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Dabengwa to challenge Mugabe

Dumisani Muleya

SENIOR Zanu PF and opposition figures are pressing the ruling party’s politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa to step forward next week to file nomination

papers and take President Robert Mugabe head-on in the critical March elections.

The last-minute bid to rope in Dabengwa follows the failure by Zanu PF officials and opposition activists to propel another politburo member Simba Makoni to the front ranks to challenge Mugabe. This leaves Dabengwa with an outside chance of contesting the poll against Mugabe. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is seen as Mugabe’s main rival but some observers think an opportunity presents itself for Dabengwa.

The Makoni bid collapsed before it could even get off the ground largely because of poor strategy and organisation. Makoni, who could not stand the heat in the cauldron of national politics, ended up going to Mugabe  to talk himself out of trouble when it became evident the initiative was a stillbirth.

Sources said key members of the Zanu PF faction led by retired army commander Solomon Mujuru and opposition activists are now pushing for a united front of opposition forces led by Dabengwa.

It is understood that Dabengwa is interested in taking up the challenge provided there is a concrete plan on the table. Meetings to stitch up the plan have been held in Harare, Bulawayo and Johannesburg, but no agreement has yet been reached.

The sources said Dabengwa, a veteran of the liberation struggle and former Zapu intelligence chief, told those who approached him that he was not afraid of challenging Mugabe as long as there were structures to support the bid. It is said he indicated that there was a groundswell of discontent in Zanu PF and the initiative could get serious backing if properly planned.

“Dabengwa neither agreed nor refused to take up the challenge,” a source who attended one meeting with him said. “He asked questions and basically gave signs he was not afraid of Mugabe as long as there were good structures on the ground to support the plan.”

In terms of the proposal, Dabengwa would lead a united front comprising opposition and civil society groups. He would be supported by opposition leaders, including MDC leaders Tsvangirai, Gibson Sibanda and Arthur Mutambara, the sources said. Initially, there was a proposal to bring Makoni into the initiative so he could work with Dabengwa and MDC leaders.

“The organisers felt that if the issue was carefully planned, Dabengwa, Tsvangirai, Sibanda, Makoni and Mutambara could form an effective line-up to challenge Mugabe because they would bring different sorts of qualities to the team,” another source said.

“Dabengwa would bring in liberation struggle credentials and experience, Tsvangirai his popularity as the founding MDC leader and Makoni his image as a reformer. Sibanda and Mutambara would play a major supportive role.”

The sources said the planners also wanted independent MP Jonathan Moyo to feature in the line-up. Former Industry and Trade minister Nkosana Moyo, who was involved in the Makoni project, was expected to provide links to the international community. The sources said Mujuru supported the idea.

They said Dabengwa was targeted because last year he led internal defiance and criticism — including last week at a politburo meeting — of Mugabe. Dabengwa reportedly confronted Mugabe at the meeting over war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda’s activities in Zanu PF. He was supported by Mugabe’s deputy Joseph Msika and party chairman John Nkomo. After a heated debate it was agreed the Zanu PF presidium must resolve the issue.

Dabengwa tackled Mugabe at almost every politburo meeting last year. He was the leading light in pressing for Mugabe to open nominations for the party leadership at congress last December.

The sources said the plan by the Mujuru faction and its sympathisers was to field Dabengwa as a candidate against Mugabe at congress. It is said that the proposal to replace Mugabe with Dabengwa had been endorsed by the three Matabeleland provinces, Masvingo, Mashonaland East and Harare.

However, the plan fell apart after Mugabe and his supporters picked up the plot and launched a fierce counter-strategy. This is where Emmerson Mnangagwa and Jabulani Sibanda came in, it was said.

Mugabe deployed Mnangagwa to frustrate Dabengwa through technical means involving the constitution and congress agenda. Mnangagwa and Dabengwa had a near row at a politburo meeting on November 28 last year over the issue.

Dabengwa charged that Mnangagwa was manipulating the constitution to ensure Mugabe is endorsed and confirmed as party candidate in the 2008 polls without the usual nomination procedures. Zanu PF officials complained at congress Mugabe was fraudulently endorsed. This was not denied.

The sources said Sibanda was unleashed onto the streets with his solidarity marches for Mugabe to block the Dabengwa group. At every meeting he addressed Sibanda made veiled attacks on Dabengwa and his group.

At the first meeting in Harare, Sibanda and his followers chased away Dabengwa and Mujuru from Zanu PF HQ. After that the two boycotted all the Sibanda-led marches.

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