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Mugabe seethes as Nkomo, Sibanda clash at congress

NEAR FIGHT: Nkomo clashes with war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda
NEAR FIGHT: Nkomo clashes with war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda

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By Torby Chimhashu

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe was left seething when his ruling Zanu PF party’s national chairman John Nkomo and Jabulani Sibanda, the leader of the war veterans’ association, almost traded blows in front of thousands of delegates at the party’s congress in Harare on Friday.

The dramatic developments came on the second day of an extra-ordinary congress called to endorse Mugabe to lead the party for a sixth term.

Sibanda -- an abrasive war veteran who was suspended from Zanu PF in 2004 -- has clashed with senior Zanu PF officials including Nkomo after leading war veterans in nationwide marches in support of Mugabe’s candidature in presidential elections due next March.

The marches culminated in the so called “million man march” which drew thousands of Zanu PF supporters on the streets of Harare.

Mugabe, keen to foil a growing lobby of Zanu PF officials pushing for him to step down, refused to intervene and curtail Sibanda’s activities. Nkomo, who also chairs the Zanu PF disciplinary committee, had maintained that Sibanda remained suspended in Zanu PF and should not be involved in party activities.

Sibanda’s deputy in the war veterans’ association Joseph Chinotimba sparked the furore when he asked the former Zanu PF chairman for Bulawwayo province to step onto the podium “and be saluted for organising the one million man march” held at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield last month.

As Sibanda gracefully walked to the high table where Mugabe and the high profile party seniors including his deputies Joseph Msika and Joice Mujuru were sitting, his colleagues in the war movement embraced him before Nkomo swiftly blocked his way and ordered him off the podium.

Raucous jeers and heckling filled the packed National City Sports Centre as Chinotimba and others tried to force Sibanda to the table.

An angry Nkomo grabbed the microphone and pointed an accusing finger at Sibanda before saying: “You! You are the problem. Stay away from the table.”
This was all captured on state-run television which broadcast the event live.

A seething Mugabe grabbed the microphone from Nkomo and bellowed instructions to have order, but for almost a minute, he appeared to have lost control.

“Chimurenga ichi. Hatidaro. Ngatiitei discipline. Ngatigarei pasi. Nyaya yaJabulani Sibanda tinoiziva tichaitaura pano. (This is a struggle. We don’t do that. Let’s show discipline and may everyone please be seated. We were going to discuss the issue of Jabulani Sibanda,” Mugabe said, gritting his teeth in an apparent show of suppressed anger.

The veteran leader eventually won the crowd and sent Sibanda back to the crowds.

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FURY: Mugabe seized microphone and called for order

During the chaos, Sibanda’s rivals, notably Msika and retired army general Solomon Mujuru remained calm without betraying any emotion.

Sibanda teamed up with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the leader of a Zanu PF faction which is battling for control of the party against another led by Vice President Joice Mujuru, in the pro-Mugabe marches.

He quarrelled with Zanu PF leaders from Matabeleland who questioned his role in the marches. Among those critical of Sibanda were Nkomo, Msika and Dumiso Dabengwa who all argued he had no authority to use the war veterans since he was suspended in 2004.

The energetic Sibanda was suspended in 2004 as punishment by Mugabe for allegedly participating in an “illegal” meeting in Tsholotsho which was said to have been called to install Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s deputy ahead of Mujuru.

But the incident at the congress Friday left many analysts convinced that the ghost of Tsholotsho and the disquiet in Zanu PF over Mugabe’s pursuit of a new term show the party in a crisis.

They argued that the jeering of Sibanda and direct confrontation with Nkomo in front of the ageing leader, were an assault on him since he had brought Sibanda back into the fold under a shroud of controversy.

While Mugabe might have railed against Sibanda, analysts said this was tactical as Mugabe owed his new term to the war veteran’s efforts.

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