Blow for Makoni as deputy backs Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s deputy, Joyce Mujuru, has thrown her weight behind the veteran ruler’s bid for a sixth term, dispelling speculation linking her to Mugabe’s rival, Simba Makoni.

Mujuru was quoted by the state-owned Herald newspaper on Monday as saying at a rally: ”Firstly, you should vote for comrade Mugabe, our presidential candidate, then Zanu-PF councillors, MPs and senators.

”You should vote for Zanu-PF.”

Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, is facing a challenge from former finance minister Makoni, whose campaign got a boost on the weekend when ruling party heavyweights, including two former Cabinet ministers, publicly endorsed him.

Since Makoni announced in early February that he was challenging Mugabe for the presidency at a general election on March 29, there has been widespread speculation he enjoyed the tacit support of Mujuru, as well as her influential husband, Solomon Mujuru, a former head of the armed forces.

Joyce Mujuru was at one stage seen as Mugabe’s chosen successor before the 84-year-old decided to seek another term in office.

Before declaring his candidacy, Makoni had been a member of Zanu-PF’s politburo and has since claimed that he has the backing of many disillusioned party cadres in a country where annual inflation is now over 100 000%.

Mugabe on Friday predicted victory in the polls next month as he launched the election manifesto of his ruling Zanu-PF party.

”We certainly are going to win,” the 84-year-old leader told thousands of supporters at a rally in the capital, Harare.

”We of Zanu-PF have gathered here to mark the start, the official start of our march to another victory, another electoral victory.”

Zimbabwe’s last elections, won by Mugabe in 2002, were dismissed as rigged by Western observers and the opposition.

Mugabe is also being challenged for the presidency by main opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

‘I order you to vote for the president’

Meanwhile, the head of Zimbabwe’s prison service has ordered his officers to vote for Mugabe and said he will resign if the opposition wins next month’s election, official media reported on Friday.

Retired Major General Paradzayi Zimondi, who now heads the prison service, which is part of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he will retire to his farm if Tsvangirai or Makoni are elected to lead the country.

”I will only support the leadership of President Mugabe,” Zimondi was quoted by the state-owned Herald newspaper as saying while conferring new ranks to senior officers.

”I am giving you an order to vote for the president,” he told the officers.

On the eve of the 2002 presidential elections, the country’s defence forces chiefs, including Zimondi, said they would not recognise the presidency of anyone who did not participate in the country’s 1970s war of independence.

This was taken as a reference to Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, who did not fight in the liberation war.

Zimbabwe’s senior military officers fought against white minority rule, and the opposition has in the past accused them of siding with 84-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.

Mugabe has branded Makoni a political prostitute and Tsvangirai a puppet of former colonial power Britain and has promised a landslide victory to shame his Western critics. — AFP, Reuters

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