Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tribal Rivalry May Split ZANU PF

Ruling party could in time rupture because of Mugabe’s insistence on promoting the Zezuru clan over the larger Karanga.
By IWPR Srdan

To outsiders the great tribal split in Zimbabwe is between the Shonas and the Ndebele - the latter an offshoot of the Zulus of South Africa who now largely occupy the dry western part of the country.


But Zimbabweans themselves know that the critical ethnic and cultural divide - the one that will eventually decide the fate of their troubled state - is between the distinct clans that make up the Shona.


The Shona, who began arriving from west central Africa more than a thousand years ago, share a mutually intelligible language. But ethnically they are not homogenous. Between the clans there is a diversity of dialects, religious beliefs and customs.


The five principal clans are the Karanga, Zezuru, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore.


Of these, the biggest and most powerful clans are the Karanga and the Zezuru. At this moment, largely unperceived by outsiders, an almighty struggle is going on between Karangas and Zezurus inside President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party that at some point is destined to explode and completely reshape Zimbabwean politics.


The Karanga are the largest clan, accounting for some 35 per cent of Zimbabwe's 11.5 million citizens. The Zezuru are the second biggest, and comprise around a quarter of the total population.


The Karanga provided the bulk of the fighting forces and military leaders who fought the successful 1972-80 chimurenga (struggle) that secured independence and black majority rule. Nevertheless, the ZANU movement - since renamed ZANU PF - was led by a Zezuru intellectual with several degrees - Mugabe - who did not do any fighting.


The ethnic differences at that time seemed to matter little since ZANU proclaimed unity as one of its ideals. Mugabe's predecessors as leader were Ndabaningi Sithole, an Ndau, and Herbert Chitepo, assassinated in mysterious circumstances 30 years ago, a Manyika.


But those clan differences have surfaced with a vengeance in 2005, after Mugabe filled every top position in the state with members of his Zezuru clan and pushed out the Karangas.


The Karangas, who know that their men won the chimurenga, are angry.


Besides 81-year-old Mugabe, his two vice presidents - Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru - are Zezurus.


Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who is also Mugabe's spymaster, is a Zezuru, as are the chiefs of the three main security forces.


Army chief General Constantine Chiwenga - whose highly combative wife Jocelyn threatened to eat a white farmer at the height of the 2000-2004 farm invasions - replaced a veteran Karanga fighter, General Vitalis Zvinavashe.


The air force chief is Air Marshal Perence Shiri, former commander of the notorious North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade, which in 1983 swept though Matabeleland destroying entire Ndebele villages and murdering more than 20,000 civilians. Shiri christened his campaign against the Ndebele with a Shona word, Gukurahundi, meaning "the early rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains". Mugabe has since rewarded Shiri - who replaced a Karanga - with three confiscated white farms.


The national police chief is Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, a Zezuru who has publicly declared his personal unwavering support for Mugabe and ZANU PF.


Further enhancing his grip on power, Mugabe has placed control of the electoral process since 1985 in the hands of his fellow Zezuru - Tobaiwa Mudede, the all-powerful Registrar General.


Mudede has been in charge of all Zimbabwe's electoral bodies and has been widely accused of rigging all elections for the past 20 years in favour of Mugabe, who has rewarded him with two former white-owned commercial farms.


The judiciary also is in the hands of the Zezuru. Godfrey Chidyausiku, a Zezuru, was appointed chief justice in 2001 after Mugabe toppled his predecessor, Anthony Gubbay, one of the last white Zimbabweans on the bench. With Chidyausiku's appointment came the gift of the 895-hectare Estees Park farm, north of Harare, newly confiscated from its white owner. Chidyausiku has ensured that all judges conform to Mugabe's decrees and has appointed two Zezuru relatives as High Court judges to help him.


One of Zimbabwe's most independent judges, Justice Benjamin Paradza, a Karanga, was forced out of office. Justice Moses Chinhengo, another Karanga constantly criticised by Mugabe's ministers, resigned in disgust and said, "I hope that in future I will be able to serve Zimbabwe in another capacity as the call of duty may demand."


Kindness Paradza was born in 1963 in Masvingo, in the Karanga heartland, but when he was aged nine his parents moved to Zvimba district - Mugabe's home area in Mashonaland West, a Zezuru stronghold west of Harare. In 2003, he won a by-election in the Makonde constituency in Zvimba district on a ZANU PF ticket. Before this year's primary elections, he was everyone's favourite to represent the party in the coming election on March 31.


He was very popular locally but was booted out of the contest because of his roots in Masvingo. "Karangas should stand for election in their own province," a senior ZANU PF official very close to Mugabe was quoted as saying. The constituency was instead given to Mugabe's Zezuru nephew, Leo Mugabe, one of four close relatives standing in safe ZANU PF constituencies.


The Zezuru hegemony has crept up and become a fact of life in Zimbabwean politics, although for many years there was intense debate as to the authenticity of Mugabe's origins.


What is more certain is that in1963, when ZANU was formed, Mugabe was appointed to the powerful position of secretary general after being nominated by the late Nolan Makombe, a leading Karanga who had convinced his co-tribesmen in the movement that Mugabe was a fellow Karanga of the influential Mugabe dynasty of chiefs from the area of the Great Zimbabwe ruins near Masvingo. Mugabe cleverly encouraged this belief until he was well entrenched in power.


Although at its inception ZANU was led by Sithole, a Ndau from Manicaland from the far east of Zimbabwe, the party was dominated by the Karangas.


Its powerful individuals included Leopold Takawira, Nelson and Michael Mawema, Simon Muzenda and Eddison Zvobgo - all Karangas.


The tribal composition replicated itself in the armed wing of ZANU with the Karangas, led by Josiah Tongogara, forming the backbone of the liberation struggle. Other prominent Karangas were Emmerson Mnangagwa, current speaker of parliament but now out of favour with Mugabe; retired Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai; and retired Army Commander Vitalis Zvinavashe.


Nathan Shamuyarira’s rise to power illustrates how Mugabe has achieved this Zezuru hegemony. In 1972, Chitepo beat Shamuyarira to the influential post of chairman on the exiled ZANU War Council in Zambia.


Angered, Shamuyarira resigned from ZANU and took the most prominent Zezuru leaders out of the movement to form the short-lived Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe, Frolizi.


When in 1974 Mugabe was smuggled out of what was then Rhodesia into Mozambique by a Manyika chief, Rekayi Tangwena, to join the chimurenga, he was not easily accepted by the Karanga and Manyika guerrilla leadership. But when he eventually ascended to power, the first thing he did was to neutralise the Karanga element by imprisoning many of them - most notably Rugare Gumbo who was the original mastermind of the guerrilla war. Gumbo and several fellow Karanga leaders were kept in underground pit dungeons until independence in 1980.


As soon as he was entrenched in power in Mozambique, Mugabe invited his friend and fellow clansman Shamuyarira to join the struggle. This move was hugely resisted but Shamuyarira remained in Mozambique as Mugabe's guest until independence in 1980, after which he became successively minister of information, foreign minister and now minister of defence. He remains Mugabe's most trusted lieutenant.


To quell any Karanga suspicions of his tribal manoeuvres, Mugabe kept the respected Simon Muzenda, a Karanga, as his sole vice president until the latter's death in 2003.


Other Karangas, such as the late firebrand lawyer Eddison Zvobgo, long seen as a future leader of the country, were systematically downgraded to provincial leaders. Josiah Tongogara, the military commander of ZANU in exile, was a Karanga who died in Mozambique on the eve of independence in an as yet unexplained car accident. Sheba Gava, a Karanga, was the most powerful woman guerrilla during the Seventies war but when she died in the following decade she was not granted national heroine status although Mugabe's first wife, Sally, a Ghanaian, was given that accolade when she died.


Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, a Zezuru nephew of Mugabe, allegedly harassed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, mayor of Harare, Elias Mudzuri, out of power.


Then, last December, at ZANU PF's electoral congress, Mugabe arm-twisted his party into voting Joyce Mujuru to the powerful new position of second vice president, securing complete Zezuru hegemony, with a Zezuru president and two Zezuru deputies.


But a backlash has begun, with unpredictable consequences.


ZANU PF almost ruptured completely in the prelude to the electoral congress when seven provinces out of ten resisted Mujuru’s appointment to the vice presidency, calling for the Karanga Mnangagwa to get the post.


In the subsequent political bloodbath, Mugabe sacked his powerful information minister Jonathan Moyo - an Ndebele - who is now standing for parliament as an independent. Mugabe suspended six provincial chairmen from active politics for a period of six years. All were from non-Zezuru provinces - Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland North, Central and South.


This is likely to have far-reaching consequences for ZANU PF and the country. The revolt by Moyo - until recently ZANU PF's propaganda supremo and a Mugabe ultra-loyalist - has shown others in the ruling party it is possible to rebel against Mugabe's political whims and perhaps get away with it.


Although ZANU PF is almost certain to win the March 31 election, there is a lot of alliance building going on under the surface and in secret meeting places.


Karangas are saying quite openly they have had enough of being trampled upon and talk of making plans to unseat those who they believe are being used to weaken their power base. By the time of the 2008 presidential election, it is more than likely that the current divisions will manifest themselves in an explosion that could blow ZANU PF into smithereens.


Veteran Zimbabwe journalist and independent newspaper owner Trevor Ncube, chairman of IWPR Africa, foresees a possible intriguing new alliance between the Karangas and Ndebeles, together comprising half of the population.


Ncube believes some disillusioned ZANU PF Karangas are already campaigning covertly for the opposition MDC.


"Whatever the outcome of this realignment of forces, ZANU PF will have to adapt and change if it is to remain relevant after the March 31 election," said Ncube. "That is the grim reality it faces."


Benedict Unendoro is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.


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