Scenes of Zimbabwe police firing warning shots and charging party activists are usually associated with the authority’s frequent crackdown on opposition groups. But over the past week the police have used force to quell violence between rival factions of President Robert Mugabe’s party.
Mugabe has been trying to rally his party towards a new election campaign, but the grassroots structures that have long been the mainstay of Zanu-PF appear to be crumbling.
The factionalism that has divided the top leadership of the party has now seeped through to the grassroots at a time when Mugabe needs it most in his bid for new elections. With these structures in a shambles, party officials believe Mugabe may be forced to rethink his plan for yet another election campaign.
Across five party provinces Zanu-PF has had to suspend district elections after fights erupted over accusations of vote rigging, the imposition of candidates and intimidation.
Grassroots structures have always been key in getting Mugabe’s supporters to the polls during elections and, according to opposition activists, they have also been used to intimidate communities into voting for Zanu-PF. Its district elections are a key step towards party primary elections it plans to hold soon, under pressure from Mugabe to organise quickly for national elections that he wants to be held this year.
But now Mugabe finds that the rifts among his top lieutenants reach deeper than he thought.
Even in the lowest structures of Zanu-PF local leaders are aligning themselves to the two main factions, which are said to be led by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
Mugabe has previously acknowledged the divisions in his party, blaming them for Zanu-PF’s loss in the 2008 election, but rarely have these fault lines shown up in the grassroots.
In Masvingo, a traditionally pro-Zanu-PF province, the police fired warning shots and had running battles with rival factions. Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said officers had to step in to “maintain law and order” at a rural school in the province.
Walter Mzembi, the Zanu-PF MP in the Masvingo area where the violence erupted, said poor discipline was “tearing at the core of leadership and needs to be stopped”.
He said the grassroots support felt ignored by those in power over the choice of leaders, who he said had given themselves the “power of self-deployment”.
“In the final analysis, the party should arrogate to itself the ultimate role of deploying cadres if it is to check individualism, selfishness, factionalism, tribalism, regionalism and ultimately the division so rampant now everywhere,” said Mzembi.
Rugare Gumbo, Zanu-PF spokesperson, said senior party leaders were to meet this week to discuss the fighting. Party officials are worried that the violence shows it is not yet ready for another campaign. Mugabe’s insistence on new elections is only deepening the divisions in Zanu-PF, one official said.
In the Manicaland province, where Zanu-PF lost 20 of the 26 available seats in the 2008 election, attempts to reorganise the party have been stalled by factional violence. A senior official said some party supporters had defected to the Movement for Democratic Change after party district elections were abandoned over charges of cheating and intimidation.
Webster Shamu, who, as Zanu-PF “political commissar”, is in charge of running party elections and its “restructuring” exercise, has now ordered all elections stopped while the party investigates the fighting.