PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will tomorrow fly into the eye of a storm, amid tight security, as a deeply divided Zanu PF convenes in the fractious Masvingo province to celebrate his 92nd birthday at a time the party’s succession war is escalating.
The Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and other security agents have been deployed heavily in the province ahead of the celebrations given reports that some youths wanted to confront and boo First Lady Grace Mugabe.
The birthday bash comes against the backdrop of a fierce succession battle pitting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a group of young Turks, Generation (G40), which has coalesced around Grace.
Although Mugabe is showing signs that he is supportive of his wife, Masvingo province has largely stood by Mnangagwa.
The bash, which will cost about US$800 000, comes hot on the heels of a decision by Zanu PF national commissar Saviour Kasukuwere to suspend Masvingo provincial chairperson Ezra Chadzamira, for among other things barring women from attending a rally organised by the Women’s League a fortnight ago. The rally was held at the party’s headquarters ahead of the last politburo meeting.
The Mnangagwa faction was against the rally which they saw as an attempt to embarrass the vice-president. True to their fear, Women’s League secretary for finance Sarah Mahoka publicly ridiculed Mnangagwa and challenged him to declare his ambitions. She also likened him to a duck.
Masvingo province has however stood firmly behind Chadzamira. The province held a provincial co-ordinating committee (PCC) meeting last week where anti-Grace slogans were chanted.
The province argued that Kasukuwere, a strong Grace ally, had breached the party constitution in suspending Chadzamira, as well as two other provincial chairpersons, Mashonaland East’s Biggie Matiza and Midlands’ Kizito Chivamba.
In a show of defiance, the province also booted out Grace’s allies — provincial political commissar Jeppy Jaboon and Women’s League chairperson Veronica Makonese — accusing them of maligning senior party members and backbiting.
The political and security situation in Masvingo was also a subject in meetings between Mugabe and senior security officials this week, particularly on who would receive the president when he visits. Under normal circumstances Chadzamira as the provincial chairperson, is supposed to receive the president, but if he does, it would be intepreted to mean Mugabe supports the Masvingo PCC’s decision to back their chairperson. Sources in the intelligence revealed a strong security team had been deployed in the province given the vicious infighting in the party and reports that some youths were planning to embarrass Grace by booing her.
“The situation is tense on the ground. This will be an opportunity for the factions to clash, so we are there in numbers,” said a security official.
There are also reports that the Masvingo chapter of pressure group Your Advocate for Reform and Democracy (Yard) is also planning to stage demonstrations in the town ahead of Mugabe’s visit. YARD is a youth initiate formed by firebrand former Zanu PF chairman for Mashonaland West Themba Mliswa. A Zanu PF official also said: “What will also be of interest is who will welcome Mugabe in the province.
The chairperson normally welcomes and introduces the president to party officials and supporters, so all eyes will be on Chadzamira.”
The Zimbabwe Independent understands that the Masvingo PCC has been pleading with war veterans and youths not to embarrass the First Family.
“Nonetheless, there will be tight security at the event because of the infighting in the party. The Central Intelligence Organisation has made huge deployments. Masvingo is teeming with CIOs as we speak,” said an official. Zanu PF national spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said preparations for the 21st February Movement were progressing well. He said the youths and not Masvingo provincial leadership would be in charge of the event.
“The youths are the organisers of this event so they will be in charge. I have been informed that the progress in terms of preparations is at an advanced stage and we are happy with such developments,” Moyo said.
For years, Masvingo has been a Zanu PF factional hotbed, where differences have often resulted in violent clashes. In December 2013, for example, riot police were called to quell clashes between Mnangagwa’s supporters and those belonging to former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s camp.
The last time Grace addressed a rally in Masvingo in December last year several senior officials openly displayed their hostility to her.
Suspended Women’s League secretary for administration, Espinah Nhari chanted a “down with G40” slogan, in Grace’s presence, resulting in her being admonished by Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko.