PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe literally put the cat among the pigeons after he appointed Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko as head of Zanu PF’s appeals committee, set to hear appeals against suspensions and expulsions by party members.
As factional fights continue to gnaw at the ruling party, Mugabe appears to have been pushed to find a way to pacify angry members of a group reportedly fronted by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, aggrieved by massive purges.
Mphoko is allegedly a key member of a faction known as G40 that is reportedly linked to First Lady Grace Mugabe. He is also chairperson of Zanu PF’s national disciplinary committee (NDC) which issued the suspensions and expulsions, whose appeals he must now preside over.
While many wondered at this awkward role that Mphoko must play, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya-Moyo says Mugabe’s decision to make the VP chairperson of both committees could not be questioned.
“The president makes that decision and we cannot question it. I do not have power to tell him who to appoint and nobody has,” Khaya-Moyo said.
Academic and political commentator Ibbo Mandaza said Mugabe’s nomination of Mphoko was double edged.
“Mphoko could argue that it was actually a promotion, but those who have cases and are set to appear before him might also feel uneasy. The war veterans might have wanted him fired altogether, but they did not get their way. There is no comfort for either party. Mugabe might actually have taken Mphoko out of the fire,” Mandaza said.
Several groups and members of Zanu PF, including former freedom fighters, have begun to cast aspersions over Mphoko’s neutrality “to handle appeals by his victims”.
While welcoming Mugabe’s decision as uncontestable, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association spokesperson Douglas Mahiya said his group had “serious reservations over Mphoko’s credibility and impartiality”.
“We understand the fact that the president has the sole prerogative to make such appointments. However, the fact that the party has seen it fit to set up a tribunal to hear these appeals means we are admitting there was a miscarriage of justice,” Mahiya said.
“Now if we are to inspire confidence on those that are appealing, we would need to at least appoint people with some credibility to hear their cases. Everyone is fallible and we would want greater transparency in the process of correcting the mistakes.”
Last month, war veterans passed a no-confidence vote in Mphoko, whose liberation war credentials they questioned, with some claiming the VP “deserted Zapu” at the crucial stage of the struggle for independence in Mozambique.
State media columnist Reason Wafawarova last week also joined in throwing brickbats at Mphoko in the aftermath of the announcement he would chair the national disciplinary appeals committee (NDAC).
“So VP Mphoko bungles up in the NDC and accrues a plethora of appeals against the arbitrary rulings of his committee, and his party sees it fit to quickly set up an appeals tribunal, the NDAC,” Wafawarova wrote.
“What happens next boggles the mind. The same Mphoko is elevated to preside over the appeals tribunal. I sincerely hope the VP will have the common sense and decency to recuse himself from any of the proceedings affecting people he ‘wrongly’ convicted.”
Wafawarova equated Mugabe’s decision to appoint Mphoko as arbiter to: “…being sentenced to death by a judge at the district court, and then you appeal to the High Court, only to find the same judge presiding over your appeal case”.
Another political watcher Pedzisai Ruhanya said Mugabe was the source of Zanu PF’s troubles.
“Mugabe is at the centre of the rot and bedlam in Zanu PF. He created the mess to serve his interests and Mphoko in whatever capacity, is supposed to safeguard Mugabe’s interests as a competitive authoritarian leader. Mugabe is not keen to address the fissures in the party but to supplant Mujuru and undercut the growth of her party.
“We would be mistaken to think Mphoko is the problem or made the decisions he now has to review. What we see is a symptom of a greater governance problem that spills to the nation state and epitomised by Mugabe’s failures. All the infighting were part of his Machiavellian nature wherein he allows his subordinates to fight while he retains the throne,” said Ruhanya.
Scores of Zanu PF activists have fallen victim to the NDC reportedly stuffed with G40 sympathisers, among them Mphoko, First Lady Grace and political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere.
Former Harare youth league provincial chairman Godwin Gomwe, a casualty of alleged “miscarriage of justice by the NDC”, urged Mphoko to “prove your impartiality”.
“I was not expelled by Zanu PF, but by G40. I do not see any reason why I should legitimise their [G40] warped sense of justice through an appeal. Appealing an illegality will only worsen the situation,” Gomwe said, adding that he was yet to decide whether he would get a fair hearing.
Another victim of the NDC and former Mashonaland Central youth league chairperson Godfrey Tsenengamu concurred.
“We were expelled by a cabal that includes Kasukuwere and [science and technology politburo secretary] Jonathan Moyo. The two are behind the chaos in the party with a loose alignment to Indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao. These are well-known pretenders and rumour mongers bent on causing divisions and disharmony in the party,” said Tsenengamu.
Gomwe and Tsenengamu were among seven youth provincial chairpersons expelled by the NDC for “gross misconduct”.
The suspension list also includes women’s league secretary for administration Espinah Nhari, former commissar Webster Shamu, former Labour minister Nicholas Goche, ex-Indigenisation minister Francis Nhema and former State minister Flora Buka, among others.
These are outside the nearly 200 who were suspended or expelled along with former Vice-President Joice Mujuru prior to and in the aftermath of the December 2014 Zanu PF congress.
Nhari was suspended for three years for allegedly chanting “Pasi neG40” [Down with G40] and Wafawarowa remarked: “So the woman who was suspended for three years for simply chanting Pasi neG40! is going to defend herself before the same Mphoko who was convinced that the chant amounted to a serious crime? I think Zanu PF has been infiltrated by clowns.”
Others are war veterans chairman and former Cabinet minister Christopher Mutsvangwa and his wife Monica.
Shamu and Goche have reportedly appealed their cases amid claims the NDAC would be used by Mugabe to pull the carpet from under Mujuru’s feet.
Mujuru was sacked along with hundreds other activists, including at least nine provincial chairpersons. standard