5 February 2016

Zimbabwe: Bare-Knuckle Fight Hots Up in Zanu-PF

MUDSLINGING, taunts and diatribes have become the order of the day, as the public space, including the media -- both private and public -- as well as the social media becomes the new battle ground for the seemingly unending Zanu PF factional fights.

The war has broken out as erstwhile allies turn the sword on each other in a bid to position themselves to succeed strongman President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 on February 21.

On one end is Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo and his sympathisers aligned to a group of a younger generation of Zanu PF stalwarts known as Generation 40 (G40), which reportedly has the support of First Lady Grace Mugabe. After earning the moniker "Crocbuster" for his disdain and constant jabs aimed at Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies, Moyo has sharpened his social media skills, ready to fire a volley of attacks to his nemesis.

Not to be outmanoeuvred, Mnangagwa on the other hand is backed by Presidential spokesperson George Charamba, war veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa and Gokwe-Nembudziya lawmaker Justice Mayor Wadyajena, among others, who sling verbal shots at the rival group. With gloves already taken off, the level of verbal assaults and counter vitriol on social media Twitter has become brutal.

The infighting has been so intense such that no one in Zanu PF can dare say factionalism is the creation of the media, as was parroted by senior party officials in the past.

Even gatekeepers such as Charamba, who only last year claimed there was no factionalism in Zanu PF, has suddenly been caught up in a vicious factionl war with Moyo, who has now accused him of being a key warrior in Mnangagwa's camp -- an indication of the escalation of infighting in the party.

Last week, Charamba, who is also the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, did not mince his words as he attacked the G40 camp.

"They think you can scale up a political ladder by tweeting, who think when you manipulate one or two headlines, you have a social base for launching your stupid ambitions, they will come to grief, get it from me," Charamba said in a radio interview last week on Thursday.

Although he did not mention anyone's name, Moyo quickly hit back through his Twitter handle: "There's a silly Shakespearean wordsmith who thinks politics is about clever words and who sees himself as the system when he's a factionalist!"

Due to limited controls and lack of clearly defined social media ethics, Facebook and Twitter wars have erupted, with officials and activists often posting irresponsible or inflammatory statements, some of which they have later regretted.

In the interview, Charamba claimed the veteran Zanu PF leader will soon act on the G40 faction before launching into an explosive diatribe subtly directed at Moyo.

In an unrestrained attack, Charamba said the G40 faction should start worrying about their careers, accusing them of undermining Mugabe and pushing the succession narrative within the governing party.

"What they have to worry about are their own careers, not me. The President is not a character who rushes. He will allow you a very long rope, you go about enjoying meaningless headlines and thinking you are on top of the world, it will take just one afternoon. "So watch it, there are many sinister minds that speak in the name of the President, who are in fact 'successionists' and it won't be long before the headlines give you the story," he said.

Moyo took to Twitter and taunted Charamba, accusing him of fighting in Mnangagwa's corner.

"Well-placed croc sources say he is actually campaigning to be deputy chief secretary to the President and cabinet," the minister said in response to a tweet by a follower who suggested Charamba wanted to be Mnangagwa's spokesperson if he succeeds Mugabe.

In the interview Charamba said he was speaking as Mugabe's spokesperson not a civil servant and Moyo dismissed him saying: "There is no position of presidential spokesman in the Constitution of Zimbabwe or structures of the government."

Zanu PF officials have been slamming each other in public and even attempts to invoke Mugabe's name as the "final executive authority" in the party have not struck the usual fear in the hearts of senior party officials.

The war veterans are now exerting pressure on Moyo as factionalism reaches unprecedented levels. The freedom fighters want Moyo to be barred from attending politburo meetings and eventually be dropped from government as a minister.

While the factional war is playing out in the public gallery, those backing Mnangagwa who include the youths and the war veterans are now openly declaring their allegiance. The majority of the national youth league members including a number of provincial youth chairpersons have as their profile picture on WhatsApp image of Mnangagwa with Mugabe.

A week ago at the burial of Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga's uncle, a number of Zanu PF youths sympathetic to the Mnangagwa's faction came wearing T-shirts with the Lacoste fashion design. In the political circles Mnangagwa's faction is referred to as Team Lacoste.

Analysts say the open clashes in Zanu PF and the public clashes between Charamba and Moyo -- themselves a manifestation of the broader factionalism in the party -- showed the centre was beginning to crumble amid looming heightened fights that could accompany the denouement of Mugabe's long rule.

"The war, itself being in public domain, shows that the centre in Zanu PF and government no longer holds. Mugabe caused all this by not having a succession plan. He created a vacuum being filled by these busy bodies who have discovered the social media as a playground to exchange superfluous verbiage and out-compete each other in public," Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, said.

Another analyst, Professor Eldred Masunungure, who is a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said the public spats between the party and government officials show a political storm is brewing within the party.

"The public spat is an indication all is not well in the party and this affects even the functioning of government operations," Masunungure said. "This may also be Mugabe's tactic to let rivals fight and then come out to quench the fire, a move that helps him to hold on to his power."

While in the past the Zanu PF internal strife played out undercover with members nicodemously strategically positioning themselves in influential posts, the factional wars are now exploding in the public with members clearly and visibly taking sides as Mugabe, once again fails to kill the factional fires threatening to tear apart his party.

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