Zimbabwe’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru could be fighting the biggest challenge of her political career – a treason charge – following allegations that she was the mastermind behind a plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.
Mujuru leads a Zanu-PF faction working to succeed Mugabe. She is up against another faction, led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is supported by Mugabe’s wife, Grace. Both deny the existence of the factions.
In a move that Mujuru loyalists believe is meant to put further pressure on the vice-president, there have been growing calls from Grace’s and Mnangagwa’s supporters that she relinquish her post.
Grace and Mnangagwa’s supporters insist that Mujuru and her allies wanted to remove Mugabe from power unconstitutionally, or even assassinate him should he refuse to vacate office, as reported in this week’s edition of the state-owned Sunday Mail.
On Monday, Grace reiterated her call for Mujuru to step down or be fired for treason and incompetency, saying if she did not leave of her own volition, she would not survive the party’s elective congress to be held in less than two weeks.
A charge of treason brought against Mujuru could emanate from statements attributed to senior Zanu-PF officials aligned to her, including the suspended party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, who reportedly suggested that Mugabe be removed forcibly, or even assassinated, to pave way for Mujuru’s ascension to the presidency.
The Sunday Mail said there was a recording in which Gumbo is heard saying in his native Shona language: “If Mugabe continues to push Mujuru out then we will remove him the same way [former Democratic Republic of Congo president Laurent] Kabila was removed.”
Kabila was a close Mugabe ally. He was assassinated in 2001, reportedly by his own security detail.
Analysts who spoke to the newspaper said Mujuru was the plotter and could not be exonerated as it was common cause that she worked closely with Gumbo.
It also claimed that there is another recording of the Zanu-PF secretary of administration and Minister of Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa saying: “Mugabe will be shot.” Mutasa’s ministry oversees the intelligence portfolio. The newspaper said he was also working with Mujuru on the assassination.
The Sunday Mail claimed investigations had revealed that a Cabinet minister from Mujuru’s Mashonaland Central province “had made contingencies for such a scenario during recent meetings with potential hit men in South Africa and Israel”.
The paper quoted several analysts and lawyers who said Mujuru should be charged with treason.
Contacted for comment, the police spokesperson, senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba, refused to discuss whether the newspaper’s allegations were being investigated.
Although the police do not appear to have launched an investigation of possible treason, history has shown that the allegations could be a prelude to a criminal prosecution, as has been the case with other politicians who opposed Mugabe in the post-independence era.
Two years after independence in 1982, the late Lookout Masuku and Dumiso Dabengwa, who commanded Joshua Nkomo’s guerrilla Zapu army in the liberation war, and four others were tried for treason following the alleged discovery of arms caches on farms that belonged to their party. They were all subsequently acquitted by the courts because of limited evidence.
Another Mugabe opponent, the late Zimbabwe African National Union founding president, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, was tried on similar charges in 1997 after a failed bombing attempt on Mugabe’s motorcade. Sithole denied the charge. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail, although he never served the sentence because of ill health.
In 2002, the Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai was charged with treason after inaudible grainy video footage was broadcast. It was shot covertly and purported to show him with Israeli Ari Ben Menashe allegedly plotting the assassination of Mugabe.
Tsvangirai was acquitted in 2004 after a year-long trial. He was defended by South African lawyer George Bizos. Justice Paddington Garwe ruled that state had failed to prove its case.
In recent weeks, the Mnangagwa and Grace faction has orchestrated the suspension of nine provincial chairpersons deemed to be loyal to Mujuru in a bid to stop her from being nominated for the presidency before the party’s elective congress.
On Monday, Mujuru denied all the allegations.
“I deny any and all the allegations of treason, corruption, incompetence and misuse of public office being routinely made against me in the Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers,” she said.
“I have briefed my legal practitioners to take necessary steps, at law, to restore my good reputation, political standing and dignity. I stand ready to defend myself before the party and in any court of law on any of the allegations made against me, at any time, in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe.”
She said she was aware of the “unconstitutional call” for her resignation, removal from both party and public office, “on the spurious grounds that I am corrupt, a gossiper, demonic, jealous and divisive, and unfit for consumption by flies and dogs” .
Gumbo, who is the only surviving member of the Dare re Chimurenga (Zanu’s war council during the 1970s liberation struggle), was suspended from the party for five years.
He laughed off the assassination allegations, saying: “Do you think I’m going to comment on that rubbish?”
He was also questioned by the police last weekend about an anonymous Facebook page under the name Baba Jukwa, which posted damaging exposés of corruption and other scandals by Zanu-PF politicians and security officials before last year’s general elections in July. This followed demands by Mugabe at a party politburo meeting that he be questioned about it as he was head of the information department.
‘No substance to allegations’
Mujuru’s allies believe the allegations are being cooked up to force Mujuru not to run for the presidency.
“There is no substance to the allegations at all. This is all about the congress. It’s clear they want her to remain under pressure as they dismantle party structures and put their people in ahead of the congress,” said a politburo member who supports Mujuru.
“They have removed nine out of 10 provincial chairpersons and now they are culling other provincial members deemed sympathetic to Mujuru. The plan is to instil fear throughout the structures, which is regrettable, given that we are heading to congress and people were to choose leaders of their choice.”
The war veterans’ leader, Jabulani Sibanda, was also expelled from the party last week after he refused to support Grace.
Grace is apparently convinced that, without Mugabe, Mujuru would not protect Grace’s business empire and family if she became president.
On Monday, at a meeting with student unions and young people at her farm in Mazowe, a visibly angry Grace said she had a video of Mujuru speaking ill of the first family.
“If you can’t accept that leadership is from God, you lose the plot. You can’t be number one in extortion, number one in corruption and number one in plotting against the party. It amounts to treason,” she said.
“You can’t remove the grandmaster [Mugabe], you can’t do that. You can’t fool around with the grandmaster. He is quiet but, with his voice, he will have the last laugh,” Grace said.