WAR veterans involved in the plot to undercut former President Robert Mugabe ahead of elections next year, yesterday claimed they kept President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the dark over the scheme, hoping to placate him from the ruling Zanu PF party when the time was ripe, NewsDay has learnt.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
The alleged plot involved top leadership of the Zpra Veterans Association (Zpra VA) and Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA).
Although Zpra VA secretary-general, Petros Sibanda confirmed that their principal, Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, was aware of the plan from the onset, his ZNLWVA counterpart Victor Matemadanda said they deliberately kept Mnangagwa in the dark for “strategic reasons”.
Matemadanda disclosed the details yesterday, as he sought to clear the air over Mnangagwa’s involvement in the alleged scheme.
“He (Mnangagwa) was not aware and, like I said, we did not come to a clear conclusion that he would be candidate. We never made any indication that we were going to form a party, but the idea was to force Mugabe to leave power and allow the party (Zanu PF) to reform or be led by someone else,” Matemadanda said.
He added: “You must also remember that Mnangagwa was adamant that he would never leave Zanu PF or contest Mugabe. So for us the catch was to make sure Mugabe relinquishes power, but what I do not know up to now is if this would have happened. Mugabe then seemed so determined to stay in power at any cost, but we were preparing even for a legal battle to get the name of the party and go into elections with a different candidate than him”.
Matemadanda also said: “We wanted to retain the name Patriotic Front (PF) because it was coined by the fighting forces and not politicians, but then there was no way we would have used the name PF on its own. The two along with Zanu go hand in hand. In the end, the plan was to make sure the party is in the right hands.”
Asked if he had approached Mnangagwa as agreed and invited him to a secret war veterans’ meeting held in Gweru in October this year, Matemadanda said: “I never approached the President (Mnangagwa) in his personal capacity. The invite was a blanket one except for those who had been fired from Zanu PF to inform them that they were welcome to the indaba. Mnangagwa would have required permission from his boss (Mugabe). He could have attended as a war veteran like all the others.”
Contacted for comment, ZNLWVA leader Christopher Mutsvangwa said: “War veterans are a pressure group and not a political party. We value the independence of political parties and would never take or abrogate ourselves an intrusive role to dictate how they should conduct their business.
“We interacted with Dabengwa on that level. Mnangagwa was never aware of what we were doing. He remained loyal to Mugabe to the extent that we had problems with his blind loyalty that never got a return favour from Mugabe.
“We did everything in our power to remove Mugabe, but Mnangagwa was never part of it. He was Zanu PF VP and it became apparent to us that it was impossible to force him to dump the party and Mugabe. We could not have spoken on his behalf because we had been expelled, but the booing in Bulawayo was a watershed moment we organised and celebrated.
“It exposed Mugabe for who he was and opened Mnangagwa’s eyes to what was going on. I must say though that we will always cherish any attempt at unity by the liberation movements or any political parties in our country. Mnangagwa and Dabengwa are patriots we cherish.”
But Sibanda said Dabengwa was kept apprised of the developments from the beginning.
“We always updated him. He was aware. After the Gweru meeting we agreed that we would revive PF and our presidency would comprise Mnangagwa, Dabengwa, Ben Ncube and (ZNLWVA chairman Christopher) Mutsvangwa.
“Mutsvangwa was supposed to approach Mnangagwa and sell the idea, but his assignment was taken up by Matemadanda,” Sibanda said.
Quizzed on whether he thought Mnangagwa had been aware of the plan from the beginning, Sibanda said: “The moment Matemadanda and others began coming to Bulawayo for such talks, the assumption was he was aware”.
In the intriguing Zanu PF power struggle that reached a crescendo in November, the war veterans remained loyal to Mnangagwa and touted him as their preferred successor to Mugabe.
But Mnangagwa at some point appeared to disown them and denied harbouring ambitions to succeed Mugabe.
“Our succession in Zanu PF, whoever becomes President of Zanu PF does so at the congress of Zanu PF. The two Vice-Presidents are the only people who are not elected. We serve at the pleasure of the President. Anytime one can be removed, if he says get away, you go,” Mnangagwa told State media in March.
According to the war veterans’ subtle plot, Mugabe was set to be forced out following a planned march to his Harare residence in November just a few weeks before the Zanu PF congress. The planned Harare indaba by war veterans was, however, overtaken by events as the military soon intervened and forced Mugabe to resign.