The move by toppled despot Robert Mugabe to join hands with his former deputy Joice Mujuru to mount a presidential electoral challenge against President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF has stirred strong emotions and widened fissures along regional lines, the Daily News can report.
Mugabe's electoral alliance with Mujuru, consummated last Tuesday, is being seen as strong enough to rock the Zanu-PF ship, now dominated by security sector interests and the Team Lacoste faction, loyal to the new president.
Zimbabwe's military ousted Mugabe late last year, nearly four decades after he took power.
This culminated in the elevation of Mnangagwa, once one of Mugabe's most erstwhile trusted lieutenants, to the helm.
Analysts told the Daily News yesterday that Mugabe could be using primitive tribal politics to play Mujuru against Mnangagwa, saying if proven to be true, this could be retrogressive.
They said the strange bedfellows who fell out in 2014 could be out to use the strength of the Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East and Central provinces – dominated by the Zezurus – to increase their leverage in torpedoing Mnangagwa's presidential bid.
The ruling party has always been a cauldron of ethnic politics, with Zanu-PF deeply divided along clan lines, mainly between Zezuru and the Karanga, the two largest clans of the wider Shona tribal grouping.
The erstwhile Zezuru dominance was a consequence of the 1980 division of Zimbabwe into 10 provinces.
Mashonaland (Zezuru) was cut up into four provinces: West, East, Central and Harare; and Masvingo (Karanga) into only two – Masvingo and Midlands (Mnangagwa's home province); while Manicaland (Manyika) remained undivided and Matabeleland (Ndebele) into three: North, South and Bulawayo.
Members of the Ndebele – related to South Africa's Zulus, and Zimbabwe's second largest tribe after the Shona – are also grumbling over long-standing marginalisation which they assert persists under Mnangagwa.
Ndebeles dominated Zapu, until the party was swallowed up by Zanu-PF in 1987, in a deal that followed an army assault on Zapu supporters in western Zimbabwe, costing 20 000 lives.
Analysts said Mugabe could be attempting to re-assert Zezuru dominance by giving the Mujuru camp an edge in the forthcoming elections, a move seen as exacerbating clan tensions that risk erupting into conflict at the national level in the post-Mugabe era.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a post doctoral research fellow with the University of Johannesburg, told the Daily News there are tribal undercurrents over the Mugabe-Mujuru alliance.
Mujuru, the opposition National People's Party (NPP) president, has told the media that during their meeting at his "Blue Roof" mansion in the leafy suburb of Borrowdale, Harare, on Tuesday last week – the first since they broke ranks in December 2014 – Mugabe told her " he is not happy with what happened to him which he said is not constitutional."
Ruhanya, a media and democracy scholar, said: "Although Mugabe's meeting with Mujuru and his purported support appears to be largely a poisoned chalice, it should worry Zanu-PF and president Mnangagwa because of the ethnic fault-line that the party has been refusing to address for a long time where the Zezuru group thinks they are destined to rule Zimbabwe forever.
"This is a coming together of an ethnic group that knows that Mashonaland provinces are the citadel of Zanu-PF social base. They want to use that to torpedo Mnangagwa.
"However, we have to take note of the presence of critical Zanu-PF players from Mashonaland provinces who can douse this ethnic conspiracy by Mugabe and such characters like (Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement minister Perrance) Shiri, (Vice President Constantino) Chiwenga will play a significant role.
"The other thing is that if Mugabe and Mujuru are framed as ethnic politicians who want to promote Zezuru hegemony on the State, that could backfire, especially given the control of the propaganda and coercive force that Zanu-PF has. Most significantly, the military will be the decisive factor in the fight."
Ruhanya said Mujuru "should know that Mugabe is now virtually a political cadaver whose physical and mental mortality suggest that he is no longer fit for purpose and whose national sentimental value has been washed away by 37 years of misrule and economic plunder."
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said there was always going to be a series of complex realignments after the change in presidency.
"Mugabe and Mujuru worked closely once, and (ailing opposition leader Morgan) Tsvangirai cannot bring himself to work fully with Mujuru. The so-called alliance is not therefore surprising. I do not see it being more than a temporary measure," Chan said.
"It cannot gain electoral weight in a short time, and the nation does seem to have moved on from Mugabe. Sentimentalists, and those who missed out in the new alignments around Mnangagwa are jostling for platforms on which to stand."
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the Mugabe-Mujuru alliance discredits Zanu-PF's Team Lacoste faction and questions Mnangagwa's legitimacy.
"Other Zanu-PF members who were just hanging on to Lacoste due to lack of options will find a home and this weakens Lacoste further. This development also makes people start comparing between Mugabe's police state and Mnangagwa's military junta. I am sure people can choose what is better but a comparison between a police and military state is revealing," he said. Saungweme said Mugabe still has some followers.
"This alliance, if anything, is good news to the opposition. Now the opposition has to be organised under one coalition and take a shaken Lacoste military regime head-on," he said.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group said, unsurprisingly, the reports of this Mugabe-Mujuru meeting have raised more questions than answers.
"Whilst Mugabe may be uncomfortable now he is experiencing being politically out in the cold, it seems highly unlikely that he would risk jeopardizing the handsome golden parachute he has been given by teaming up with Joice Mujuru who remains politically untested," he said.
Asked if he got a sense that this all tribal and identity politics by Mugabe playing Mujuru against ED, Pigou said: "I think there are serious unresolved issues relating to ED consolidation in many parts of the country. Ethnic, tribal issues may well be in play."
Australia-based Zanu-PF propagandist and controversial correspondent with the State-run Herald Reason Wafawarova, who fiercely backs Mnangagwa, rejected suggestions that the ruling party was running scared of the Mugabe-Mujuru alliance.
"If there is any panic, the panic is over the possibility of tribal sentiment and rhetoric as a way of trying to mobilise a regionalistic vote for both the NPP and NPF," Wafawarova said, referring a new party called New Patriotic Front (NPF) believed to be led by former Zanu-PF members who were expelled when the military intervened leading to Mugabe's ouster.
The NPF, linked to the Generation 40 faction, has petitioned the African Union (AU) and Sadc protesting the manner the veteran leader was toppled, and seeking to de-legitimise Mnangagwa's government and asking the key African blocs to cancel all diplomatic ties with Zimbabwe.
"I do not think this will get any more traction than Zim People First did before it broke into even more irrelevant two tiny little parties," Wafawarova said, adding: "I do not think those in Zanu-PF leadership think Mujuru can bring any form of rejuvenation to G40, let alone to Robert Mugabe. The general perception is that Mugabe is now endorsed as part of our history, domestically and internationally."