conference.At the time when Mugabe prematurely closed the debate, tempers were beginning to flare while emotions were starting to rise.
A number of party officials had their hands up, prepared to contribute to the debate, showing most Zanu PF members actually want to talk about the issue considered as taboo.
Initially, deathly silence descended upon the meeting when straight-talking Chimene, no stranger to controversy, sensationally claimed Mugabe was eating with the devil on the high table. She said he is in the company of enemies who shamelessly posed as loyalists when they were actually power-hungry backstabbers who held clandestine meetings to plot toppling him.
As a result of the surprise disruption caused by the succession issue, a report on the constitution-making process and the agricultural season were not discussed.The agenda of the meeting included Mugabe's opening address, chairman's report on the conference preparations and adoption of the conference agenda.
Chimene was commenting on the national commissariat's report presented by national commissar Webster Shamu which touched on the state of the party, provincial elections in the troubled Matabeleland provinces and the party's mobilisation strategies.
Shamu presented the report after party national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo spoke about conference preparations, Mugabe's opening address and the adoption of the conference agenda presented by legal affairs secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Sources said Chimene confronted those widely seen as faction leaders vying to take over from Mugabe. Mujuru and Mnangagwa are widely seen as rival faction leaders, although of late they had been denying it as they ran scared of Mugabe's wrath over the issue.
Sources said Chimene even went as far as telling faction leaders to have the courage of their convictions and stand up to openly challenge Mugabe at the meeting so that party members could vote for their preferred presidential candidate to lay the matter to rest.
Predictably, no one stood up to challenge Mugabe. Instead, Mujuru made some interventions, pleading she is not a faction leader and is not challenging Mugabe.
"Chimene raised the issue of succession and factionalism, saying Mugabe was supping with the devil as those sitting with him at the high table were always plotting against him," a senior Zanu PF official told the Independent.
"She told the president that he was surrounded by hypocrites who pretended to like him in his presence when in actual fact they were busy holding secret meetings plotting to unseat him."
Stung by Chimene's remarks, Mujuru said she had never conspired against Mugabe. Mujuru made similar remarks recently. Realising she had exposed herself, Mujuru further said Mnangagwa had also not plotted against Mugabe.