Former Vice President Joice Mujuru’s bid to lead the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) as it challenges President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF in the keenly-anticipated 2018 national elections could hit the skids after it emerged yesterday that she will be challenged by Margaret Dongo and others at the party’s elective convention.
At the same time, ZPF insiders also told the Daily News that Mujuru — who was hounded out of Zanu PF in the run-up to the former liberation movement’s sham December 2014 “elective” congress — is also facing growing resistance from disgruntled members who accuse her of sidelining party stalwarts Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo who have been relegated to the nondescript roles of elders.
The well-placed sources said there was a feeling within ZPF that Mujuru would — like how war veterans had recently described Mugabe — be “a difficult candidate to sell” for the 2018 polls because of her Zanu PF connections, especially if the mooted grand opposition coalition failed to materialise.
Outside such a coalition, the insiders added, Mujuru would have to fight war on two significant fronts — against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe — hence the push by some senior officials to have the former Zimbabwe Union of Democrats president, Dongo, as the party’s worthy 2018 presidential candidate.
A fierce critic of both Mugabe and Zanu PF, Dongo had not responded to the Daily News’ enquiries for a comment by the time the newspaper went to print last night.
However, ZPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire — without mentioning names — confirmed that many senior party officials were bidding to fight Mujuru for the ZPF’s top post.
“We are happy with the jostling among party officials to lead ZPF because it shows that we are growing as a party and Mai Mujuru is not unhappy with that development because it is a Zanu PF mentality to treat ambitious people who want to contest for power as enemies.
“We are happy because it shows the strength of our internal party electoral processes and we hope that the most popular and competent leader will emerge from the congress. We will not tell our members who should or should not lead them otherwise there will be no reason for holding an elective congress,” he said.
This comes as analysts have said Mujuru and Tsvangirai are the best opposition combination to bring to an end Mugabe and Zanu PF’s long rule in 2018.
Both the MDC and ZPF are among the opposition parties who have coalesced under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), which is pushing for far-reaching electoral reforms ahead of the much-anticipated next polls.
Mujuru and Tsvangirai signalled their strong intent to work together last August, in a move which analysts described at the time as “very significant”, when they took part in a massive demonstration in Gweru.
Describing the scenes then as “heart warming”, Tsvangirai showered praises on Mujuru for joining the MDC in its protest and public rally.
Another ZPF insider revealed to the Daily News that a “fervent campaign” against Mujuru’s presidency was well under way in the fledgling party, with Dongo’s backers said to be pointing to Mugabe’s former number two’s lack of bargaining power during coalition talks as her major weakness.
The problem with Mai Mujuru being our candidate in 2018 is that she will only be acceptable to the electorate if she is not Tsvangirai’s rival.
“That is dangerous for us, not only because the envisaged coalition might fail, but also because even if it succeeds that fact alone takes away her bargaining power for the leadership of the coalition,” the senior party official said.
“Tsvangirai is aware that the electorate is suspicious of Mujuru and will only embrace her if they are together so he will use that to demand leadership of the coalition, knowing that he will have a field day if ZPF decides to go it alone by simply labelling us a Zanu PF extension and pointing to Mujuru not having left the ruling party voluntarily. He will tell Zimbabweans that had she not been fired she would still be in government and campaigning for Mugabe, hence our preference for Dongo who is known for being a long-time critic of the current status quo,” the bigwig added.
According to the ZPF’s constitution, the top five members of the executive, including the president, will be elected upon nomination by at least two provinces, with a candidate nominated by seven provinces declared the winner.
Dongo is said to have the backing of both Gumbo and Mutasa who, ironically, were sacked from Zanu PF at the same time as Mujuru for their loyalty to the former VP.
Efforts to talk to the liberation struggle stalwarts were unsuccessful — although Mutasa told thousands of ZPF supporters in Dotito at the weekend that he was solidly behind Mujuru.
Still, Gumbo and Mutasa’s sympathisers want the two ZPF founders to be accommodated in the party’s National Executive Council (Nec). Their supporters blame other ZPF bigwigs who are also eyeing top posts, such as former ministers Sylvester Nguni, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti and Dzikamai Mavhaire for “putting Mujuru in their pockets” as they have allegedly sought to sideline the elders.
“Mujuru is no longer as accessible as she used to be before the interim leadership took over the reins. Gumbo and Mutasa used to be respected in the party given that they worked hard to give this project the feet on which to stand on, only to throw them away like they are doing right now saying they are old.
“Yet when they were building the party’s foundations nobody said they were old,” another senior official complained.
Under ZPF’s constitution, the Nec will be the highest decision-making body of the party and will comprise the president, vice president, party chairperson, secretary-general and treasurer-general.
Commenting on suggestions that he was targeting to be elected Mujuru’s second in command in a recent interview with the Daily News, Bhasikiti said he has, for a long time now, been linked with the post.
“People might be jockeying for positions in the belief that the convention could be held in October but I am not. Yes, I have been said to be interested to be the vice president but I am more interested in building the party structures, I cannot of course rule out latent jockeying for the various posts,” he said then.
Besides former ministers, other heavyweights in the party such as businessman David Butau and former war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda are also said to be eyeing top posts.