By Andrew Kunambura and Idah Mhetu
VICE President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adversaries in the ruling party are launching a final assault on the beleaguered politician’s stronghold – the Midlands Province — in order to dismantle the political infrastructure put in place by his allies to support his troubled presidential bid.
Having been forced to distance himself from elements that had anointed him as President Robert Mugabe’s heir apparent over the weekend, Mnangagwa’s opponents are now convinced that the centre in the Vice President’s camp can no longer hold, and are now going for the jugular.
Ahead of yesterday’s Politburo meeting, there was heavy lobbying and political gamesmanships by the rival Generation 40 (G40) faction to redeem ZANU-PF cadres that burnt their fingers in the Midlands for associating with former vice president Joice Mujuru, and turn them against Mnangagwa and his allies.
Indications were that former Cabinet minister Flora Buka, who was handed a five-year suspension in 2014 for fraternising with Mujuru, could have her punishment reversed by the National Appeals Committee (NAC), to add depth to G40, which is currently fronted by political lightweights in the region.
At the time of her sacking from government, Buka was minister of State for special affairs in President Mugabe’s Office, responsible for land and resettlement.
In the aftermath of her suspension from ZANU-PF and Mujuru’s sacking for allegedly plotting to unconstitutionally unseat the incumbent, Buka had kept a low profile.
She was also conspicuous by her absence from all activities conducted by Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First party.
After two years of “hibernation”, she made a sudden appearance at a solidarity rally organised by a clique of war veterans sympathetic to G40 last week, where she made every effort to make her presence felt.
Buka is one of the purged ZANU-PF officials who appealed against either their suspensions or dismissals to NAC, chaired by Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko.
Once cleared by the Politburo, she will automatically resume her duties as the ZANU-PF Women’s League’s secretary for administration.
Party insiders said Buka has since started low-key activities in her former Gokwe-Nembudziya constituency, currently under Justice Mayor Wadyajena, a Mnangagwa ally.
They said Buka, who could not be reached for comment, blames Wadyajena and other allies of Mnangagwa for initiating her downfall.
This could make her combination with G40 a lethal weapon for those she perceives to have authored her demise.
Those close to Buka said she might seek a return to Parliament by challenging Wadyajena, who trounced her in the 2013 primary elections in the 2018 polls.
G40 has already staged a major coup in the Midlands by drafting Jason Machaya in its ranks following the NAC’s lifting of his suspension.
Machaya, the Provincial Affairs Minister for the Midlands, was restored as provincial chairman last month, setting a precedence that could also benefit Buka.
He had been suspended along with Buka and dozens others on the same charges of hobnobbing with Mujuru.
Machaya is still to resume his duties after he was involved in a suspicious, near fatal road traffic accident in Chegutu as he was returning from a NAC committee meeting that cleared him of any wrongdoing.
He is currently recuperating from the serious injuries he suffered in a private hospital in Harare.
Machaya takes over from Jorum Gumbo, a Mnangagwa ally, who has held the chair in the interim for the last three months.
G40 has also been buoyed by the return of Chiratidzo Mabuwa, who was the first high-ranking official from the province to be pardoned by the Politburo, at the recommendation of NAC.
The return of the Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce along with Machaya suggests that G40 is leaving no stone unturned in its bid to outsmart Team Lacoste, which backs Mnangagwa.
ZANU-PF’s national secretary for information and publicity, Simon Khaya-Moyo, declined to comment on the matter saying he was yet to be briefed.
“My job is to communicate official party positions and not comment on speculative issues,” said Khaya-Moyo.
The developments are likely to compound criticism around NAC and its chairman, seen as biased against Mnangagwa’s allies.
NAC has turned down appeals from Mnangagwa’s allies, notably the seven provincial youth chairpersons who were expelled for attacking the ZANU-PF leadership last year.
ZANU-PF insiders said G40 elements were not bothered, especially after succeeding in setting in motion processes that could see changes in the leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA).
Under Christopher Mutsvangwa’s chairmanship, ZNLWVA had pitched its tent in Mnangagwa’s camp.
Mutsvangwa’s plans suffered a blow after he was expelled from ZANU-PF for gross insubordination, resulting in his recall from the National Assembly.
It got worse after his executive was accused of undermining President Mugabe’s authority in the wake of the release of an unsigned communiqué that had no kind words for President Mugabe’s leadership.
This saw their patron, President Mugabe, convening an urgent meeting in Harare last week of loyal war veterans at which he directed that Mutsvangwa’s leadership be replaced.
The change in ZNLWVA’s guard, coupled with the final assault in Midlands, might put G40 in an unassailable position.
“The idea is to get her (Buka) back to the position of secretary for administration in the Women’s League.
“She will be useful in the balance of power in the province as it is currently tilted in favour of Team Lacoste,” said a ZANU-PF Central Committee member who declined to be identified.
“This is a tactic which I think has caught Team Lacoste completely off-guard,” said the official.
Mnangagwa’s allies have recently been clamouring for the return of the position of the head of the Women’s League to Midlands.
The position is currently held in the interim by Letina Undenge of Manicaland province; she assumed it following the death, in a car accident, of Espinah Nhari, dubbed the Iron Lady of Midlands.
By the time of her death, Nhari was herself serving a two-year suspension for chanting the slogan “Down with G40.”-Fingaz