HARARE – Zanu PF bigwigs say President Robert Mugabe was at his “foxy” best during Wednesday’s heated politburo meeting in Harare — running rings around the ruling party’s two warring factions and apparently leaving both camps “thoroughly confused”.
Well-placed sources who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the wily nonagenarian cunningly contrived to lose his temper, before demanding that his lieutenants work together to save the former liberation movement from suffering another humiliating defeat in the much-anticipated 2018 national elections, as had happened in 2008.
Mugabe, who turns 93 on Tuesday, was apparently also careful not to look like he was siding with either of Zanu PF’s two feuding camps during the meeting — supporting and shellacking both camps in equal measure.
“Gushungo (Mugabe) was in his element, and made it clear that he is still the unchallenged and unchallengeable leader of the pack.
“It was also very clear that any of the factions with designs on power in the country will need his support if they are to get anywhere.
“He gave and took away from the two camps with equal measure, leaving them both thoroughly confused about what his next move will be,” a Zanu PF senior official who has always claimed to be “non-aligned” said.
Wednesday’s meeting was held against the backdrop of the high level of indiscipline within the ruling party, as well the deep-rooted tribal, factional and succession wars which are ravaging the former liberation movement — and which escalated when Mugabe was away in the Far East on his annual holiday.
Another source also said yesterday that the “deliberately angry” Mugabe had refused to “buy into” the party factions’ allegations and counter-allegations against each other — choosing to focus instead on healing all internal rifts as Zanu PF prepares for next year’s make-or-break elections.
The ruling party is split in the middle, with a faction of young Turks going by the moniker Generation 40 (G40) rabidly opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe, and squaring up against the VP’s allies, Team Lacoste.
“He lashed at the escalating factionalism that is devouring the party. He openly warned members of the politburo to unite the party as we are likely to face a united opposition in 2018,” the second source told the Daily News yesterday.
Zanu PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo told a news conference after the meeting that Mugabe had tasked them with making sure that the party was united ahead of the 2018 elections.
“Commenting on the 2018 harmonised elections, the president advised members to attune their minds, attitudes and emotions to focus on unity, so as to win the 2018 harmonised elections.
“The president informed members that the late Vice President Simon Vengesai Muzenda left a legacy of success and victory in all elections. Thus it’s our duty to maintain that success story to honour his legacy,” Chombo said.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s politburo meeting, the G40 and Team Lacoste had traded deadly blows on all fronts.
The G40 escalated its fight with Team Lacoste after Mnangagwa hosted and sacked Zanu PF officials at his rural home during the festive season, saying this was in fact a meeting organised to plot the ouster of Mugabe from power.
And since the images of Mnangagwa holding the much-obsessed about coffee mug (written I Am The Boss) emerged in the public domain, the G40 had interpreted this as the VP’s open statement that he had unbridled presidential ambitions.
G40-linked party officials subsequently met at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare where they issued a statement in which they called for a probe into Mnangagwa for hobnobbing with the likes of war veterans’ leader Christopher Mutsvangwa and maverick businessman-cum politician Energy Mutodi.
Sources linked to Team Lacoste claim Mugabe had refused on Wednesday to entertain the “Cupgate” issue, apparently going on to talk about how allegedly loyal Mnangagwa was to him.
“He simply took the wind out of the sails of both factions by deftly dealing with their issues while reminding them he was still the boss.
“The president neutralised the coffee mug debate on one hand, but on the other, attacked Team Lacoste’s actions in Masvingo where he ordered fresh elections to choose a substantive executive,” the supposedly “non-aligned” party bigwig said.
Before the politburo ordered fresh elections in Masvingo, the regional structure found itself deep in the throes of factional anarchy, following its leadership’s unilateral decision to bring back the suspended former provincial leader, Ezra Chadzamira, to replace Amasi Nenjana who had been the acting chairperson.
Chadzamira is said to be a key member of Team Lacoste which accused Nenjana of allegedly working with the G40 to destabilise the province.
During the party’s annual people’s conference in Masvingo last year, Mugabe also slyly blew a gasket at the gathering, savaging his brawling lieutenants, while cunningly moving to finger some of his top aides in alleged plots to hound him out of power — as the ruling party’s tribal, factional and succession wars continue to burn hot.
He made a thinly-disguised dig at Team Lacoste then, saying the party’s leadership was not won through plotting the arrest of opponents, but through elections.
This was after the G40 had over the previous months alleged that the Mnangagwa camp was abusing key State institutions, including lapdog State media, to irregularly grab power in the former liberation movement.
But, in typical Mugabe style, the nonagenarian also moved to attack the G40 at the meeting for their alleged indiscipline, and for abusing social media to attack fellow party officials.
“To the party leadership, we do not run matters of the party through Twitter or Facebook,” he said, as he sought to balance his criticism and in the process consolidate his own position.
Political analysts who spoke to the Daily News at the time said it would have been “atypical” if Mugabe had chosen one faction over the other.
“The current situation where there are factions fighting each other below him means that there isn’t a faction fighting him directly, so the fighting serves him well,” said former civic leader McDonald Lewanika.
Mugabe — the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980 — is facing the biggest challenge to his long rule.
The increasingly fail nonagenarian and Zanu PF are battling growing unrest among the country’s restive populace, which blames his government for presiding over the country’s dying economy and the deepening rot in the former regional breadbasket.