HARARE – There were suggestions yesterday that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s surprising decision to back little known Terence Mukupe as Zanu PF’s candidate for the Harare East constituency in next month’s by-elections could set him on a collision course with controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe.
The move has torched a storm within the party’s ranks in the capital city, with many bigwigs, including politburo members, vowing yesterday that they would do “everything in their power to undo the damage”, including appealing to President Robert Mugabe and Grace to reverse what they claimed was a “shocking” decision.
Officials who spoke to the Daily News claimed that Mnangagwa’s decision to declare Mukupe as the party’s candidate for the seat had been made “unilaterally”, adding that it should therefore be probed to establish what lay behind it.
They also alleged that a prominent businessman and politician (name withheld) — who supposedly enjoys a long-standing business relationship with Mnangagwa and is said to be related to Mukupe — had been bragging ahead of the VP’s much-debated decision on the matter that the party strongman would back Mukupe.
Unsurprisingly, a poorly-attended rally that was to be addressed by Mukupe in Highlands yesterday was momentarily disrupted by angry members of the party’s Women’s League and supporters of disqualified rival candidate Mavis Gumbo who wanted to know why the party had imposed a male candidate on them.
One of the unhappy senior party officials, Cleveria Chizema — a politburo member — questioned how Mnangagwa had come to decide that Mukupe would be the party candidate, without consulting relevant structures.
She said, without mincing her words, that the VP’s decision was “strange” — further hinting that Grace did not know anything about the move.
“The first lady by virtue of being our Women’s League secretary is the most senior person in Harare. The first lady and I are the most senior people in Harare and we have not been told of the candidature of Mukupe.
“She (Grace) is currently away. In our party structures, she is supposed to know and participate in such matters,” Chizema said.
“My position is very clear. We are waiting for the politburo to sit (to look into and decide on the matter). What happens is that the provincial elections directorate sits down and we send it to the national directorate and then the matter is put to the politburo.
“But that did not happen. I am confused because it is now a game of hide and seek in the party,” Chizema added.
Asked if Harare would accept Mukupe’s candidature, Chizema, the second most senior Zanu PF official in the politburo in the province, said she could not say how other people would react to this development.
“I was never consulted about that. So, we are now waiting for the politburo to resolve the matter. We did our own protocols and in the history of Zanu PF we never had a scenario where matters are handled the way things are happening in Harare.
“Ndachemberera muparty (I have been in the party for a long time) and we always had a roundtable to discuss such matters,” she said.
Analysts said yesterday that the unhappiness of members over the issue sets the stage for a potentially explosive politburo meeting at its next seating — with Chizema saying that there was still enough time for the controversial decision to be either corrected or explained fully.
What could make the next politburo meeting even more interesting is the fact that the party secretary for administration, Ignatius Chombo — who disqualified Mukupe — will be back when the party’s top decision-making body meets.
In addition, it had all along been understood that Mnangagwa was not supporting Mukupe’s candidature for the seat, baffling his followers and miffed war veterans why he may have changed his position.
Another well-placed Zanu PF source claimed yesterday that the decision to support Mukupe was made on the “simple basis” that the fingered businessman who was allegedly related to Mukupe supposedly did business with Mnangagwa.
“We have a politician and businessman who is bragging that he enjoys a business relationship with Mnangagwa and is claiming that he had used that privileged relationship to influence the vice president.
“We don’t know how Mnangagwa influenced the president if indeed he consulted him, but what is known in Harare province is that this decision was not political but personal. It has to do with personal relationships more than anything else,” the top official said.
Party spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo announced at the weekend that Mnangagwa had, after consulting with Mugabe, settled for Mukupe instead of Gumbo because the former had won the party’s primary elections.
“I met the Acting President (Mnangagwa) and the party’s decision was that our candidate is Mukupe because he polled more votes than any other candidate,” Moyo said.
Zanu PF has been in turmoil over the matter for the past few weeks, more so after Mukupe approached the High Court which later ruled that both he and Gumbo could stand as the party’s candidates in Harare East.
Amid all this, State broadcaster, the ZBC, reported on scandalous, but untested allegations against Mukupe, which all gave the impression that he was not the choice of senior party officials.
Another source told the Daily News yesterday that the Harare East debacle had placed Mnangagwa in an unenviable position and that it would be “interesting” to see how he handled the “hot potato” in the next few days.
Even some of Mnangagwa’s supporters accused their godfather yesterday of allegedly ceding political ground to the party’s Young Turks that are said to be working for his demise.
“There is a danger that we will lose this seat because we are fielding the wrong candidate (Mukupe). He is an unknown candidate and we cannot be represented by him.
“What does the law also say on candidates representing constituencies? Isn’t it that they should be domiciled in the constituency, which is not the case with Mukupe,” another angry Harare party official said.