ZIMBABWE Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe was allegedly pushed out of the electoral body for his outspokenness and independent views by a Zanu PF clique that viewed him as a danger to their political survival ahead of watershed elections, according to senior government sources.
Mutambanengwe was appointed Zec chairperson in 2010 but some Zanu PF stalwarts expressed reservations about his suitability for such an important commission.
Mutambanengwe's resignation comes hot on the heels of Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairperson Regis Austin's departure under unclear circumstances.
Sources said Mutambanengwe was summoned to the Ministry of Justice and forced to step down immediately purportedly on health grounds. His forced resignation was said to have been immediately accepted by President Robert Mugabe and communicated to the state-controlled daily Herald as a smokescreen.
"Mutambanengwe was called to Minister (of Justice Patrick) Chinamasa's office where he was told to resign immediately," the source said. "Shockingly Mugabe was said to have agreed to the resignation and the issue was released to the Herald for publication."
Ironically, Mutambanengwe has no known medical condition that has troubled him in the last two years or been admitted to a medical institution during that time.
Another source said the "resignation" was timed to coincide with the announcement of the date of the much-awaited referendum to prevent it from becoming the talk of the town.
Chinamasa was not immediately available for comment.
The prime minister's office has expressed shock and surprise at the sudden resignation of Mutambanengwe and is frantically seeking a meeting with him for clarity.
"We were taken by surprise and we are currently trying to meet him to get to the bottom of the issue," said a senior staffer in the prime minister's office.
A cabinet minister confirmed that moves to remove Mutambanengwe started last year and intensified in the past few weeks.
"Mutambanengwe was asked to relocate to Zimbabwe from Namibia in December last year or to resign from Zec," the minister said. "When he came we all thought he would continue, but he is said to have resigned from the blue."
A senior civil servant close to the Ministry of Justice confirmed some government officials were not comfortable with his independent mindedness.
"The idea of pushing him out has been in escalated motion since around December last year. They feared his outspokenness and independence, especially ahead of the elections," the official said.
The sources said Mugabe is unlikely to appoint a substantive Zec chairperson before the elections, thus leaving room for deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe to take charge of the referendum and elections.
Kazembe was Zec deputy chairperson during the controversial 2008 elections when the electoral body took five weeks to announce the presidential poll results.
Zanu PF hawks, according to sources, also never really forgave Mutambanengwe for his support for the Nhari rebellion during the liberation struggle.