Hildegarde The Arena
Famed German physicist Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Sounds plausible when one considers the intrigues and contradictions this writer has witnessed in the ruling Zanu-PF party on two outstanding dates in the past decade: December 4, 2004 and December 4, 2014.
December 4 is crucial because it’s my birthday and one naturally remembers key events that take place during that period and two of those birthdays have coincided with the Zanu-PF National People’s Congress.
On the evening of December 4, 2004, Dr Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru was appointed one of the two Vice Presidents and Second Secretaries of Zanu-PF, which automatically landed her the Vice Presidency post in Government.
The announcement was greeted with thunderous applause, singing and dancing from women especially, which for the first time had one of their own in the party and Government’s top decision-making positions.
While Dr Mujuru was elevated at the December 2004 congress, the December 2014 congress has seen her rising star diminishing. She has fallen from grace in both the party and Government since she was fired from Government on December 8 by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde Mugabe.
Dr Mujuru was sacked together with seven cabinet ministers and one deputy minister. This was in line with the common understanding that he who appoints can also disappoint.
This was another first since President Mugabe had never fired his deputies. Her predecessors: Cdes Simon Muzenda, Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Msika and John Landa Nkomo all died while serving. Many theories regarding this fall are being thrown around.
But I’ll contextualise the current events with the happenings of December 4, 2004. This writer vividly remembers how then Secretary for Legal Affairs Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa — who was yesterday appointed First Vice President and Second Secretary together with Cde Phelekezela Mphoko — got up the stage and as a gesture of congratulating Dr Mujuru, lifted her up and started dancing around with her.
ZTV should still have that video footage.
This joy unspeakable resonated everywhere. That evening I penned two unpublished poems one in English (The Beauty of Life!) and another four-page one in Shona: “Kusava-a?” (Why not?)
This was celebrating womanhood and achievement considering that I was a part time teacher at the University of Zimbabwe’s Evening School when Dr Mujuru was doing her O-Level studies.
When the head of the Evening School Reverend Dr Themba Mafico invited Cde Mujuru to officially open the school library, she said: “Mabasa epolitics ndeekusarudzwa. Kana mangwana VaMugabe vakati zvapera, ndinoitei, ini ndisina fundo yakati tsvikiti? Saka ndakati regai nditore mukana iwoyu waitwa neEvening School, ndipedzise pandakasiira.” (I am serving at the pleasure of Cde Mugabe, who can relieve me of my duties anytime he so wishes. Without the requisite educational and professional skills, I would be a nonentity.) This sounded like a principled stand just like the one she made in 1997 at the height of the mobile phone licences saga when Dr Mujuru told a group of journalists and members of the civic society that as a trained soldier, she followed a laid down chain of command, and that she would not denigrate that chain of command. But the narrative below shows a different picture because some people believe that Cde Mujuru is being persecuted.
For those not in the know, the 1997 mobile phone saga could have ended Dr Mujuru’s political career because it pitted her against Father Zimbabwe, the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo and Econet founder and chairman Strive Masiyiwa.
Dr Mujuru was the Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications then.
According to published media reports, at the end of February 1997, Dr Joshua Nkomo, who was the Acting President while the President was overseas on Government duty wrote to Minister Mujuru ordering that a third licence be issued to Econet as one of the three cellular operators after NetOne and Telecel, but she told the media that she had not seen Dr Nkomo’s letter: “I have not seen the letter . . .”
As the saga spilled into the High Court, Minister Mujuru raised eyebrows with her sworn statement where she made disparaging remarks about the age and state of mind of Acting President Nkomo saying: “Dr Nkomo (80) is ageing and does not always remember things as well as he used to.”
According to a Financial Gazette report of June 26, 1997 Minister Mujuru was “widely condemned by the public for her remarks, (and) was summoned by (President) Mugabe to explain why she had made such allegations against VP Nkomo.”
The report further claims that Minister Mujuru “told President Mugabe that she made the allegations out of pressure of work and had not seriously thought of the implications . . . Party members from Bulawayo, Manicaland and Matabeleland provinces . . . asked (President) Mugabe to explain why Mujuru, a ruling party Politburo member, had shown disrespect for Nkomo.”
The Econet saga put pressure on President Mugabe to take disciplinary action against Cde Mujuru, and “Nkomo’s supporters throughout the country wanted Mujuru to apologise publicly to Nkomo and also to be disciplined. Sources within the Politburo said that if Mujuru’s actions went unpunished, this would set a bad precedent within the party and would make it difficult in future to enforce discipline among transgressing members.”
It has taken 17 years to deal with a problem that a majority of senior Zanu-PF cadres were aware of because they cherished the peace, unity and cohesion prevailing in the country.
The Fingaz report adds that President Mugabe had told a Central Committee meeting that “Zanu-PF was being weighed down by ‘loose discipline, loose thinking and loose talk’”.
Remarking on the issue, late VP Msika said: “Certain members within the party, both junior and senior, are concerned about Cde Mujuru’s remarks and wanted action to be taken against the minister.”
The Sunday Mail of June 29, 1997 reported that Cde Mujuru had eventually apologised to Dr Nkomo: “She told the Sunday Mail that in accordance with the discussions at the recent Zanu-PF Central Committee meeting and instructions of President Mugabe, she had since written to Cde Nkomo apologising for the misunderstanding.”
This goes to show that a lot of pressure was put to bear on her in order to apologise to Father Zimbabwe.
Dear reader, you might wonder why I am putting so much focus on this incident. Like stated above, describing Dr Nkomo as senile would have marked the end of Dr Mujuru’s political history. But, she was accommodated and given another chance.
But, the cellular licensing saga especially the Joshua Nkomo element threatened to divide a united Zanu-PF party, which was celebrating a decade of unity since the signing of the Unity Accord.
There was also failure to see the bigger picture in the awarding of tenders saga. Econet chairman Masiyiwa did not take this lying down as he questioned the nature of the awarding of a second license to Telecel.
Masiyiwa’s letter to the tender board chairperson read in part: “As you are aware Mr Chairman, Minister Mujuru has issued several statements since the tender board suspended action of TBR 4317B (Telecel’s win).
“Firstly, the minister has been dismissive of the tender board action and has gone on to publicly state that Cabinet has ‘reaffirmed’ its decision to award (the tender) to Telecel.
“This would appear to contradict President Mugabe’s statement in which he said the tender board decisions were not subject to political interference. Yet, from the minister’s statement, one would be led to conclude that the Cabinet had made an earlier decision with respect to Telecel.” (The Financial Gazette, April 17, 1997)
This was an explosive issue for both Zanu-PF and the Government. This also coincided with the informal consultations that resulted in the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999. All these threatened to weaken Zanu-PF.
In my view, this gives the broader meaning of the “simplistic” approach that President Mugabe referred to recently.
This contextual framework also gives some of the missing links in the chain, and goes to show that “the principles which men give to themselves end by overwhelming their noblest intentions.”
Simply put, it was a matter of time before the time bomb exploded because “in a game without rules, nothing is certain and everything is possible.”