President Robert Mugabe's decision to reverse the Zanu PF Masvingo provincial elections and relieve Jorum Gumbo of his position as acting-chairperson was yesterday openly challenged by a faction linked to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a day of high drama.
A Zanu PF politburo meeting chaired by Mugabe last week reversed the election of Ezra Chadzamira as the new Masvingo provincial chairperson after it emerged that most districts did not vote in the election held last month.
The meeting also relieved Gumbo of his duties, amid complaints that he was doing the Lacoste faction's bidding.
However, in an unprecedented move, Lacoste members arranged a meeting in Masvingo yesterday where they wanted Gumbo to address them as the interim chairperson.
Gumbo did not turn up for the meeting, but that did not stop members of the G40 faction from mobilising against the Lacoste group as they protested that the 93-year-old Mugabe was being openly defied.
This forced the antagonistic camps to hold separate meetings at the same time, with Lacoste members congregating at the Masvingo Technical College and G40 at the late Edson Zvobgo's Flamboyant Hotel.
The venues are just a stone's throw away from each other.
Zanu PF provincial administration secretary Ailess Baloyi told the gathering at the Masvingo Technical College that the meeting was supposed to be chaired by Gumbo.
G40 later dismissed the allegations that Gumbo was headed to Masvingo as a hoax by their rivals meant to attract crowds.
Gumbo told The Standard that he was in Mberengwa and did not know anything about the two meetings.
Quizzed on whether he was still the interim chair, Gumbo was evasive, referring all questions to Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who is the national political commissar.
Kasukuwere refused to comment on the drama, claiming he is still to be appraised by the antagonistic camps before issuing a statement. He said Masvingo had no chairperson following the politburo's decision.
"We are going to get directions from the party leadership on who will chair the province and prepare for the elections, but at the moment, there is no chairperson," he said.
Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Shuvai Mahofa, deputy secretary for legal affairs in the politburo Paul Mangwana, party chief whip Lovemore Matuke and Mwenezi East candidate Jusby Omar were at the high table during Team Lacoste meeting.
At the meeting, Lacoste members queried why the elections, in which the faction's candidate Chadzamira won ahead of Mutero Masanganise in the inconclusive polls where other areas were inaccessible due to flooding but 64% of the districts had voted, were not upheld.
But Mahofa reminded them that they had to respect the politburo decision and will wait for another date for the polls.
"We cannot oppose the politburo and we have to respect the decision for a re-run," she said. "The focus for now should be on winning the Mwenezi East by-election."
Immediately after the Lacoste meeting, which had most of the provincial executive members, the G40 faction called for a press conference where they attacked their rivals.
G40's meeting led by Masvingo vice-chairperson Amassa Nenjana was attended by district chairpersons, youths and women's league provincial chairpersons.
Zanu PF Provincial political commissar Jebby Jaboon, central committee member Jefreys Murire, provincial women's league chairperson Veronica Makonese, provincial youth league chairperson Nobert Ndaarombe, Masanganise and Nenjana sat at the top table.
"I as the vice chairperson of Masvingo wanted to state categorically that I never called for a PCC meeting," Nenjana said.
"Those who called for the purported meeting are bent on mischief and destabilisation of the party.
"These are the same people causing confusion in Zanu PF Masvingo by defying directives from the politburo.
"When we have senior members in the province who sit in the politburo calling for such meetings, then it is a cause for concern. "The politburo deliberated on the elections and we stand guided by the politburo.
"Any attempt to defy or go against the decision is condemned by the province."
He added: "We condemn calling of meetings on factional lines which is what some senior members in Masvingo province are doing.
"We cannot as a province continue to tolerate this rebellious and mutinous behaviour."
Nenjana accused Mahofa of moving around the constituency distributing maize and rice and using the platforms to campaign for Chadzamira.
"We condemn the abuse of these state resources very strongly," he said.
"We also want to tell our politburo members that the country is not run on factional and tribal grounds.
"Hungwe (Josiah -- Psychomotor minister and Zanu PF Masvingo provincial godfather) and Mahofa have shown that they are tribalists.
"History tells us that these people have been working with the British during the liberation struggle and the habit of selling out runs in their blood."
Jaboon said the meeting was illegal because in the absence of the chairperson, the vice chairperson should call for such meetings, which was not the case with the Lacoste meeting.
"We called our meeting to tell the party members that what they (Lacoste members) are doing is not proper," he said.
"We don't want factional meetings. We can never respect people who rebel against President Mugabe."
Ndaarombe declared that it was now a bare-knuckle fight with Lacoste following the two separate meetings yesterday.
Meanwhile, The Standard leant that in last week's politburo meeting Mugabe complained about the involvement of the military in the aborted Masvingo elections.
Kasukuwere in his report alleged massive deployment of the army personnel by Hungwe and Gumbo to prop up Chadzamira.
"Hungwe and Gumbo were alleged to have met Major General Engelbert Rugeje where the plan to deploy the military was hatched at the sidelines of President Mugabe's birthday party," a source said after the politburo meeting.
Hungwe was attacked for accusing party members, particularly Harare Provincial chair Shadreck Mashayamombe of allegedly disrupting the polls. Gumbo had reported that the polls were disrupted by rains.
Hungwe reportedly described Mashayamombe as Kasukuwere's blue eyed boy, claiming he does not even hail from Masvingo.
Mashayamombe yesterday accused Hungwe of being a tribalist who sees enemies in anyone who supported Mugabe.
"I know why he is saying that. Simply because I refused to join his Lacoste camp to support President Mugabe, he is now claiming I don't hail from Masvingo when I come from Bikita. He is a factionalist and tribalist," Mashayamombe said.
Hungwe was not reachable yesterday.
Mnangagwa's rivals say he is trying to gain control of the provinces by installing his loyalists as the battle to succeed Mugabe intensifies.