DUMISO Dabengwa, a high ranking member of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party addressed a joint rally with presidential challenger Simba Makoni on Saturday – effectively expelling himself from the party.
Dabengwa, a liberation war hero who commanded Zipra guerrilla fighters during the country’s liberation war before being jailed without trial by Mugabe in post-independent Zimbabwe, said he was throwing his weight behind Makoni, another former Mugabe ally.
The former Home Affairs minister told 7 000 cheering supporters at Bulawayo’s White City Stadium that Makoni was on a “rescue mission” to haul the country back from a deepening economic crisis marked by record inflation of over 100 000 percent.
Dabengwa said he had been joined by other unnamed senior Zanu PF officials in persuading Makoni to challenge Mugabe after the 84-year-old leader subverted Zanu PF’s constitution last December to avoid a leadership challenge.
Dabengwa said: “We have come a long way with Makoni. We were in the politburo of the ruling party. We tried by all means to bring change from within by criticising bad leadership. We did not want regime change but leadership change.
“President Mugabe himself last year asked us to start discussing leadership change and suggest possible successors and we did that. When we went to congress we hoped that the congress would bring new leadership, hayi sadlalwa itsabatsaba (but were played games).
“Instead of nominating leaders, we were told we were just supposed to endorse Mugabe as presidential candidate. We voiced against that and Makoni and others supported me but we failed.
“After congress we sat down and said ‘gentlemen, do we want to see what happened to UNIP in Zambia, who fought for the country and failed to manage change until little Chiluba emerged and swept to power?’ Things became worse during Chiluba. That is what we feared would happen here… some Chiluba will emerge.
“We said to Makoni ‘we will support you through-and-through’. We hope Makoni’s leadership will bring economic stability and normalcy. What we are doing is called a rescue operation in military terms. Those of us who were guerrillas did such operations when our comrades were trapped during a battle.
“This is a rescue operation to remove Zimbabwe from this difficult situation.”
Makoni, who is running as an independent in the March 29 elections, will challenge Mugabe alongside Morgan Tsvangirai, his long time nemesis who nearly pushed him out of power in the 2002 presidential elections.
Makoni has insisted that he has a lot of support from senior Zanu PF officials, and Dabengwa is the first-high profile figure to go public. Also at Saturday’s rally was former Speaker of Parliament, Cyril Ndebele.
Dabengwa said: “Hayi baba Mugabe, siyakuhlonipha jah’elidala. Usebenzile, siyakubonga konke osenzele khona eZimbabwe.
“Okwanamhlanje mhlaka 29 March sithi hayi akumeceleni ukuphumule. Nanti ijaha esesithe lizathatha amanyathela akho liwagqoke. (We respect you Mugabe, you have played your part, step aside and rest. Here is the youngman (Makoni) who will step into your shoes).”
Mugabe, celebrating his birthday last week, labelled Makoni a “prostitute” and “witch”. Dabengwa said it was normal for old people like Mugabe to resort to name-calling, but they would not answer back.
Dabengwa said: “Makoni has been called a prostitute. I am likely to get worse from the old man’s mouth. In our African culture, we were taught not to insult back to elders. We will respect our leaders. We will consult them when Makoni becomes president, old as they are. We are not fighting our leaders, all we are saying is that their time is up and they can’t cope with the present situation. It needs people of Makoni’s age.”
An inspired Makoni told the cheering crowd that he was confident of victory.
“Soon after I announced my candidature, thousands of people flocked to register to vote. We have given people confidence that change is possible after failures by opposition parties, and we will deliver,” he said.
Makoni said people were free to choose council, senate and House of Assembly candidates of their choice, and he would select the most capable individuals for cabinet posts, irregardless of party affiliation under an envisaged ‘National Authority’.
He acknowledged the support given to him by a faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by former NASA rocket scientist, Arthur Mutambara.
Makoni and Dabengwa, who earlier Saturday addressed business leaders at the Large City Hall in Bulawayo’s town centre, had a torrid time leaving the venue of the rally as people mobbed them.
Meanwhile, agents from Mugabe’s spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), were making frantic efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of Retire Army Generals Solomon Mujuru and Vitalis Zvinavashe, amid speculation that they were in Bulawayo making final consultations with Makoni’s team for another rally in Harare on Sunday.
Speculation has been mounting that Mujuru and Zvinavashe will announce their defection to Makoni’s side and introduce him at the rally on Sunday.
Security agents in Bulawayo approached several journalists asking them to for information about the two former army chiefs’ whereabouts.
“They approached me and I told them I have no idea where the two were,” said one journalist. It is believed Mujuru left Harare on Friday under the pretext that he was going to Bulawayo to persuade Dabengwa against backing Makoni, when he was in fact going there for final consultations with the Makoni team, intelligence officials believe.
Source: New Zimbabwe