Former Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s lack of clarity on her political future has raised suspicion she could still harbour ambitions to return to Zanu(PF)as a successor to President Robert Mugabe.
After she was fired from government last December, Mujuru apologised to Zimbabweans for having been part of Mugabe’s “ruinous” leadership.
She has issued statements pledging to continue working for Zimbabweans and correct her mistakes, even going to the extent of publishing an alternative blueprint.
However, Mujuru has to date not spelt out her future role in politics despite indications by her-profile sympathisers that she would lead a formation known as People First (PF) to challenge Mugabe in the 2018 elections.
The decorated war veteran has rarely appeared in public and on the few occasions she has spoken, it has been through media statements, leaving many of her sympathisers guessing.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said Mujuru’s strategy could mean that she still harbours ambitions to lead Zanu PF in a post-Mugabe period, making the PF project only a decoy.
“My understanding of what is happening is that the likes of [Rugare] Gumbo and [Didymus] Mutasa are indeed speaking on Mujuru’s behalf, but she is still hedging her bets,” Mandaza said.
“The pre-congress structures, we understand, are still intact and she has a groundswell of support across the country although it might be confusing given the palpable anger against Mugabe.
“There is need to juggle between these and check which is which because these two seem to be interlinked.
“It is clear that the numbers are on her side; the nine chairpersons, the 17 or so Cabinet ministers, the over 100 disgruntled MPs and senior leaders would turn the tide in her favour, but then as [First Lady] Grace Mugabe and others have argued, as long as the levers of the State are not on her side, it will remain a pipe dream.”
Mujuru, several Cabinet ministers and Zanu PF officials were fired for allegedly plotting to topple Mugabe through witchcraft and hired assassins. She has denied the allegations and challenged her accusers to prove them in court.
Mandaza said given the fact that at the time of her sacking, Mujuru reportedly commanded majority support within the former liberation movement, it would not make sense to “form a party and begin anew”.
“It would be foolhardy for Mujuru to turn around and form a party when they have claimed that they were and are still in the majority inside Zanu PF,” he said.
“It is probably of strategic importance to keep the noises about a possible formation of a party, but this does not explain why they have held back.
“If and when the ultimate happens [Mugabe dies or steps down] as the likes of [Higher and Tertiary Education minister] Jonathan Moyo have said, there will be a mini-congress and it will be difficult to stop Mujuru’s people from participating in the provincial process that ultimately feeds into the election of a new leader.”
But Gumbo, who has assumed the position of de facto PF spokesperson — in the absence of a proper party-set-up — dismissed suggestions Mujuru wanted to return to Zanu PF.
“Zanu PF is dead and buried. There is no way we will go back because given the continued infighting, there is nothing left to lead. There is no semblance of a party anymore,” Gumbo said.
Gumbo said Mujuru’s silence was part of a strategy to protect her while the groundwork for the launch of PF was being laid.
“We believe in the philosophy of the beehive, in which the queen bee must be protected at all costs while the workers mobilise resources,” he said.
“Sooner rather than later, she will come out and speak, but this is strategic because we are living in extremely dangerous times.”
Leading securocrats in Mugabe’s government have threatened Mujuru with fire and fury if she joins the opposition ranks.
Mandaza said Mujuru could benefit from the chaos engulfing Zanu PF and suggested Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa might be ameanble to a re-unification of the former guerrilla movement.
After orchestrating Mujuru’s ouster last year and then turning out to be the biggest beneficiary by taking her position both in the party and government, Mnangagwa has faced renewed threats to his quest to succeed Mugabe.
The emergence of a new group of Young Turks known as Generation 40 (G40) has been flagged as one potential hurdle for Mnangagwa’s ambitions to take over from the 91-year-old leader.
The group, reportedly comprising, among others, Moyo and Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, as well as Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, has roped in the support of the sharp-tongued Grace.
Grace has been making insinuations against Mnangagwa and attacking him through innuendos with support from the acerbic Moyo.
“The immediate post-Mugabe era could herald a Zanu PF reunification and given Mnangagwa’s precarious position at the moment, he would possibly take refuge in that,” Mandaza said.
“But if Mugabe survives up to 2018, it would be prudent for Mujuru and her allies to form a party and take on whoever Zanu PF will put forward as a candidate. Meanwhile, the infighting within Zanu PF has become chronic”.
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure said Mujuru could be doing a delicate balancing act while she awaits the right time to return to Zanu PF.
“Mujuru‘s silence may mean several things. It might be strategic because she might still think there is a possibility of a return to Zanu PF,” he said.
“She might still believe that the door has not been firmly shut in her face yet, hence the need to tread carefully and try not to irritate those within the party too much.
“Mujuru is Zanu PF and [she] might have harboured thoughts of dying in that party until last year. I think she might be suffering from withdrawal symptoms, that she still cannot believe that she was kicked out.
“It is rational to speculate then that Mujuru might indeed have met with Mugabe with a view to return, because she has an umbilical cord both with the party and in particular with Mugabe.
“She has known no other political mentor and home,” Masunungure said.
He said Mujuru still had support in Zanu PF, which makes a return to the party in the post- Mugabe era a possibility.
“She might be banking on the internal support that I think is still very much alive and it is difficult for now to tell whether she has more support outside Zanu PF than inside the party,” Masunungure added.
“Mujuru could, therefore, be bidding her time and watching events before taking the plunge either way.”
Joice Mujuru’s eventful year
September 13 2014: Mujuru graduates with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree at the University of Zimbabwe.
October 2014: First Lady Grace Mugabe launches nationwide rallies demanding Mujuru’s resignation for alleged corruption, witchcraft, incompetence and plotting against Mugabe.
December 2014: Mujuru and her top allies boycott Zanu PF congress.
December 10 2014: Mugabe fires Mujuru, 10 ministers for an alleged plot to assassinate him. She is replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa as Vice-President.
April 2015: Zanu PF expels Mujuru for an alleged plot to topple Mugabe.
June 1 2015: Mujuru apologises to Zimbabweans, describing Zanu PF as a paranoid and insular organisation.
August 2015: Mujuru rejects government pension.
September 8 2015: Mujuru releases a policy document titled Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development, described by analysts as a manifesto.