If President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman thought Wednesday’s politburo meeting would signal the political defeat of his long-term rival, Grace Mugabe had another message for him.
“You stop it, all of you!” an irate Grace shouted, flanked by her 91-year-old husband. There was little doubt to whom she was referring.
Jeered at by a handful of the thousands of ruling party supporters amassed outside ZANU-PF’s Rotten Row headquarters, presidential spokesman George Charamba appeared out-manoeuvred even before the politburo meeting got underway.
As internal party wrangling reached a peak in the days leading up to the meeting, Charamba had campaigned vigorously against his long-time rival Jonathan Moyo, the former information minister.
Charamba has control of Zimbabwe’s main state daily, the Herald, which has carried stories suggesting Moyo would be dealt with by the president and even calling for Moyo to be expelled from ZANU-PF.
The two senior party officials support rival factions of ZANU-PF trying to position themselves for power in the event of the soon-to-be-92-year-old Mugabe dying or stepping down.
Charamba is linked to a faction that favours Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as presidential successor while Moyo is part of the Generation-40 or G40 faction that is close to Grace Mugabe.
As video footage showed Sarah Mahoka of the ZANU-PF women’s league telling Mnangagwa outside the party headquarters to “speak against… the abuse of your name”, it became clear that the presidential spokesman was going to lose this round of the battle.
Even Charamba’s boss hardly stood up for him. Mugabe stated that he too had “asked people to stop it” and called yet again for unity.
As party officials disappeared inside the building to begin what turned out to be a mammoth meeting, one media analyst suggested Grace Mugabe – and by extension her allies – was back in control.
Tweeted Pedzisai Ruhanya: “Politburo waited for her return from overseas to meet today. GRACE is de facto leader. It’s clear.”
The Mugabes returned from a month’s vacation in Dubai and the Far East just over two weeks ago.
Reporters had to wait late into the night for Simon Khaya Moyo, the ZANU-PF spokesman, to emerge to give a statement.
When he finally did so, it was clear that Charamba’s hopes for Moyo’s dismissal (or at least his public dressing-down) hadn’t been fulfilled.
Factionalism had been discussed, Khaya Moyo said, “in a spirit of comradeship”.
Then came the crunch. “Expressing oneself through the press, including the use of social media, must stop with immediate effect.”
“Leadership calls for responsibility and not for rumour-mongering and insults,” Khaya Moyo added in his statement that was posted to YouTube.
His words were clearly a reference to both Charamba and the former information minister since Charamba has used the Herald daily to attack Moyo and Moyo has hit back on Twitter.
Moyo on Thursday morning appeared jubilant.
“Very happy with how [politburo] meeting went. Going forward actions will speak louder than words,” he tweeted, clearly not scared of the popular social media platform.
“It was agreed after brutal debate that internal fights should not be taken to the press including twitter & Herald!” the minister added.
Newspaper editor @nqabamatshazi predicted that state media would not be “too happy” with how the meeting had gone.
The privately-owned Daily News went further, claiming that Moyo’s G40 had “demonstrated beyond doubt… that they currently have the upper hand” in the ruling party’s battles for power.
Tweeted @simplexQ: “Seems like Charamba made a rod for his own back! His antics over the last 2 weeks backfiring on him in spectacular fashion!”