Oppah Muchinguri in hot soup as President Mugabe's succession battle gets tough


VICE President Joice Mujuru's backers say they are preparing charges against Zanu PF Women's League boss Oppah Muchinguri for allegedly "bringing the party into disrepute".

But Muchinguri's allies in the bitterly divided party have immediately hit back.

If anyone should be charged with bringing the party into disrepute, they charged, it was those who caused the liberation movement huge embarrassment by starving delegates at the national youth conference last week.

Muchinguri, who is expected to stand down from the post this weekend after recommending that the League embrace First Lady Grace Mugabe as its new leader, has been outspoken in recent weeks against what she says are "criminal" power-grabbing manoeuvres by Mujuru's supporters in the youth and women's wings of the party ahead of a key congress in December.

Thought to be loyal to a faction led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Muchinguri fears the Women's League congress which gets underway in Harare on Thursday will be undermined by alleged kidnappings and illegal payments for votes.

Police last week launched an investigation after Gokwe-Gumunyu MP, Melania Majovani, reported Flora Buka, the Minister of State in the President's Office, for allegedly abducting and holding members of the women's wing hostage to force them to vote for her in the provincial ballot. Buka eventually lost to Majovani.

But briefing journalists in the capital on Tuesday, Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo denied claims by Muchinguri that "members have been kidnapped or sequestered against their will" in an attempt to stop them from voting at the women's congress.

"I want to categorically say that there is nothing like that and no reports of (that) nature have been received by the party. People who are going around talking about kidnappings are using the party's name to try and prop up their fortunes, (and) this is a ploy to tarnish the image of the party. We will be meeting as the party's directorate tomorrow (Wednesday) so as to deliberate on this issue but as far as we are concerned, we have never received kidnapping reports," said Gumbo.

Gumbo reserved his most withering criticism for Muchinguri in an off-the-record briefing with journalists.

"Gumbo was apoplectic," said one journalist. "He said he was, together with Zanu PF national chairman Simon Khaya-Moyo, preparing charges against Muchinguri for bringing the party into disrepute through her claims."

Zanu PF has effectively split into two rival camps that are jostling to succeed President Robert Mugabe who turned 90 this year.

Gumbo is a Mujuru loyalist, along with Khaya-Moyo and the party's secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, whose responsibility it would be to prepare charges against Muchinguri, should they carry out their threat.

Last night, the Mnangagwa camp was bracing for a major fight to shield one of its political stars.
In Manicaland, Monica Mutsvangwa, the defeated national Women's League secretary for information and publicity, has circulated a report in the party fingering Mutasa for alleged interference and bullying in the selection process.

Mugabe attack
The Mnangagwa camp has also been buoyed by Mugabe's astonishing attack on Mutasa – the party's acting secretary for finance – after the he botched the Youth League conference last week by failing to supply adequate food and transport for guests.

Mugabe also railed against interference in the Youth and Women's League's by senior leaders, including vote buying all geared to influence the outcome of the December congress which the Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions will use to target key positions in the party.

Addressing the youth conference, Mugabe spoke to those who had been bribed. "You're just rubbish as the person who has given you the money; both of you, the giver and the given are alike," he thundered.

Fearing a repeat of the farce, Khaya-Moyo has called an urgent party meeting for Harare on Wednesday to test their preparedness for the Women's League congress.

Mnangagwa's supporters, riding on Mugabe's astonishing attack on Mutasa, say any attempts to muck Muchinguri with "bogus charges" will come to grief.

"If there are any charges to be prepared, one would think those charges would be directed at those responsible for the Youth League congress farce. The President could not have been clearer about who has brought the party into disrepute," said one Mnangagwa backer when told about Gumbo's threats.

Whether the Mujuru camp can make charges stick against Muchinguri is "extremely doubtful", said one party insider last night.

"Muchinguri has a powerful backer in Grace Mugabe, who has the Zanu PF leader's ear and it would be political folly for anyone to attempt such a move, with the December congress so close," the official said, declining to be named.

Self-preservation was also a key factor for some of the top Zanu PF officials. He added: "Khaya-Moyo still needs Mugabe's backing to get the second vice president's post and Mutasa is in Mugabe's sights for his divisive tendencies and failing to raise money for the Youth League congress.

"Charging Muchinguri would be a disaster for both men's personal ambitions and the party in general because you can be guaranteed a royal political fight."

Mugabe's advanced age and impending exit from the political stage has triggered a very public and sustained succession battle, with Mnangagwa and Mujuru now locked in a bitter tussle to take control of the party organs and key positions.

Mugabe has refused to name his preferred successor, but political observers say the move to elevate his wife in the party with the help of the Mnangagwa group is the clearest pointer.

Some talk of his growing impatience with what he sees as Mujuru's driving ambition for his job when there is no vacancy in a development which has crippled party programmes.

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