Party rivals fight for their lives

Zanu-PF is riven with dissent and blames the outside world for its troubles. Andrew Meldrum and RW Johnson report.

As the election approaches viewers of the main evening news on ZBC, Zimbabwe's state-owned television, have been gripped by the gladiatorial spectacle of political rivals slugging it out. Would-be parliamentary candidates for Zanu-PF are competing for nomination in bitterly contested primary elections.

For nearly a year now the rising discontent in the country has filtered up through the Zanu-PF party structures producing rebellions and factional disputes within many of the party's regional structures. Even long and solidly established leaders are under threat. Moreover, party discipline is not what it was: when thwarted in their ambitions party dissidents are much more likely than before simply to denounce the decisions which deprived them of a position or nomination and to run as independents against the party candidate.

In last year's local elections such rebellions saw independents capture half the seats on the Mutare council, for example, while in Bulawayo three former Zanu-PF councillors ran against their old party and won. All three have now announced they are running for parliamentary seats as well. Although they look with favour on the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), they will create tough, three-way fights in several constituencies. As many as thirty ex-Zanu-PF representatives will probably run as independents, most of them as a result of losing bitterly disputed battles for the nomination. They usually allege that the democratic local primary results have been overturned by the Zanu-PF Politburo, which has the last say on candidates.

Such accusations of fraud and cheating are widespread and scores of the primaries have had to be postponed or repeated - in many cases until the candidates supported by the party's Harare headquarters can emerge triumphant. These are often ministers or deputy ministers in President Mugabe's 54-strong cabinet. Nevertheless more than 60 per cent of the chosen candidates for the 120 elected parliamentary seats are estimated to be new.

The recently completed delimitation of boundaries has complicated the picture, causing many carpetbaggers to move in on indignant sitting MPs as constituencies are re-shaped. Thus Olivia Muchena, the deputy minister for Land and Agriculture, finally won a re-run primary against the sitting Zanu-PF MP in Mutoko South (Mashonalalnd East), Patrick Chabvamuperu. She immediately had to deny rumours that she had actually lost the re-run, that she was Politburo-imposed and that her rival was far from accepting the situation. Even the government controlled Zimbabwe Herald reported that "many people alleged that he had been going round decampaigning her".

An even trickier situation exists in the neighbouring Chikomba constituency, which is the birthplace of many senior party personalities. These include first lady Grace Mugabe; Solomon Mujuru, former Zanla chief and army boss and the constituency's former MP; Perence Shiri, the airforce commander who is believed to be masterminding the war veterans land invasions; and war veterans' leader Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi. After Mujuru had stood down voluntarily as MP for Chikomba, the Politburo initially named Bernard Makokova as candidate. Then, however, Hunzvi demanded the seat. So Nathan Shamuyirara, Zanu-PF's information and publicity secretary, announced that the Politburo had now gone back on its decision and declared a primary election so that Hunzvi could run. On the defensive, however, Shamuyirara admitted that the Politburo felt Hunzvi must be given his chance - despite his recent three-month sentence and Z$10,000 fine for contempt of a High Court order and the fraud charges he is facing of having stolen over Z$400,000 from the War Victims' Compensation Fund. Hunzvi is now claiming that he chased Mujuru away from the seat and that he is the only candidate for the constituency. "That is not true," says Shamuyirara. "There are three others." But no one expects Hunzvi to lose the nomination: he has simply been too useful to Mugabe.

Many of the new candidates are war veterans or have links to the war veterans, for Mugabe is not only using them brutally to stomp out the opposition, but also to put himself beyond the reach of his rivals and detractors in Zanu-PF - rather as Mao Tse-Tung manipulated the Red Guards to keep him in the vanguard of the Chinese Communist Party. Not surprisingly, many primary contests turn violent as rival Zanu-PF candidates appear surrounded by jostling mobs of supporters, who fight out disputed election results in the streets later. The government-controlled press tries to suggest that the MDC is somehow responsible for the resulting violence. Thus the Herald's main headline on May 30 ran: "Zanu-PF candidate campaign manager shot dead". One had to follow the story through to discern that the victim, Messiah Kufandaedza, had actually been killed by supporters of a defeated Zanu-PF primary candidate. Similarly, the MDC gets blamed for the murder of a Zanu activist in Honde Valley, Manicaland, even though his assailants all wore Zanu-PF T-shirts and beat him to death while making him chant Zanu-PF slogans.

Sitting MPs who have lost in the primaries tend to be the younger, more critical back-benchers who want curbs on corruption, more prudent fiscal management and who question Zimbabwe's involvement in the Congo war. "Those MPs who have lost their seats were largely the critical mass in Zanu-PF," says former MP Michael Mataure. "They were the ones who dared to raise questions. The party tried to discipline them, but it did not work. Now the party has seen to it that these critical members have not been re-nominated. But change will come, with or without these individuals. The people are determined that change will come." Mataure, who was MP for Chimanimani for ten years, has just stepped down because of his unhappiness with the party leadership.

A number of Zanu-PF MPs and ministers, sensing trouble as well as change to come, have announced that they do not wish to run again. One of the most surprising of such declarations came from Joyce Mujuru who, as minister of telecommunications, did all she could to frustrate Strive Masiywa from establishing his independent cellphone network. However, it was though that the sight of such senior figures abandoning ship might give the wrong signals to voters, so she has been prevailed on to stand again at Mt Darwin (Mashonaland Central). Generally, of course, the Zanu-PF elite is too concerned to stay in power to make such gestures of self-abnegation. But Mrs Mujuru could afford it. She is the wife of Solomon Mujuru, former MP for Chikomba. Popular speculation is that he owns anywhere between six and sixteen farms - but no one doubts that he is the country's biggest landholder. He has, it goes without saying, had no trouble form invading war vets on any of his farms.

Like President Mugabe, Zanu-PF has responded to its internal chaos by blaming the outside world in a mood verging on paranoia. There is, the party-controlled newspapers insist, a vast Anglo-American conspiracy afoot to overthrow "ruling parties in Africa". South Africa and Namibia, the Zimbabwe Herald warns, are still enjoying their honeymoon period but their governments too will soon find themselves involved in the same all-out war with the West. The British and South African press play a special role in this demonology, though the recent report by the National Democratic Institute on the impossibility of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, has given rise to a good deal of anti-American propaganda with the Zanu-PF press giving prominence to the sayings about the US of such liberation heroes as President Gadaafi of Libya.

There are, however, lights in the storm. Zanu-PF acclaims President Mbeki for his denunciation of NDI and for his general support. Great store is placed on the party's recent "historic" summit with the ANC and Deputy President Jacob Zuma's declaration that "negative media reports on relations between the ANC and Zanu-PF should be countered through a dynamic programme to be worked out immediately by the two parties. The forces of retrogression which are spreading the propaganda should be checked." He added, "There is now more need than before for the revolutionary movements to regroup and ensure that pre-independence agendas are adhered to in the two countries. There is need for continued co-operation between the two parties so that they can deal with the present challenges as united people of southern Africa." The land issue in the two countries was "basically the same", Mr Zuma said, which was why the ANC would stand by Zanu-PF over it.

Such support has immensely heartened Zanu-PF which also claims that it is getting similar support from Namibia, Mozambique (though this is much more muted) and Lesotho. Lesotho's prime minister, Pkalitha Mosisili, himself facing a difficult election in which he will need all the help he can get, recently flew in to Harare where he announced, "We have watched developments in Zimbabwe. The onslaught you are being subjected to calls on us to stand up and be counted because we feel that this is not a lone battle you are fighting - it is our battle as well." Turning to President Mugabe he told him, "We have always looked up to you in the region as our elder statesman and we feel it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate our solidarity in an unequivocal and unquestionable manner."

With such support Zanu-PF feels that it should be able to reply on fairly solid backing from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - including that of SADC election observers - though the absence of Botswana from the list of regional cronies is passed over in pregnant silence.

Internationally, the picture is somewhat bleaker with Mugabe still enjoying strong support only from North Korea, Cuba, Libya and China. The Chinese ambassador, Huang Guifang, the only member of the diplomatic corps to break ranks and give public support to Zanu-PF - to a storm of protest from the Opposition - has however, been recalled to Beijing. The wildly racist Sunday Mail has also recently discovered great virtues in that other enemy of the West, President Milosevich of Serbia, but the sense of isolation cannot be concealed. As the Mail surveys the world's attitude to Zimbabwe its headline says it all: "International community buries head in shame".

Similarly, Mugabe has drawn criticism from a number of prominent churchmen, including his own Catholic church. Michael Auret, formerly head of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, has called on Rome to excommunicate the president. This led the Herald to dig up Bishop Losheck Kufakunesu of the St. Elisha Apostolic Church who called on his flock to support Mugabe's "holy war" on the land issue. "People who die fighting for their land will enter the kingdom of God. They have no sin before the Lord, the bishop announced - and roundly condemned the "western-based churches who cannot come out in support of the land issue because this would defeat their coming to Africa". Inveighing against whites and "sell outs", the bishop denounced the early missionaries as "cheats". "They got here and invited us to pray. We closed our eyes and when we opened them we held Bibles in our hands and they were holding onto our land." One can sympathise with the bishop attempting to exploit the situation to enlarge his flock for, despite the large publicity accorded him by the Herald, his tiny breakaway sect has less then 10,000 members.