Masvingo wrangle: not just a squabble but a fight for the survival of the Karanga

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Masvingo, one of the bedrocks of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, has always been embroiled in power squabbles. But there has always been one thing in common, it has been Karanga versus Karanga. Check out if what The Insider published 14 years ago, in November 1993, still obtains today. The headline is from the 1993 article.

The wrangle between senior ZANU-PF officials in Masvingo is not just a petty squabble or a fight for supremacy in the country’s largest political province as has been portrayed by the mainstream media but it is in fact a fight for survival of the Karanga ethnic group which believes it has been short-changed in national politics for too long.

It is not even a question of former freedom fighters versus “opportunists”, particularly those who may have aided the Smith regime, but it is the culmination of a critical analysis of why the largest ethnic group in the country seems to be self-destructive.

Analysts say the Karangas who constitute nearly 30 percent of the population are beginning to ask why over the past three decades they have always fought among themselves losing control of the ruling ZANU-PF.

These internal rifts have always resulted in gains for other minority ethnic groups leading to wide speculation that they may be orchestrated by those who will ultimately gain.

While press reports have confined the rift to Masvingo political province, sources say the discontent spreads throughout the Karanga-dominated areas which cover not only Masvingo but also almost the entire Midlands province.

In the Karanga circles, the debate over the last few years, and especially in the past few months, has been how the group has lost its huge political influence in the ruling ZANU-PF party which it had dominated since its inception in 1963.

The theory is that up until 1977, ZANU-PF was basically a Karanga party with other ethnic groups, particularly the Zezuru, being under-represented in leadership positions.

Currently, the party leadership is nationally representative, but the Karangas and other ethnic communities say it is unfairly tilted towards the Zezurus- who they accuse of inflating their numbers by including migrant labour from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.

Migrant labourers, some of whom are now citizens of Zimbabwe, constitute 20 percent of the population and are concentrated in the three Mashonaland provinces that are generally regarded to be the home of the Zezurus.

Another form of misrepresentation is the taking for granted of all those in the metropolitan centres like Harare into their fold. Harare and Chitungwiza, for example, with nearly two million people become the largest political province.


The general feeling among the Karangas is that their political fortunes have suffered over the years due to “manipulation by outsiders” who have realised that there is no political future outside ZANU-PF.

“Opportunism internally” has taken its toll and so have deaths.

Karangas trace the first signs of their decline to 1970 when Leopold Takawira, then vice-president of ZANU died in prison. They also missed out on succeeding Ndabaningi Sithole when he was ousted from the presidency in a political coup.

Even then, the Karangas still dominated the ZANU leadership and the growing resentment of the Karanga domination manifested itself in the creation of FROLIZI which was formed initially to unite ZANU and ZAPU but was later hijacked t catapult some Zezuru politicians to positions of power that they had always coveted.

The Nhari rebellion in 1973 further weakened the Karanga grip on ZANU but it was Herbert Chitepo’s death in 1975 that provided one of the severest blows.

The Karangas say their opponents seized on the death of the ZANU national chairman to reduce their influence and members in the party leadership.

Chitepo’s death saw the detention of key Karanga leaders like Josiah Tongogara who were accused of assassinating their leader, a thing that was against all logic because the Karanga already dominated the ruling party and therefore did not really have any reason to dispose of Chitepo.

In fact, some analysts argue that it was the Karangas who saved Chitepo from an internal palace coup just before FROLIZI was formed.

The culling of the Karanga hegemony continued in 1976 when the Dzinashe Machingura group was accused of plotting another palace coup.

Analysts say this group was increasingly showing resentment against former detainees who had taken over leadership of the party.

The Machingura group was crushed by none other than the Karangas who had just been released from detention following the death of Chitepo.

The detention had cowed them well enough to be manipulated against their colleagues whom they were led to believe were trying to keep the positions they had assumed while they were in detention.

Two years later, Karangas were once again the plotters. This resulted in the ousting of Rugare Gumbo, Crispen Mandizvidza, Joseph Taderera and Mukudzei Midzi from ZANU, paving the way for Herbert Ushewokunze and Nathan Shamuyarira.

1979 saw the death of Tongogara just a few months prior to independence but it also saw the propping up of those who had been built up by the Lancaster House conference which led to Zimbabwe’s independence. These included Eddison Zvobgo and others who came to Zimbabwe with highly inflated profiles.

But soon after the country attained independence Karangas were once again used to destroy each other with Zvobgo who was the party chief spokesman being the main target.

He had to be deflated and Nelson Mawema appears to have been the man tasked with this ominous task.

It almost worked. Zvobgo lost his powerful post and was reduced to provincial politics but he found his salvation there and built his political position which had been cut nationally to the point where he became an even greater threat.

Analysts say Karangas seem to have shied away from the leadership of ZANU all along because they have been portrayed as “power hungry” yet demographically they are a majority and this dictates that they aspire for leadership.

This is what they are now querying. They are asking why they no longer control ZANU-PF and why throughout the squabbles it has always been Karanga versus Karanga with the Tongogara group against the Machingura group in 1976, the Muzenda and Zvobgo group against the Gumbo group, Nelson Mawema group versus the Zvobgo group and now Josiah Hungwe, Stan Mudenge and Shuvai Mahofa’s group versus the Zvobgo group.

The same analysts say Zvobgo has been the main target because he is a threat to Muzenda’s leadership of the Karanga group. Though fro Gutu, Muzenda is politically classified as a Midlands person and even represents Gweru urban but he is the de facto leader of the Karangas both from Masvingo and the Midlands. But while he has tremendous influence Muzenda is now generally regarded as Mugabe’s man.

Zvobgo also seems to have been the target because he matches his political opponents both intellectually and politically, a thing he often brags about much to the disgust of his opponents. His work has, however, always been cut by his lack of influence in the media.

Analysts are also amazed at the way fellow Karangas have always enlisted and cooperated in the weeding out of their colleagues. All this has done is to weaken their political power base at the expense of other groups.

The deliberate programme to prop Mawema has failed. He lacked the charisma of Zvobgo. Mawema now seems to have been ditched in favour of Mudenge who is viewed as an intellectual giant like Zvobgo but he lacks political experience and a sound political base. Although he claims to have been a member of the ruling ZANU-PF since its launch in the 1960s, people in Masvingo just do not know him.

The argument therefore that Zvobgo is against Mudenge and Hungwe because they have “frustrated (his) uncontrolled political ambition to become president” does not hold water. It is seen in Masvingo as a flimsy excuse orchestrated by the media to sidestep the real issue.

While the conflict seems to be centred around Zvobgo, it is really a case of so-called sell-outs of the Karangas against those who believe they should now get their fair share in national politics.

Analysts argue that there is a strong feeling that Karangas have been short-changed for too long and this has largely been because of sell-outs from within who should now be weeded out.

They argue that the Karangas are incensed because they are not just demographically a majority, but they also constitute a majority in key sectors like the ruling ZANU-PF membership, the army, police and prison service.

They even constituted a majority among the freedom fighters and in the Rhodesian army, but they are losing their grip of these key sectors.

Unity within the Karangas threatens Zezuru hegemony and supremacy and this is a cause of concern for the present leadership but the Karangas who feel they have had enough of being trampled upon are reportedly planning to unseat those whom they believe are being used to weaken their power base.

Whispers say Air Force chief Josiah Tungamirai, for example, is likely to contest the seat currently held by Shuvai Mahofa.

Tungamirai, who was the logical candidate to take over as overall commander of the merged army and air force, was forced to retire with Tapfumanei Mujuru.

Although Vitalis Zvinavashe, a Karange took over command of the army, this is believed to have just been a stop-gap measure while he law was being amended to allow for single command of the army after which Zvinavashe would be asked to retire to pave way for a favoured candidate.

Mahofa has been at the centre of a political controversy in Gutu and she has only survived because of her connections at the top. But she does not stand a chance against Tungamirai, a war hero, who can tear her credibility to shreds. Sources also say she has no hold on the former Air Force chief.

Another ex-soldier, Charles Dauramanzi, will go for Joseph Mandava’s seat. Mandava and Mahofa are considered to be Vice-President Simon Muzenda’s people and in turn Mugabe’s people.

Hungwe, as a governor appointed by President Mugabe, has no constituency and is just being written off as that, Mugabe’s man. The same applies to Speaker Nolan Makombe who was also rescued by Mugabe after losing to Dzikamai Mavhaire at the last elections.

Makombe must also have seen for himself the little ground he stands when he tried to intervene in the current squabble at Nyika. Sources say the people were not just hostile but they told him off.

Mudenge, who is also a non-constituency MP, is reported to be aiming for George Mudukuti’s seat.

But Mahofa, Hungwe and Mudenge, who have now been dubbed the “right trio” in the province have no chance. They are fighting against ex-combatants who have no regard for them because their contribution to the liberation struggle is questionable.

The media coverage they have been getting since the surfacing of the so-called squabble has even done them more damage as it appears to be confirming that they are, indeed, Mugabe’s people.

Right now, though still largely a one-party province, the pro-Zvobgo group, which is reported to be in the majority, has no regard for anyone considered to be Mugabe’s person.

Zvobgo, on the other hand, has gained a lot of political mileage. People are rallying behind him because he is seen as being victimised by people who have cut the political influence of the Karanga and are plotting their downfall.

But while these ethnic divisions may prop up certain groups, the way demographic politics is being played has the potential of creating political instability. Other groups like the Ndebele who also feel that they are being short-changed could rise.

They have already complained on several occasions that their numbers were played down in last year’s census to deny them fair representation.

There has, of late, also been complaints that Matebeleland is lagging behind in development and this is deliberate.

Even de facto leader of Matebeleland Joshua Nkomo had no answer for this and quickly side-stepped the issue to talk about the land problem which he is more comfortable with.

The figures for Mashonaland have not yet been queried. In fact, there is wide speculation that they were inflated.

These conflicts, if unchecked, could lead to a break-up of the ruling party.

There is a strong belief that just like Frederick Chiluba’s Movement for Multi-Party Democracy which is now crumbling because of defections, it is only a breakaway from ZANU-PF that will pose a formidable challenge to the ruling party.

The present opposition will never.-Insider