ZIMBABWE People First (ZimPF) leader, Joice Mujuru had a baptism of fire at the weekend when her Bikita West parliamentary candidate, Kudakwashe Gopo, was hammered by Zanu PF’s Beauty Chabaya in an election where some of her lieutenants blamed factionalism for the opposition party’s poor showing.
By Everson Mushava/Tatenda Chitagu
Zanu PF retained the Bikita West parliamentary seat with its candidate, Chabaya, polling 13 156 votes against Gopo’s paltry 2 453 votes.
The result will come at a cost to Mujuru, who had been seen as the biggest threat to President Robert Mugabe’s continued stay in office.
The defeat, which came at a time Mujuru is negotiating a possible coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party, punched a big hole in her bargaining powers, as she would have wanted to use her Bikita West victory as a trump card in the coalition talks.
Leaked WhatsApp chats from senior ZimPF officials indicate that some party members were now blaming Mujuru for railroading them into the election without adequate preparations.
They also accused her of failing to rein in some of her top leaders in Masvingo, who were said to be clandestinely backing independent candidate and former Bikita West MP, Heya Shoko, thus, splitting votes.
Shoko is ZimPF Masvingo provincial secretary for education.
The chats warn of possible implosion in ZimPF in the province, with a domino effect on the party’s national structures, classifying the extent of the problems as the biggest ever to be encountered by Mugabe’s former deputy since the formation of ZimPF in 2015.
Sources told NewsDay problems started when provincial co-ordinator, Claudius Makova allegedly imposed Gopo as the ZimPF candidate for the by-election.
Makova, the source said, was banking on the support of a Zanu PF faction, Team Lacoste, loyal to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa that was unhappy with Chabaya, whom they claimed was imposed by Bikita South MP, Jeppy Jaboon, who is aligned to the rival G40 faction.
Efforts by the Masvingo ZimPF provincial executive to force Mujuru to withdraw from the by-election failed to materialise, forcing her to join in the campaign at the last minute just to save the party’s image.
This saw some party members supporting Shoko, who, however, polled a measly 76 votes.
The claims were confirmed by WhatsApp exchanges among ZimPF top officials that painted a gloomy picture of the state of affairs in the party, with some expressing dismay at the party’s chocked internal democratic system.
“Upon realising the danger and the negativity of it all, some of us took a decision to engage them, with[out] meaningful success, but failed to convince others. About two weeks later, and two days before nominations for Bikita West by-elections, Gopo was declared ZimPF candidate by Makova and endorsed by [the] main wing’s national elections committee chairman [Kudakwashe] Bhasikiti,” the leaked chats reveal.
“This angered many people, who charged that ZimPF is a Zanu PF project, whose positions are a special preserve for former Zanu PF activists. I here (sic), other than [Dzikamai] Mavhaire, Masvingo province leadership and membership in general has boycotted Bikita West campaign and totally distanced themselves from everything to do with Makova, Bhasikiti, Madzivire and Gopo.”
The chat added: “A disaster isn’t it? If the party leadership is not going to move in with speed to intervene, we are bound to witness a total disintegration of ZimPF in Masvingo province.”
Another member chipped in saying: “Allow me to correctly advise the ZimPF leadership, the Masvingo crisis is yet to become the worst since the formation of ZimPF to date. Almost everyone seem[s] to deny our leadership of the reality on the obtaining political environment in Masvingo.
“This is a mirror hidden away from the president and the rest of the progressive leadership. It is worthy the executive leadership’s attention much earlier than people can go for their Christmas. We should not watch helplessly while the problem escalates.”
Contacted for comment yesterday, ZimPF spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire professed ignorance over the alleged infighting.
“I don’t know of anything like that. Gopo’s participation was a party decision. That is the official position. We lost together as a party,” he said.
Gopo said he begrudgingly accepted the results, though the by-election was not free and fair.
“The election was not free and fair, we had a lot of issues that we had raised that needed to be addressed before the polls, but we did not get any recourse,” he said.
Poll monitors expressed concern over the high number of assisted voters, who had been allegedly told to feign illiteracy by Zanu PF activists. They also reported isolated cases of voter intimidation.
Election monitoring groups claim there was massive intimidation, vote-buying and violence leading to the by-election.