The sacking of senior Zanu-PF official and Zimbabwean Cabinet minister Tracey Mutinhiri after she called President Robert Mugabe “too old” has fuelled speculation that party moderates seen as being too close to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are to be purged.
Zanu-PF found Mutinhiri guilty of violating the party’s constitution by failing to conduct herself “honestly and honourably in her dealings with the party and public and bringing Zanu-PF into disrepute”.
It is widely held that her troubles began in March, after Zanu-PF lost the coveted post of parliamentary speaker to the MDC, amid claims that “sellout” MPs who voted against the party — including Mutinhiri — were to blame.
The campaign against her drew strength from her frequent presence at public gatherings with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and calls in her Marondera constituency for the removal of Mugabe as Zanu-PF’s leader because of old age and ill-health.
War veterans invaded her farm in July, after which she threatened to expose party-sanctioned murders, in a clear swipe at Zanu-PF bigwigs and the state security apparatus.
She accused state agents of plotting to kill her and throw her body into the Wenimbe dam, “like they did to hundreds of innocent suspected MDC supporters in June 2008”.
Eager to exploit Zanu-PF’s internal conflict, the MDC has offered to take in Mutinhiri. Party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said that “Minister Mutinhiri is welcome to join the MDC. Zanu-PF wanted her to chant slogans and act in a partisan way when discharging her duties as an MP. She, however, acted like a mother and a leader.
“To us, she is a professional MP, a dignified woman of virtue and is a clear example of what a community leader must be.”
Mutinhiri refused to comment this week, saying: “The party is bigger than me and I don’t want to appear as if I am fighting. I am not giving comments now.”
Her expulsion has strengthened the perception that Mugabe and Zanu-PF hardliners are moving to purge the party of moderates, shortly before the party holds its decisive annual conference in Bulawayo in December.
The conference is expected to endorse the 87-year-old Mugabe as the party’s presidential candidate in the next election. He announced last weekend that the poll would take place before March next year and urged party supporters to prepare for it.
The latest developments follow hard on the heels of the mysterious death by fire of Solomon Mujuru, the unofficial leader of the moderates.
Unlike previously, infighting in Zanu-PF has now become a public spectacle, signalling increasing difficulty in smoothing over internal rifts.
In another public spat involving party seniors, Zimbabwe Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono has criticised the economic indigenisation drive spearheaded by Saviour Kasukuwere, the youth development, indigenisation and empowerment minister.
Kasukuwere has threatened to cancel the licences of foreign-owned banks Standard Chartered, Stanbic and Barclays unless they comply with empowerment laws. Also stoking tensions in Zanu-PF are the recent batch of leaked diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, relating to Mugabe’s health, and plots by senior Zanu-PF officials to remove Mugabe from power.
Acknowledging the new onslaught on Zanu-PF moderates, Mujuru’s widow, Joice Mujuru, said this week: “I always ask myself how I’m going to do the things that my husband was doing — A real soldier should be found with a bullet in the front to show that you were fighting and that is what I have now decided to do”.