by Andrew Kunambura
ZANU-PF secretary for transport, Oppah Muchinguri, shocked members of the Politburo when she stormed out of a meeting held at the party’s national headquarters on Wednesday last week in the middle of President Robert Mugabe’s speech in which the veteran leader appeared to be dressing her down.
Muchinguri is in the middle of a storm triggered by a leaked audio tape she was recorded reportedly scheming against her political opponents in her home province of Manicaland.
Politburo sources said President Mugabe launched a thinly veiled and derisive attack on Muchinguri, going to the extent of telling her to vacate her party and government positions if she was not happy with them.
Although President Mugabe did not mention Muchinguri by name, choosing instead to have a blanket assault, sources said everyone in the meeting turned in her direction.
In an apparent reference to Muchinguri, who stands accused of trying to arm-twist youths and members of the women’s league from the province in her agenda to assert dominance, President Mugabe is reported to have strongly warned senior Politburo members in his opening remarks at the meeting against interfering in the affairs of the youth and women’s leagues.
“President Mugabe openly told members of the Politburo to leave the youths and women alone and ordered that no one should be found interfering with them,” said a senior Politburo member who cannot be named for security reasons.
“The President gave the example of a bird whereby he said that ZANU-PF is like a bird whose wings are the youth and the women’s leagues, without which it cannot fly. He warned that destroying either of the wings could ground the party,” said the Politburo member.
According to another Politburo member, President Mugabe went on to declare that he was aware of Politburo members who were going around telling people that they were not happy with the positions he allocated to them at the 6th ZANU-PF congress in December last year.
In his outburst, President Mugabe reportedly told the Politburo that the party would not hesitate to get rid of anyone guilty of fanning factionalism in the party.
He reportedly told Politburo members that no one occupied the positions on merit, but sorely on the basis of appointment.
The controversial constitutional amendments gave President Mugabe exclusive power to single-handedly handpick members of the Politburo in the same manner that he does government ministers.
“The President clearly stated that he was aware of some people who claims to have played a major role in the ouster of (former vice president, Joice) Mujuru but were not given the positions they wanted. He warned that they should learn from what happened to Mujuru and (former secretary for administration) Didymus Mutasa.”
There are reports that in the run up to the party’s December congress, Muchinguri, who was part of the most vocal group that spearheaded the ouster of Mujuru, was eyeing the powerful position of secretary for administration, but President Mugabe was to spring a surprise by handing it to Ignatius Chombo.
“The President openly told the members that anyone who was not satisfied with their positions should leave and stressed that the door was wide open for such and at that point, Muchinguri shocked everyone when she rose from her seat and stormed out of the meeting while the President was still speaking,” another Politburo member said.
The source said Muchinguri did not even ask for permission from President Mugabe, who chairs Politburo meetings, as per custom, suggesting that she was unhappy with the take on her.
“Normally when a member leaves the Politburo meeting in mid-session, he or she approaches the chair to ask for permission, but Muchinguri simply walked out in a huff, without even bothering to approach the high table,” said the Politburo member.
The official said Muchinguri stayed out for more than five hours, thereby missing the rest of the meeting, and only returned when it was winding up.
“No one knows where she was all that time. Some thought she had gone to Parliament to attend the question and answer session, but we later learnt she never went there,” the source said.
Efforts to get Muchinguri to comment on the matter were fruitless as her mobile phone numbers were not reachable while ZANU-PF spokesman, Simon Khaya- Moyo was said to be out of the country on government business.