Mugabe faces new threat as party militants stage revolt

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's ruling party is on the verge of disintegrating after party militants invaded its headquarters in Harare to protest at Robert Mugabe's autocratic style.

Zimbabwe's ruling party is on the verge of disintegrating after party militants invaded its headquarters in Harare to protest at Robert Mugabe's autocratic style.

President Mugabe, who had just started a month-long holiday in Malaysia, is expected to cut his break short and return to Harare on Saturday to save his party from collapsing ahead of elections in March.

The 81-year-old leader got a spoonful of his own medicine when the angry supporters invaded his head office, as they have invaded thousands of white farms, and briefly held his ruling Zanu PF's political commissar hostage to protest at a purging of officials opposed to Mr Mugabe's autocratic style.

The supporters blocked the main entrance and barred the commissar, Elliot Manyika, a close Mugabe confidante, from leaving the premises. They wanted him to explain why the party was imposing candidates for parliamentary elections in March on the rank and file and purging those disagreeing with Mr Mugabe over his successor.

Eyewitnesses said the demonstrators expressed outrage at Mr Mugabe's purge ahead of primary elections next week to choose election candidates. Many potential candidates have been struck from the candidates list on the grounds that Zanu PF wanted to give female candidates a greater chance. Ironically, most of the invaders were women from the party's influential women's league who believe that Mr Mugabe is merely using the need to promote women as a trump card to impose his will on the party.

"Many of the protesters think what is happening is not in the interests of stability of the party," said a junior Zanu PF official interviewed by telephone from party headquarters. "They think the imposition of candidates at the expense of others for whatever outcome will do more harm than good. The argument for empowering women is being seen by some just as a pretext for settling scores."

The party members struck from the list include six senior provincial chairmen who angered Mr Mugabe for plotting against the election of Joyce Mujuru as vice-president to replace the late Simon Muzenda. Among the plotters were the disgraced ministers Patrick Chinamasa, July Moyo and Jonathan Moyo, who have all been dropped from the top structures of Zanu PF and struck off from the candidates to contest elections in March.

Even Mr Mugabe's close crony, the semi-literate Joseph Chinotimba, who led the destructive invasions of white farms that have ruined Zimbabwe's agriculture, has been banned from contesting the March poll after he angered the leader by backing the rival candidate, speaker of parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Ms Mujuru is now firmly on course to replace Mr Mugabe when he retires in 2008.

It is the first time that Mr Mugabe and his supporters have quarrelled in public throughout the 41-year history of his party. It is now feared that Mr Mugabe, never afraid of spilling innocent blood to protect his power base, will unleash the army and police against opponents, even those from within his party, when he returns at the weekend.

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