The public attack on vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa by co-VP Phelekezela Mphoko is a sign of command confusion in the ruling party, opposition rivals said Wednesday as Zanu PF's succession fights took a curious new turn.
Zanu PF insiders were also appalled by the development, some lamenting that "with the nation in its current economic state, it is unfortunate that we have a whole nation gripped by pettiness at the top instead of inspiring solutions to problems".
The spat took place after the 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe travelled to South Africa Monday for bilateral talks, leaving Mphoko in charge as Acting President.
Mnangagwa was reported in the media as suggesting that his recent near-fatal illness was due to poisoning, apparently contradicting Mugabe who publicly claimed that his deputy's doctor had confirmed that there was no poisoning involved.
Mphoko then used the facility of Acting President to take Mnangagwa head-on, issuing a public statement in which he accused his co-VP of undermining Mugabe's authority and trying to stoke tribal strife.
The two VP's are on rival sides of the increasingly bitter Zanu PF warfare over Mugabe's succession. Mnangagwa leads the so-called Lacoste faction while Mphoko belongs to the rival G40 group which enjoys the support if Mugabe's wife Grace.
Opposition parties said the public spat proved the command collapse within Zanu PF, suggesting the aged and frail Mugabe had lost control.
"It goes to show the confusion that's in Zanu PF," said ZAPU spokesman Mjobisa Noko.
"This is what we call command confusion ruling the roost whose infighting is hurting the ordinary Zimbabwean on the streets and the conclusion here is that the centre can't hold anymore and Zanu PF is on a knife edge."
People's Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman Jacob Mafume added, "Mphoko represents G40 which includes Grace and they need Mnangagwa out of Zanu PF before the policy conference or any other elective process.
"They are confident to l defeat him ad they do not want to take chances. They are not convinced by the long game that Mugabe is playing in keeping him (Mnangagwa) in office."
A senior Zanu PF official who declined to be named condemned the curious new turn in the party's faction fights.
"An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb," he said.
"Mnangagwa simply said he was poisoned. He did not say by who or where. Why is his colleague so peeved off at that as if he has been accused? Why would he issue a statement over someone else's health? What actually had rattled VP Mphoko?
"Mnangagwa issued a statement which simply said he did not eat an ice cream. He exonerated Gushungo Holdings ice cream only. He did not say he was not poisoned. Health matters are the most personal of a person's issues.
"Why are Third Parties so concerned about someone else's health that they issue pressers discounting his own account of what happened to him and choosing to believe other third parties which include even President Mugabe himself?
"But with the nation in its current economic state it is unfortunate that we have a whole nation gripped by pettiness at the top instead of inspiring solutions to problems."