President Robert Mugabe may well have alienated himself from his longtime comrades when he chose his wife’s side in the battle for the soul of Zanu-PF, whose roots are in the liberation war.
With the party divided, Mugabe will try to scrape together whatever remains from his wartime comrades in a “no-holds-barred meeting” in a fortnight. He has invited the war veterans to “openly talk” about their grievances.
“Come and let us discuss, and we will also want to hear all your grievances,” Mugabe said at a Zanu-PF rally in which he also told war veterans that he was “free to leave office” if they no longer wanted him, but only if proper procedures were followed.
Former Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association leader Jabulani Sibanda – a once-powerful man within Zanu-PF – was expelled from the party last year and was even briefly arrested for rejecting what was termed “a bedroom coup”, meaning Grace Mugabe had taken over power from her husband.
Sibanda, former vice-president Joice Mujuru, former state security minister Didymus Mutasa and former party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo were branded as counter-revolutionaries.
After their expulsion, Mujuru and the latter went on to form an opposition party – Zimbabwe People First.
Sibanda, who was instrumental in Mugabe’s appropriation of farmland, which started in 2000, vowed to make sure the 92-year-old was removed from power by 2018.
“If I want to remove him, I won’t do a hatchet job; I will make sure he is also removed as president. In fact, I will make sure that Zanu-PF loses in the next elections,” Sibanda said at a rally.
While still part of Zanu-PF in November 2007, Sibanda staged the “1 million man march” in support of Mugabe’s hold on power.
When Mujuru and her cabal were expelled, all seemed well within Zanu-PF, and Emmerson Mnangagwa was elevated to replace her as a co-vice-president.
But a new problem arose as a faction called Team Lacoste started pushing for Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe – a move that gained some capital and ruffled feathers.
Grace Mugabe and Generation 40 came in to save Robert Mugabe’s position in what war veterans saw as a direct insult.
And every time Mugabe has spoken about the infighting, he has taken the side that features his wife.
The first time that the war veterans denounced Grace’s political meddling and threatened to forcibly meet with Mugabe to discuss the matter, the state unleashed police on them.
This led to War Veterans’ Minister Christopher Mutsvangwa being replaced with Tshinga Dube.
This time around, the meeting is being carefully handled by the president himself. However, war collaborators and former detainees have been excluded. Interestingly, Mugabe is a former detainee – he spent 10 years in restriction in the 1970s.
Political analysts say the excluded groups have not benefited under Mugabe’s rule, and the majority are young and energetic, so they pose a threat because they can organise mass demonstrations.
The war collaborators’ spokesperson, Shane Chakanyuka, told City Press that they must be included in anything to do with Zanu-PF, especially at a time when the party is faced with collapse.
“What is happening in the party should be discussed openly. We will not let go of our ownership of the revolution,” he said.
In December 2013, Mugabe was elected unopposed as the party’s candidate for the 2018 polls.