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Rumblings of Discontent in Zimbabwean Ruling Party

Senior party officials dispute the official story that President Robert Mugabe was formally endorsed as ZANU-PF’s candidate for the 2008 election.
By Nonthando Bhebhe
Senior ZANU-PF politicians have disputed the official announcement that they backed Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe to run as the party’s candidate in next year’s election, but accept that they failed to challenge the decision when it was foisted on them.

After the March 30 meeting of ZANU-PF’s Central Committee, party spokesmen told local media that delegates had endorsed Mugabe as the ruling party’s candidate, and had agreed to bring the 2010 parliamentary election forward so that it takes place in 2008, at the same time as the presidential ballot.

Top party members are beginning to talk about what happened at the meeting, and they have told IWPR that Mugabe was simply imposed as the candidate, with no debate or formal endorsement taking place.

One senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the issue of Mugabe’s nomination as the party candidate was never actually discussed, but was slipped in as a resolution at the end of the meeting by allies of the president.

Another ZANU-PF figure who is a member of the ruling Politburo, a smaller body than the Central Committee, said the issue was not discussed because it was not on the agenda for the meeting, which instead focused on matters such as internal party reforms and Zimbabwean agriculture – but not the disastrous state of the economy as a whole.

“Looking at the agenda of the meeting and any other ZANU PF meetings, it seems as if there is no crisis in the country,” said the Politburo member. “It appears like everything is normal and you would not think we are in such a mess.”

Central Committee members were then caught off balance when Elliot Manyika, the party’s “political commissar” and a Mugabe loyalist, announced a series of resolutions which were never discussed. These included the decision to hold simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, a new procedure whereby parliament will select a successor if Mugabe resigns before the end of his next term, an increase in the number of parliamentary constituencies from 150 to 210, and the appointment of senators by proportional representation.

Manyika told Central Committee members that these were all resolutions that had been passed at the ZANU-PF party conference last December.

According to IWPR’s source, Manyika “said the conference had ‘pledged loyalty to the presidium’, and this was interpreted through Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba to mean that we had endorsed Mugabe as our candidate for the 2008 elections.

“We were taken by surprise, as we thought the matter would have been brought up for discussion and then endorsed, or we would have charted the way forward. But this was done deliberately to make sure that no one stood up to contradict it at a meeting being chaired by Mugabe himself.”

The reason the issue was presented in this manner, the Politburo member said, was “because they knew that as soon as it had been announced, no matter how ambiguous it was, no one would have dared stand up and oppose it.

“So what I am saying is that he was not formally endorsed.”

Nor was Mugabe formally backed by ZANU-PF’s Youth League and Women’s League, which were widely reported to have sponsored his nomination. It was only the leaders of the two groups who publicly pledged support for Mugabe.

The ZANU-PF official said that no one in the party would dare raise the matter again, and Mugabe was now free to decide what he was going to do.

“The problem in ZANU-PF is that we are all appointed by the president,” he said. “Some members of the party have been engaging in illegal and corrupt activities and the president has dossiers on them. The president allowed corruption to flourish knowing that one day he would use it against them. Because we are appointed and some of us are corrupt, no one will dare raise the matter at any forums, including the Politburo. The best place to debate the issue was at the Central Committee.”

Members of the ZANU-PF Politburo tried to have the issue debated when it convened two days before the Central Committee meeting, but were brushed off by Mugabe. ZANU-PF sources told IWPR that Simon Khaya Moyo, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa, asked Mugabe to clarify press reports that he now wanted both elections to happen in 2008 and that he wanted to stand. An angry Mugabe is said to have told Moyo that this was “none of the Politburo’s business, but a matter for the Central Committee”.

The Politburo official said only the president himself, and pressure from other members of the Southern African Development Community leaders, could change things now. “Don’t expect much from ZANU-PF itself,” he added.

Other ZANU-PF officials have told IWPR that although the next party congress is not due until 2009, a special one is to be held this December to deal with Mugabe’s endorsement.

According to these sources, the party is currently divided into two camps, with one which wants Mugabe to agree not to stand for re-election and to allow ZANU-PF to freely choose his successor at the December congress. The other consists of Mugabe loyalists who may also have their eye on the post of Zimbabwean vice-president, which is likely to come up at the party congress. The incumbent, Joice Mujuru, is expected to be removed as she has made her presidential ambitions plain, to Mugabe’s displeasure.

A political commentator in Harare who did not want to be named said he was disappointed at those ZANU-PF leaders who want Mugabe to step down in 2008 - particularly retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, who is backing his wife Joice’s presidential bid, and the other likely contender Rural Housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa - for failing to use meetings such as the Central Committee to challenge Mugabe head on.

“General Mujuru and Mnangagwa have let the people of Zimbabwe down,” said the commentator. “Change can only come from Zimbabwe - we should not expect it to come from [South African president Thabo] Mbeki. They should tell the man to go.”

Nonthando Bhebhe is the pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe.

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