Mugabe versus Solomon Mujuru (Part I)

The devil and Judas Iscariot ... The late former president Robert Mugabe (right) greets Solomon Mujuru (also late) and wife, Joice, at a state function.

BELOW is a book excerpt from In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions) by Professor Arthur Mutambara

The Zanu central committee meetings in Mozambique under the chairpersonship of Robert Mugabe are full of theatre and drama. Of particular significance, according to Mugabe, is the acrimonious relationship between secretary of defence, Josiah Tongogara, and Rugare Gumbo, the secretary for publicity and information, which almost degenerates into fistfights during sessions.

Gumbo is critical of Tongogara’s brutal methods, and his wielding more power (through the defence department) than the central committee. However, Gumbo’s most unkind and harshest criticism of Tongogara, which is shared by a few of Gumbo’s colleagues, is that Tongogara is uneducated.

According to Mugabe, this last charge hugely affects and upsets Tongogara: “At some point, he came to me and said: ‘Can I take some time off from the struggle and go to school? I am tired of these insults.’

“I said: ‘No, no. Maybe after the war, when we attain independence, you can go and complete your education’.”

Although Solomon Mujuru, as chief of operations, is second in command to Josiah Tongogara, Zanla chief of defence and Zanu secretary of defence, they sit in the enlarged central committee. It is an innovation introduced by Mugabe to improve party cohesion and balance the influence of portfolio secretaries (specifically Tongo) by incorporating their deputies.

Tongogara, the meticulous, tactical and strategic commander, is sometimes brazen and disrespectful in his interactions with the civilian nationalists, including Mugabe, during the central committee meetings. On one occasion, as Mugabe narrates to me, Tongo goes over the top with his disdain and Solomon Mujuru steps in:

“E-e-h, Tongo, you must respect the political leadership. When you returned from detention in Zambia, I made way for you to take over the Zanla army. It does not mean that I did not want to be the top soldier.

“I was in charge of ZIPA and could have resisted your return as Zanla chief of defence. I did not do that. I showed you respect. You must do the same.

“Show respect to the party’s political leadership. If you want, you and I can have a fistfight right now. T-t- ipedzerane (So that we settle it once and for all).”

Fascinating events. The drama of it all!

Of course, Tongogara does not take up the boxing challenge. He moderates his approach and demeanour; thus, the discussions continue.

Although Mujuru and Mugabe started as partners in constructing the Zezuru hegemony during and after the liberation struggle, the alliance starts to falter after Mujuru leaves the Zimbabwe National Army in 1992 and becomes a businessperson and a political operator in the main.

Based on his belief that Robert Mugabe is his product, Mujuru’s confidence is overbearing in the extreme. In heated discussions in the Zanu PF politburo meetings, he flexes his political muscles in no uncertain terms when he gets agitated. On one such occasion, he says: “Eh, takagara kudai, muZanu PF ndini mukuru (Eh, as we deliberate in this meeting, in terms of the Zanu PF hierarchy, I am the most senior).”

He says this in the presence of Mugabe! Poor Robert takes it in his stride and does not challenge the assertion. As for the likes of Emmerson Mnangagwa, they cannot even dare to look in Mujuru’s direction lest he completely dresses them down as he often does.

Emmerson fears total decimation and extreme humiliation from an angry Mujuru.

In fact, Mnangagwa is such a miserably insecure wimp in the presence of Solomon, as he is always quick to point out Mnangagwa’s peripheral, undecorated and frivolous contributions to the liberation struggle.

(Details of Mujuru’s scathing, ruthless and devastating put-downs of Mnangagwa are presented elsewhere in this book).

Mujuru must die before any of the 2017 coup d’état shenanigans could even be contemplated or envisaged. All those adventures by Mnangagwa and Chiwenga could not take place during the life of Mujuru.

Mujuru has to be killed first.

Indeed, in November 2017, they carry out their nefarious activities — and seize state power — over his dead body.

Despite overstating and overplaying his role in the history of Zanla, Zanu and Zanu-PF, General Solomon Mujuru was not an original Zanu or Zanla cadre. He was formerly of Zapu and Zipra. In 1971, he joined Zanu and retrained under Zanla.

However, Mujuru was pivotal in the ascendancy of Mugabe to the helm of Zanu when he skipped the border into Mozambique with Edgar Tekere in 1975.

Mujuru was Mugabe’s key enabler.

Specifically, he was instrumental in marketing a relatively unknown Mugabe to a suspicious Samora Machel and sceptical Julius Nyerere. More significantly, Mujuru was the driving force in consolidating Mugabe’s grip on power in both Zanu and Zanla by ruthlessly crushing ZIPA and the Gumbo/Hamadziripi group in 1977 and 1978, respectively.

Indeed, Mujuru’s claim to be the kingmaker is not without empirical evidence or basis.

Mugabe himself was not active in nationalist politics until 1960, when he is recruited during a break from his teaching job in Ghana. He is not there when Zanu is formed at Nkala’s house on 8 August 1963. In fact, he initially viciously opposes the idea of splitting from Nkomo and Zapu.

He says to me: “I was opposed to the idea of forming another party. My view was that we should work for changes within Zapu and effect leadership changes at a congress. In fact, when Nkomo heard that I had joined the Zanu rebels, he said: ‘Ah! And Mugabe, too? I can’t believe this. He is my loyal publicity secretary in Zapu’.”

This piece of history matters in the context of the incessant power struggles characterising Zanu politics during the liberation struggle.

The ethnic dispositions of both Mugabe and Mujuru ignite their Zezuru hegemonic ascendancy in Zimbabwean politics and explain their rabid efforts to discredit the Manyikas and Karangas who dominated Zanu and Zanla up to 1975. The two political gladiators were both lucky and ruthlessly Machiavellian.

As the saying goes: “Fortune favours the bold.”

Clearly, this includes the unethically and ruthlessly bold!

However, the two scheming Zezuru mandarins would eventually part ways and engage in a deadly duel.

Miles Tendi, in his biography of Mujuru, confirms that the differences between Mugabe and Mujuru on succession start in 1992, soon after he retires from the army: “Any other business?” Mugabe asked Zanu PF members during a politburo meeting ... in 1992. Solomon Mujuru raised his arm, with bloodshot eyes firmly fixed on Mugabe, to make a statement in his customary stuttering voice: ‘I want to say you, the president and vice-president Nkomo, should also consider retiring. Give others a chance.’

“Mugabe kept quiet. Nkomo took his stick, angry, jumped up and said, ‘Wena mfana, thula!’ (You, boy, shut up). Everybody started laughing, and then Rex said: ‘M-m-mandinzwa’ (You have heard me).”

The unfolding differences between Mujuru and Mugabe start to sharpen after the 2006 Zanu PF Goromonzi conference, where some party stalwarts fail to stop Mugabe from continuing as the party’s presidential candidate.

Presidential elections are due in 2008, while parliamentary elections are to occur in 2010. Mugabe’s strategy is to change the national constitution and push the presidential election to 2010 in order to leverage the Zanu PF parliamentarians in canvassing support for him as they campaign in their respective constituencies.

He fears that if the presidential polls are staged separately in 2008, Zanu PF parliamentarians would be unenthusiastic in mobilising for their progressively unpopular leader since their political careers would not be at stake.

At the same Goromonzi conference, there are also covert efforts and conversations championed by Mujuru to retire Mugabe in favour of a new leader before the next presidential elections.

Although, at the meeting, Mugabe is not dethroned as leader of the party, Zanu PF emphatically rejects Mugabe’s proposal to extend his presidency of the country to 2010, and Mugabe knows Solomon was the architect of the setback. He is also aware of Mujuru’s fervent wish for his departure.

Mugabe is apoplectic with fury.

As a secondary plan — which salvages Mugabe’s interests by mitigating his electoral fears — a decision is made to cut the parliamentary life by two years and thus organise harmonised presidential and parliamentary polls in 2008.

About a month after the Zanu PF Goromonzi conference of 2006, the firebrand liberation icon — Edgar Tekere — launches his autobiography, A Lifetime of Struggle. In the book, in addition to articulating uncharitable views about Mugabe’s liberation credentials, Tekere projects vice-president Joice Mujuru as Mugabe’s worthy potential successor and praises Solomon Mujuru as a generous and principled freedom fighter.

Mugabe is incensed.

When he conducts his annual birthday interview with ZBC-TV in February 2007, he lashes out at Edgar Tekere, Ibbo Mandaza (the SAPES publisher of the book), Solomon Mujuru and Joice Mujuru:

“They are trying to use an autobiography to influence succession in my party — Zanu PF! Manje vairasa (They have misfired badly)!”

Clearly, it means — according to Robert Mugabe — as early as February 2007, Joice Mujuru’s fate as an aspiring President of Zimbabwe is sealed — that ambition has gone up in vicious smoke.

The problem is that Joice Mujuru, being someone of an incredibly naive disposition — a simpleton to use Mugabe’s description of her — does not realise this for the next seven years!

For Solomon Mujuru, the death sentence has been signed.

Again, although Solomon Mujuru is an astute, pragmatic and bold political operative, he is oblivious to the extent of the hatred he has generated in Mugabe.

Of course, Mugabe, being the ultimate Machiavellian devil, takes his time — four years — waiting for the opportune moment to deliver the goods in 2011 to the decorated Zanla chief of operations.

In the March 2008 harmonised elections, Simba Makoni’s Mavambo project had Solomon Mujuru’s influence written all over it. According to former Zipra intelligence supremo Dumiso Dabengwa: “General Solomon Mujuru was supposed to endorse Makoni in Harare, General Vitalis Zvinavashe in Masvingo, and I was to do the honours in Bulawayo. I did my part, but when I called Mujuru in Harare, he said: ‘We are still analysing the situation’.

“He was now reneging on our arrangement. The cunning and duplicitous Mujuru, who betrayed ZIPA in 1977, is back to his usual tricks.”

In fact, Zvinavashe is the first to develop cold feet, and then Mujuru’s prevarication moved into top gear.

Of course, Mugabe is aware of Mujuru’s treachery towards him.

Our party, MDC-M, backs Makoni’s 2008 presidential bid through the Mavambo project, so I witnessed the shenanigans upfront.

(The reasons the unity talks between MDC-M and MDC-T collapsed before the 2008 elections are detailed in Volume 2 of these memoirs).

Mujuru does not overtly support Makoni. Instead, he gives the team his well-known girlfriend — a senior business executive — to work with Makoni’s campaign team as a sign of commitment. At one of his rallies, Mugabe mocks Simba Makoni through a fictitious and rhetorical conversation with him: “Who are you? ‘I am Simba Makoni.’ What do you want? ‘I want to be the President of Zimbabwe.’ Who are you with? ‘I am alone.’ Where is your party? ‘I have no party.’ Who else is with you? ‘My wife.’ Ah, anybody else? ‘And the girlfriend!’”

At that point, Mugabe bursts into rip-roaring laughter as the crowd ecstatically embraces the pejorative and humorous projection and caricature of a rival candidate.

Thereafter, he continues with his campaign speech without explaining his theatrical skit.

For the uninformed and uninitiated, the assumption is that Simba Makoni (in addition to his wife) has a girlfriend who is part of his campaign team. Further from it, Mugabe is derisively referring to Solomon Mujuru’s girlfriend, whom he has donated to Mavambo, a party Mugabe disdainfully mocks as “Magumo” (The End).

His CIO agents have thoroughly infiltrated Simba’s campaign. They have intimate details about all its activities, including Mujuru’s involvement, which includes the provision of an elaborate fleet of vehicles and substantial cash.

Consequently, when Morgan Tsvangirai defeats Mugabe in the March 2008 presidential election, his venom and outrage are reserved for Solomon Mujuru, not Tsvangirai or even Simba Makoni.

First of all, it is the devil and Judas Iscariot scenario at play. Tsvangirai is the devil, and Mujuru is Judas. You do not get upset with the devil for doing what he does best. His role is as expected.

It is the Judas factor — the betrayal by one of your own — that gets you palpably enraged. You excoriate, denounce and go after the traitor — the spineless turncoat.

From March 2008, Solomon Mujuru is a dead man walking!

Mutambara is the director and full professor of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

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