Some of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's key allies fell dramatically in Zanu PF primary polls held between April 29 and May 1, setting the stage for what is promising to be nail-biting general elections in which the Zanu PF leader will be seeking a five-year mandate in the top office after wresting power from Robert Mugabe last November through a soft coup.
Political analysts canvassed by the Daily News yesterday said the voting patterns seen across the country pointed to an electorate fed up with the old guard.
This was after a large number of career politicians — some of them Cabinet ministers — were hammered in the primary polls, which were marred by incidents of violence, vote-buying and delays in the distribution of ballot papers to voting centres.
The analysts were, however, divided on whether the renewal being yearned for by the electorate is something Mnangagwa — credited for being the catalyst behind Mugabe's fall after 37 years of iron-fisted rule — should be worried about after his most fearless backer, Christopher Mutsvangwa, fell in the primaries.
A special advisor to Mnangagwa and chairperson of the boisterous Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (Znlwva), Mutsvangwa's bid to reclaim the Norton seat collapsed like a deck of cards at the first hurdle.
The Znlwva chairperson had been Member of Parliament for Norton between 2013 and 2016 but lost the seat, on the outskirts of the capital city, after he was dismissed from the ruling party and government for undermining Mugabe's authority.
In a by-election that followed his dismissal, the seat was won by Temba Mliswa, the former Zanu PF chairperson for Mashonaland West, with 8 927 votes ahead of the ruling party's Ronald Chindeza who polled 6 192 votes.
Apart from Mutsvangwa, several other allies of Mnangagwa fell by the wayside, and were still contemplating the next course of action to take as of yesterday.
They include Christopher Mushohwe, the minister of State in the President's Office Responsible for National Scholarships; Paul Mangwana, Zanu PF's deputy secretary for legal affairs; Omega Hungwe, Zanu PF's deputy national political commissar and Lewis Matutu, the party's deputy secretary for youth affairs.
The Zanu PF primary elections have been ironic in that some of the top ruling party officials who celebrated Mugabe's demise now face an uncertain future, with some weighing options to stand as independents in the harmonised elections scheduled for July this year.
Among the big guns that fell through are Abednico Ncube, Douglas Mombeshora, David Chapfika, Andrew Langa and Edgar Mbwembwe.
Some of the losing heavyweights are crying foul citing irregularities in the manner the vote was conducted.
By the time of going to print, the party's leadership was inundated with appeals, which could be escalated to the politburo.
Zanu PF insiders told the Daily News that it would be difficult for the party to reverse the will of the people, highlighting the potentiality for conflict of interest in some of the appeals being referred to the politburo since some of aggrieved parties were also members of the political bureau — the party's supreme decision-making organ in-between congresses.
They also warned ominously that any perceived imposition of candidates could result in another "bhora musango", referring to the 2008 scenario where candidates sabotaged Mugabe's chances of beating the late MDC founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai, by voting for his opponents, resulting in the despot trailing the former prime minister in the first round of voting, leading to a bloody run-off boycotted by the former trade unionist due to the killing of his officials and supporters.
But not all Mnangagwa allies had their dreams shattered.
Some were lucky to survive, among them Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa; Marble Chinomona (deputy Speaker of the National Assembly); Monica Mutsvangwa (resident minister for Manicaland); Victor Matemadanda (deputy minister for War Veterans); Tshinga Dube (a politburo member); Josiah Hungwe (resident minister for Masvingo), Ezra Chadzamira (Zanu PF Masvingo provincial chairperson), July Moyo (Local Government minister), Obert Mpofu (Home Affairs minister) and Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri (Zanu PF national chairperson).
Mnangagwa's deputies, Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, did not participate in the primaries.
In the event that Mnangagwa is elected president, both will retain their positions since the national charter allows the president to handpick his/her two deputies. Being the second secretaries in Zanu PF, their slots at the top are secure.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure opined that contrary to the belief that the electorate was fed up with the old guard in Zanu PF, including Mnangagwa, the ruling party might actually be trying to get rid of the deadwood in its rank and file.
"It is not a question of people being fed up with Zanu PF but rather being fed up with certain bigwigs. It is also the factor of manipulation in other areas that could have contributed to the results; its more complex than meets the eye — the desire for renewal is also paramount. If ED is eager to renew the party, he might have engineered the fall of some bigwigs," said Masunungure.
But political analyst Maxwell Saungweme averred yesterday that Zimbabweans in general want a break from the past dominated by the same faces notwithstanding the removal of Mugabe in November last year.
He said the plunge of Zanu PF colossuses point to a party going through political renewal, adding that if leaders cannot facilitate change, change will find its way.
"So it's a clear and sturdy message to Mnangagwa that his own days are numbered and he should be planning for his own succession, which his predecessor failed to do.
What happened is clear confirmation that change is the only constant and inevitable," said Saungweme.
"These primaries also clearly show that people made it clear in November 2017 that they did not want Mugabe anymore. But by supporting the ouster of Mugabe, they did not in the same token state what government they wanted. They did not aver that they wanted military rule. I hope the outcome of Zanu PF primaries sends a clear signal to securocrats that some Zimbabweans appreciated soldiers removing Mugabe, but did not approve of replacing Mugabe by a military junta," said Saungweme.
But the renewal of Zanu PF could also pose a serious challenge to the opposition, Saungweme warned.
Saungweme said a renewed Zanu PF with youthful candidates poses a threat to opposition ambitions.
"Chamisa was gallivanting to rallies puffing about age and how Mnangagwa belonged to the analogue age in a digital era. But with youthful Zanu PF candidates for Parliament, Chamisa would need to re-look at his campaign message as the Zanu PF primaries have made his age campaign trump card a bit obsolete, and he has to focus on real issues if the MDC Alliance is to win parliamentary and council polls," he said.
Professor of World Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, Stephen Chan said it was inevitable that some bigwigs would tumble considering that so much has been promised in the past yet very little delivered.
"There was always going to be moments of volatility in the run-up to the elections, when so much has been promised and so little delivered — with mistakes starting to be made. In the now normal Zanu PF fragile politics, plots and alignments, realignments, jostling for position, were inevitable," he said.
Chan, however, warned that Zanu PF will regroup before the elections even though it does not have ideas to rule.
"It's the party jostling with no ideas for the national future. But the party will pull together for the elections. Mnangagwa depends heavily then on the international community actually starting to deliver assistance. Finally, for a once proud party of a once proud country, the policy is a begging bowl," said Chan.
Academic and researcher Ibbo Mandaza said the new dispensation was naive to believe that thousands who poured into the streets celebrating Mugabe's fall were advocating for continued Zanu PF rule.
"Mnangagwa has no chance in the coming elections. People did not want only Mugabe to go but all of them to go. There is no difference between Mugabe and Mnangagwa and people want the whole lot to go, people who have been supporting Mugabe are Chiwenga and Mnangagwa and people are demonstrating their dislike of the old guard," said Mandaza.