President Robert Mugabe flew out of Harare on Monday to attend a World Cultural Festival in New Dehli, India, leaving his ruling Zanu PF party in a crisis as factionalism deepened.
Mr. Mugabe's term may be ending in 2018 but his advanced age - 92 (making him the world's oldest president) and frequent trips to seek medical attention in the Far East - are said to be fueling succession fights in his party.
The World Cultural Festival 2016 is a celebration of The Art of Living’s 35 years of service, humanity, spirituality and human values. The three-day event starts on March 11th. The festival this year celebrates cultural diversity in the world.
Mr. Mugabe is on the European Union and American sanctions list and his trips have been limited mostly to Asia.
As he left for India, the hemorrhaging in the ruling Zanu PF continued with a new war front being opened pitting newly elected War Veterans Minister Tshinga Dube and the veterans of the country’s war of independence.
Dube, who was appointed minister Saturday, has mounted pressure on his predecessor Chris Mutsvangwa saying he must relinquish his position as chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWA).
Mutsvangwa was suspended from the party for three years after being accused of “disrespecting President Robert Mugabe and his wife”.
Dube, who ironically attended the controversial press conference that contributed to the ouster of Mutsvangwa, has according to the Chronicle newspaper instructed the ZNLWA to dump Mutsvangwa saying they cannot be led by someone suspended by Zanu PF.
New War Veterans Minister Tshinga Dube (far left) seen here with fired minister Christopher Mutsvangwa on the day war veterans were engaged in street skirmishes with police in Harare.
Dube has put this as a condition before he facilitates a meeting between war veterans and their patron, Mr. Mugabe. Mutsvangwa is allegedly linked to a Zanu PF faction called Team Lacoste that is backing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed President Mugabe.
The faction is engaged in a bitter conflict with a faction called Generation 40 of Young Turks which enjoys the support of first lady Grace Mugabe.
ZNLWA secretary general, Victor Matemadanda, told VOA Studio 7 that Dube is overzealous and they will defy him.
Matemadanda claimed that “Tshinga Dube is not a member of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. He has no right to speak for us. He has no right to select a leader for us.”
On Monday, three former Zanu PF youth chairpersons - Vengai Musengi of Mashonaland West province, Godfrey Tsenengamu Mashonaland Central and Godwin Gomwe of Harare province - who were fired from the party Thursday, were briefly detained by the police and accused of trying to incite riots in the country.
Tsenengamu told VOA Studio 7 that they were interrogated at Harare Central Investigation Department Law and Order Section. Police accused them of sending messages on WhatsApp – a cross-platform mobile messaging application
The three were taken to Harare magistrate court where they were released on US$500 bail each.
But intelligence sources told VOA that what rattled authorities was a press conference held by the youths on Sunday in which they attacked Mr. Mugabe for causing factionalism in the party.
Tsenengamu said, “We have also noted that Mugabe has continued the habit of playing divisive, manipulative and arm-twisting politics and being the real force behind the creation of factions in the party as a grand strategy to assist him to hold on to party leadership and power without genuinely and sincerely addressing critical issues affecting the organization.”
He added that “Mugabe has the tendency of setting up his fellow comrades against each other so as to shift focus from his wayward and self-aggrandizement leadership style.
“And we doubt his sincerity in promoting cohesion and harmony in the party as he seems to enjoy leading and presiding over a divided membership which in turn promotes his continued rule in the party,”
VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE
Meanwhile, reports also said late Monday, Zanu-PF Youth League secretary and an alleged Mnangagwa ally, Pupurai Togarepi whose son Gabriel, named after President Mugabe and was also expelled Thursday, is now being pressured by some youths to quit.
The Youth League deputy secretary Kudzai Chipanga is leading the charge against Togarepi. The two clashed last month when Chipanga allegedly said the youths were ready to fight war veterans who were backing Mangangagwa.
Togarepi though distanced himself from the utterances saying, “The position of the Youth League is that these founding fathers of our revolution are critical for us to learn from and move forward with our revolution.”
Civil society groups have expressed concern at the sustained bickering in Zanu PF, saying the warring is now preventing the government from tackling pressing national issues such as the crumbling economy. More than 3 million Zimbabweans are also food insecure.