The attempted assassination of Zimbabwe’s air force chief Perence Shiri this week is seen as the fruit of increasingly bitter divisions in President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF.
The government claimed it was the work of ”well-trained assassins” and quickly pointed fingers at the Movement for Democratic Change and its alleged Western backers.
Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi claimed the attack was ”a build-up of terror attacks targeting high-profile persons, government officials, government establishments and public transportation systems”.
But many observers say the incident, in which Shiri reportedly underwent six hours of surgery after being shot twice in the arm, bears the hallmarks of an amateurish, locally planned operation.
Mugabe is due to open a Zanu-PF conference this week, and no challenge to his leadership is expected. But privately, prominent Zanu-PF figures, including justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Public Service Minister Nicholas Goche and Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mgangagwa, are said to be eyeing the presidency.
Talk of fresh elections has raised the prospect that Mugabe may want to be Zanu-PF’s candidate. Many in the party, seeing him as senile and the direct cause of Zimbabwe’s isolation and economic implosion, are determined to stop this.
The attack on Shiri came a week after the Zanu-PF’s political commissar, Elliot Manyika, died in a road accident. At the state burial Manyika’s brother claimed he had received threatening calls before his death.
Manyika died while travelling the country in a campaign to restructure the party to ensure Mugabe loyalists take charge of provincial party structures.
Another theory is that the Shiri assassination report is a Zanu-PF fabrication designed to enable Mugabe to declare a state of emergency and install a full-blown police state.
Sources close to him say he is now firmly opposed to implementing his agreement with the MDC and is contemplating introducing a ”Revolutionary Council” as a way of avoiding forming a Cabinet dominated by the opposition.
Mohadi also accused Zimbabwe’s political opposition of being behind three bomb attacks on police stations earlier this year.
Previously, the government had refused to make this link, with police commissioner Augustine Chihuri saying publicly that the attacks could have been an inside job.
The MDC said the attack on Shiri was evidence of ”factions vying to succeed the aged Mugabe — each of those factions has a control and influence on members of the army”.
A senior police source told the Mail & Guardian that investigators were examining ”several probabilities” surrounding the shooting, including the business links of top figures and what the source described as ”racketeering rings”.
A possible link is being drawn between the shots fired at Shiri and a cartel involved in the illegal mining and smuggling of diamonds in Chiadzwa, eastern Zimbabwe.
Shiri was part of a combined army and police unit that has waged a brutal campaign against the diamond racketeers in recent weeks.
Shiri is reviled in opposition circles for his leadership of the Gukurahundi, the 1980s campaign aimed at crushing an armed rebellion in southern and central Zimbabwe in which thousands of civilians were murdered.
Under increasing pressure over power sharing and a deepening humanitarian crisis, Mugabe has been lashing out, casting his government as the victim of foreign plots while clamping down on opponents.
Chinamasa last week accused Botswana of training armed dissidents, a claim the Botswana government and South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe dismissed this week.
Meanwhile, senior Zanu-PF members in Bulawayo left to join a splinter group led by ex-members of Joshua Nkomo’s PF-Zapu this week, dealing a fatal blow to the 1987 unity and further undermining Zanu-PF’s claims that the party and the nation are united.
The hive-off effectively means that Zanu-PF has no chance of winning support in Matabeleland.
In another incident, police used teargas to quell fighting between two Zanu-PF factions in Harare.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said Mugabe could soon formally invite the opposition to join the new government.
”I happen to know that some time this week or early next week, communication inviting both MDC formations to join government would be made,” Charamba said.
Although MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said his party would not enter the unity government until ”outstanding issues” are resolved, other sources reported Morgan Tsvangirai might buckle to regional pressure to accept.