Zim veterans slam Mugabe challenger

Veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war warned a former ally of President Robert Mugabe who will run against him in next month’s elections that he was a traitor, government newspapers reported on Wednesday.

Former finance minister Simba Makoni, a senior member of the ruling Zanu-PF, entered the presidential race on Tuesday in the first major challenge to Mugabe from within the ruling party in 20 years.

He had been expected to register for the poll on Friday but Zimbabwe authorities moved the nomination date to February 15 after some politicians won a court order to delay the process.

On Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s government-controlled media branded Makoni a British- and American-sponsored puppet seeking to split Zanu-PF and oust Mugabe.

Joseph Chinotimba, deputy leader of the war veterans, was quoted as saying that Makoni was a political turncoat who would suffer a humiliating defeat in the March 29 general election.

”We are now going to campaign vigorously for President Mugabe. I feel sorry for Makoni, he has lost the political plot,” Chinotimba told the government mouthpiece Herald newspaper.

”From today [Wednesday] to the nomination date we will have finished with them. Traitors should know that Zanu-PF has a history of dealing harshly with their kind,” he said.

Chinotimba said Mugabe’s war veteran supporters — who have anchored Mugabe’s election campaigns since 2000 — would not allow Makoni and his supporters to enter the party’s offices.

”We are calling on all war veterans to take control of the party,” he said.

War veterans, who fought in the 1970s conflict, along with members of Zanu-PF, have turned violent in the past in support of Mugabe. There are 30 000 war veterans in Zimbabwe.

Makoni will run as an independent because, according to Zanu-PF rules, he will be automatically expelled from the party.

Political analysts say Makoni is popular with the business community and urban voters disenchanted with Mugabe and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) but doubt he has the muscle to defeat the veteran Zimbabwean leader.

Zimbabwe’s privately owned media has reported that Makoni is backed by a faction led by retired army general and member of the ruling Zanu-PF party’s top decision-making body, Solomon Mujuru. Mujuru is married to Vice-President Joyce Mujuru.

Makoni said he had consulted party members and activists across Zimbabwe before deciding to run. Despite economic turmoil, 83-year-old Mugabe had been expected to defeat the divided opposition in the election.

Analysts say shortages of food, foreign currency and fuel, and the world’s highest inflation rate — officially pegged at 26 000% — are the biggest challenge to Mugabe’s rule.

But the opposition has failed to capitalise on Mugabe’s failure to ease the crisis.

‘No chance’

Meanwhile, analysts said this week that the Zimbabwe opposition’s failure to bury its differences and agree on a joint electoral strategy means Mugabe is a virtual shoo-in for a sixth term of office.

Sunday’s announcement that the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would field separate candidates rather than make common cause against Mugabe has led commentators to close the book on the contest.

”It’s worthless going into the election divided as they are because there is no chance they are going to win, even against a Zanu-PF that has been weakened by the economic crisis,” said Harare-based political commentator Bill Saidi.

”A lot of people had placed hope on the opposition to deliver them from the present difficulties. This is a big letdown and the MDC leaders should be ashamed of themselves.”

Once a formidable force posing the stiffest challenge to Mugabe’s more than two-decade stranglehold on power, the MDC split into two factions following a row over contesting senate elections in 2006.

There had been hopes the cracks would be at least papered over at election time, with MDC main leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his party rival, Arthur Mutambara, talking up the need for unity after they were both beaten up by the security forces last March.

But despite lengthy talks, compromise proved beyond them and neither man was prepared to back down over the joint parliamentary and presidential election. — Reuters, AFP

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