David Coltart: How ‘baby-dumping’ Joice Mujuru played out
The first quarter of 2014 revealed that the main opposition party, the MDC-T, was in a similar state of disarray.
It first came to the surface when MDC-T deputy treasurer and former cabinet minister Elton Mangoma wrote to Tsvangirai telling him “it is time you consider leaving the office of the president of the movement”.
Mangoma’s letter spoke of a “crisis of leadership … and confidence in the party”. The letter was leaked, resulting in Mangoma’s assault by MDC-T youths outside the party headquarters, Harvest House.
Biti condemned the assault and then associated himself with Mangoma’s comments; in his capacity as secretary-general, Biti convened a National Council meeting which voted to suspend Tsvangirai and several other senior leaders.
The following was included in a statement released after the meeting on 26 April:
“Over the years, the MDC has developed tendencies and a culture that has led to the deviation from its core values. That culture has included the following: the use of violence as a way of settling disputes, corruption, disrespect of the constitution, a culture of impunity, the existence of parallel structures, including a kitchen cabinet and vigilante groups associated with the leader.”
I was left with a profound sense of déjà vu.
The statement could have been written in December 2005 because it touched on many issues which were of equal concern then.
It was followed by other events reminiscent of the 2005 split. There were further counter suspensions and expulsions from those still loyal to Tsvangirai, who challenged the constitutionality of Biti’s National Council meeting. By mid-2014, the split was irrevocable and had seriously damaged Tsvangirai.
In my opinion, Biti and Mangoma were the MDC-T’s best cabinet ministers by some margin. In addition, other former cabinet ministers, such as Lucia Matibenga, Sam Nkomo and Gorden Moyo, sided with Biti and Mangoma, along with several of the MDC-T’s best MPs, forming what they called the MDC Renewal Team.
Watching helplessly from the sidelines, I took no satisfaction in seeing MDC-T fall apart. My own MDC-N party had been all but annihilated in the 2013 election, leaving the MDC-T with the primary responsibility in parliament of holding Zanu PF to account.
I found it ironic when I was contracted by an international organisation in mid-2014 to assist in peace negotiations in another conflict-riven African country.
My own nation was tearing itself apart and needed help, but there was little role I could play.
In August 2014, I was asked to provide consultancy services to a South African company, Paarl Media, seeking to expand its educational textbook business into the rest of Africa.
The company had noted the success of the ETF textbook programme and wanted to use some of the lessons learned to persuade the international community to invest more in educational textbooks throughout Africa.
Once again it seemed ironic that I was being called to assist other countries when the Zimbabwean education system had started to deteriorate again. All I could do domestically was speak to political leaders about what I felt was needed, which I summed up under two heads.
First, I argued, we needed a national consensus among democrats regarding the policies Zimbabwe needed to reverse its accelerating decline.
Second, we needed to identify what was at the core of our political rot, namely, personality-based, rather than principle-based political parties.
With such a broad and increasing array of aspiring leaders, I felt that democratic parties should focus on a shadow cabinet, rather than a single leader, from which could emerge a candidate to challenge Zanu PF in the next elections. I expressed my views to the president of my own party, Welshman Ncube.
I had similar discussions with Tendai Biti, Dumiso Dabengwa and Simba Makoni. Eventually, on 22 October 2014, Morgan Tsvangirai came to see me at home, when I was able to spell out these ideas and concerns.
All were receptive, but with so much water having gone under the bridge, ongoing distrust and hurt made the task difficult.
The week before I met Tsvangirai, the quirky nature of Zimbabwean politics was evident again.
When Mugabe announced his new cabinet in September 2013 he replaced me with three new cabinet ministers, one for Education, one for the specific task of Curriculum Reform, and one for Sport, Arts and Culture, its minister being Andrew Langa.
Thirteen months on, in October 2014, Mugabe met with Langa while in Matabeleleland and asked whether I had been “invited to take a tour” of the sports facilities in Bulawayo being built and renovated for the African Union Region 5 Under-20 Youth Games.
One of my last acts in cabinet had been to argue that Bulawayo should be the host city for the Games which involved several Southern African nations in nine sporting disciplines.
I had faced considerable opposition in my bid as most of my senior civil servants and a number of heavyweight Zanu PF cabinet ministers had wanted them held in Harare. However, on 21 May 2013, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Vice-President Mujuru had all backed me, resulting in the immediate collapse of opposition to the proposal to hold them in Bulawayo.
Prior to cabinet, Mujuru had asked me to speak to her outside about the Games. Once I had explained the full benefits (which went beyond mere sport and involved the building of a Games village which would then be used for badly needed student accommodation at the local National Science and Technology University), she told me I “should go ahead with what I thought best”, before warmly grasping and shaking both my hands.
Likewise, Mugabe spoke strongly within Cabinet of the need for Bulawayo to host the Games. With my loss of office, I had played no further role in the preparations for the Games, which were scheduled to be held in December 2014, until Mugabe raised the issue with Langa.
Accordingly, I was surprised to get a call from Langa on 17 October 2014, asking me if I could come to an urgent meeting about the Games.
When we met the following day at the site of one of the Games’ venues, Bulawayo municipal swimming pool, Langa had summoned the government-controlled press.
In a brief ceremony Langa told the press that I would “receive red carpet treatment” during the sixth African Union Sports Council Region 5 Under-20 Youth Games for my “unwavering stance to bring the Games to Bulawayo”. Langa went on to tell the press:
“This tour was necessitated by President Mugabe when we went for the official lighting of the Games’ torch at State House.
He said I should invite Coltart to see and appreciate his efforts because it’s him who convinced Cabinet to have the Games in Bulawayo.
He received a lot of resistance from some members of Cabinet, but kept on pushing until the president gave him his support, too. As late as yesterday, President Mugabe, who was in Lupane, asked me if I had invited Coltart to a tour.”
True to his word, Langa gave me red carpet treatment during the tour that day, and right through to when the Games were held in December.
The entire episode amazed me. I was the only individual candidate who had released a detailed report after the July 2013 exposing Zanu PF electoral fraud and since then had continued to make fiercely critical remarks about government, and yet Mugabe still chose to acknowledge and honour the work I had done to bring the Games to Bulawayo.
As Churchill once said of the Russians, I found Mugabe “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
The irony deepened further in the ensuing weeks when Langa found himself a victim of the split between the Mnangagwa and Mujuru factions within Zanu PF, which came to a head as the Games commenced.
Up until October, Mugabe himself had not publicly taken sides; the first sign of a change in that thinking came on the same day Mugabe met Langa at Lupane, 16 October, when Mugabe’s wife Grace, addressing a rally in Bindura, used the metaphor of “baby dumping” to describe what should be done with those leading factionalism within Zanu PF.
Grace Mugabe then embarked on a nationwide tour which saw a daily increase in the invective directed Mujuru’s way, culminating in a meeting on 23 October when Grace Mugabe alleged that Mujuru wanted “to use money to topple Mugabe”, accusing her of being “rotten … a thief”.
Knowing that Mujuru controlled nine out of 10 of Zanu PF’s provincial structures, I watched to see who would win a war of words between Grace Mugabe and Mujuru.
Grace Mugabe ratcheted up her invective through November, eventually feeling bold enough on 17 November to demand that Mujuru “must leave now”. Hate speech began to be heard more frequently. Grace Mugabe and others, such as Information minister Moyo, started referring to Mujuru’s faction members as “Gamatox”, an agricultural poison.
Mugabe kept his own counsel, in public at least, until 2 December, when he finally accused Mujuru of trying to “oust him from the helm of the party and government” before firing her and eight Cabinet ministers, all moderates, whom he accused of being behind a plot to topple him from power.
Langa held on by the skin of his teeth as minister of Sport, until September 2015 (when he, too, was fired from Cabinet), but he was removed as Zanu PF chairman for Matabeleland South province in the shake-up, along with the rest of Mujuru loyalists.
On 12 December 2014, Emmerson Mnangagwa was appointed vice-president, confirming the ascendancy of his hardline faction over Mujuru’s. In an effort to assuage concerns in Matabeleland and comply with the 1987 Unity agreement between Zapu and Zanu PF, Mugabe appointed former Zipra commander in charge of logistics Phelekezela Mphoko as the other vice-president the same day. It had become clear, however, that the velvet glove over the iron fist had been removed.
As 2014 drew to a close, I wondered where these dramatic events left the nation.
It had never been absolutely clear during my days in Cabinet where Mugabe’s loyalties lay. Even after he showed his hand in dismissing Mujuru, I wondered how much influence his wife had exerted over her frail husband.
It seemed from the outside that a pact had been entered into between Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa, born of mutual self-interest. Mnangagwa needed the Mugabe brand to boost his prospects; Grace Mugabe needed the protection of Mnangagwa and the military in a post-Robert Mugabe era. Whatever the case, any hope that moderates would prevail within Zanu PF was dashed. With the opposition more split than ever, Zimbabwe’s prospects looked grim.