THE military is fretting over a potential electoral strategic alliance between former president Robert Mugabe and the adventurous opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, whom it has warned could be viewed as “a national security threat” if the two gang up against President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe, toppled in a military coup last November which brought in Mnangagwa, is seen within the national security circles as the X-factor in the July 30 general elections if he moves to get actively involved either way. Mugabe is discredited, but has some remaining strategic electoral value
Sources in the MDC Alliance told the Zimbabwe Independent this week two army colonels approached Chamisa and said they were sent “from above” to warn him not to engage Mugabe. The threats come at a time fears abound within Zanu PF and the military that Mugabe — who still commands a residual social base and loyalty within sections of the ruling party, army, police and the intelligence community — could influence a significant number of Zanu PF supporters to vote for Chamisa.
Divisions within Zanu PF and the security establishment continue to bubble under the surface, erupting from time to time. The Independent obtained and also listened to an audio recording of MDC Alliance principals discussing the military threats and how to engage Mugabe under the circumstances. Senior MDC Alliance leaders confirmed the issue.
However, Chamisa’s spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda said his boss was not worried about the threats. “Freedom of association is an integral part of the Zimbabwean constitution and therefore president Nelson Chamisa would not be bothered by anyone sent to him. These are desperate people clutching at straws to threaten him and the people of Zimbabwe,” Sibanda said.
Top Zanu PF leaders and security bosses fear Mugabe’s active involvement in the electoral process, even at 94 and on a one-off, could cause realigning elections in which movers of the old regime become the new decisive shakers.
Security and Zanu PF apparatchiks told the Independent it would be naïve to underestimate Mugabe’s residual social base and influence in Zanu PF which could make him a variable with significant impact on the elections outcome.
“There are serious concerns within the top Zanu PF leadership and security circles that Mugabe might at the eleventh hour move to spoil Mnangagwa’s party,” a security source said.
“Right from the beginning there was a plan to contain him because after any military takeover, either the incumbent is forced into exile, arrested and detained or is killed. In this case, nothing of the sort happened to Mugabe. He was only restricted to his home.
“So there had to be a strategy to manage and contain him. Plans were put in place. Plan A involved talking to him to bury the hatchet with ED (Mnangagwa) and endorsing him for elections.
“Plan B was about keeping him quiet if he refuses to reconcile with Mnangagwa. This meant a carrot-and-stick approach. On the one hand, the new administration sought to appease him by leaving him in peace and taking care of his needs; that is security, pensions, medical bills, travels and other things.
“On the other, he was kept under pressure via intimidation, coercion, blackmail, harassment of his workers and threats to seize his properties. Effectively, he was kept under house arrest.
“The strategy is if he can’t endorse Mnangagwa, then he mustn’t go to Chamisa; he must be managed or contained. His involvement in politics, as we have already seen in the background, can cause problems.”
There are fears Mugabe could still be a trump card in the elections despite his appaling legacy and old age as he has lingering support, especially in the Mashonaland provinces.
Informed sources said as a result Mnangagwa has been frantically trying to make peace with Mugabe who maintains that his successor — the chief enforcer of his repressive rule — is an unconstitutional power usurper.
After the coup there had been many emissaries to Mugabe: Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori; former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono; businessman Jimayi Muduvuri; Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo and Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, among others.
Mukonori and Gono, working with government officials, brokered talks with the military. Muduvuri went to reconciliation talks. Moyo was sent for containment. And Nguema tried to broker a peace deal, sources said.
The sources also said other officials like cabinet secretary Misheck Sibanda, Ray Ndhlukula, George Charamba, Mariyawanda Nzuwa, Washington Mbizvo and Machivenyika Mapuranga were involved or considered to be become part of plans to set up an office for Mugabe to run his new life out of power.
Despite all these efforts, Mugabe — who has met opposition leaders like Joice Mujuru and Ambrose Mutinhri, and now is reaching out to Chamisa — has remained bitter and unmanageable.
This has raised serious concerns that after leaving Zanu PF with political heavyweights and supporters under the G40 banner, Mugabe could still indirectly influence the elections outcome even if he is unpopular with and even reviled by vast sections of the population. Hence, the agitation by Zanu PF leaders, securocrats and their supporters.
“Due to the factional fights over the years, Zanu PF is now very weak, particularly in Mashonaland region. The party and the military know that without those provinces they cannot win elections; that’s why they are worried about the possibility of Mugabe endorsing Chamisa,” a former Zanu PF official said.
“Mugabe still has support countrywide and can pull significant numbers to Chamisa. In fact, that is why Mnangagwa wants Mugabe to endorse him. He has sent some emissaries to try to secure that, but to no avail.”
According to a 14-point discussion document of a recent meeting held by MDC-T and National Patriotic Front (NPF) — a party which has Mugabe’s support behind the scenes — an endorsement of Chamisa by Mugabe was recognised as something which “will bring a considerable and strategic electoral base”.
An MDC Alliance principal told the Independent this issue was worrying Zanu PF leaders and security chiefs, and that is why the colonels warned Chamisa to stop associating with Mugabe.
“They told us that murikudya mutupo nezvamuri kuita (it is taboo to work with Mugabe),” an MDC Alliance principal said.
The Independent has established that the MDC Alliance principals think it could be strategic for electoral purposes to tap into Mugabe’s residual support base. Mugabe is said to be keen to help out if his family’s safety after the polls would be guaranteed.
Although Chamisa told a press conference on Wednesday that he has no plans to meet with Mugabe “anytime soon”, an audio recording from a meeting of MDC principals held recently revealed that the two could still meet before polls.
In the audio, MDC Alliance senior leader Welshman Ncube proposes how to engage Mugabe.
“He (Mugabe) says this boy (Chamisa) might help him if he wins the elections. So he wants guarantees on how to protect his family in the event that Chamisa wins. Mugabe is prepared to endorse Chamisa so that he gets the vote of pro-Zanu PF supporters who do not support Emmerson (Mnangagwa),” Ncube is heard as saying in the audio authenticated by the Independent.
“It is proposed that they should meet. They can meet at a private place. He doesn’t have to go to the Blue Roof. Going that route will be wiser given the hostile response of the military junta.”
Ncube suggested Chamisa writes a letter asking to meet Mnangagwa as part of his engagement plan. At a press conference on Wednesday, Chamisa confirmed writing another letter to Mnangagwa.
This week Ncube said: “As Alliance we talk to everyone. We talk to all the institutions of state power directly and indirectly. It must be taken as given. We are a serious government-in-waiting, so naturally we have conversations with all the movers of state power. It’s normal. In a real democracy it is expected there is engagement by leaders in opposition by those who are in charge of levers of state power. You cannot have a transition without those conversations.”
Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Overson Mugwisi denied that the army sent colonels to threaten Chamisa.
“If there are people doing that, they are doing so individually and not at the instruction of their commanders,” Mugwisi said.
– Zimbabwe Independent