President Robert Mugabe has fired warning shots at one of his most trusted lieutenants- John Nkomo.
Though political observers say Mugabe’s sentiments at the 66th ordinary session of his party’s central committee at which he blasted senior officials in the party for abusing their authority to amass wealthy and property, were general and were directed at the entire party leadership, those in Bulawayo believe they were directed at Speaker of Parliament and party chairman John Nkomo.
Nkomo has been involved in a wrangle with local businessman and farmer Langton Masunda over a farm in Gwayi which includes Jijima Lodge.
Masunda was allocated the 611-hectare farm in 2002 but the offer letter was withdrawn by Lands Minister Didymus Mutasa last month. High Court Judge Francis Bere, however, set aside the minister’s decision on July 7. Mutasa conceded on July 13 that he had wrongfully withdrawn Masunda’s offer letter because he had not followed the right procedure.
Nkomo had been trying to muscle his way in using his political rank, but Masunda stood his ground. Sources say Masunda was backed by Nkomo’s political opponents who were also benefiting from the thriving safari industry in the area.
Nkomo is the fourth highest ranking official in ZANU-PF after President Mugabe and his two deputies, Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru. Nkomo has been accused of using his political position to intimidate his opponents and to acquire some running business concerns.
He, however, seemed to have hit a brick wall when his path crossed that of his juniors who are jostling for the succession of Joseph Msika as vice-president. Msika has been ill for some time and under the unity accord of 1987, one of the posts of vice-president must go to a former ZAPU official, should he step down.
Nkomo was at one time the frontrunner with Dumiso Dabengwa earmarked for the post of national chairman. But this plan was later scuttled after Msika allegedly changed his mind saying Dabengwa should become vice-president as Nkomo was too close to Mugabe.
Nkomo and Midlands governor Cephas Msipa were the only two ZAPU ministers retained in Mugabe’s government in the early 1980s when ZAPU officials were kicked out of the government of national unity following the alleged discovery of arms caches at farms that belonged to ZAPU.
Masunda’s neighbours were allegedly opposed to Nkomo’s entry because they were afraid he would not pass on business to them as Masunda was allegedly doing at the moment.
The battle to succeed Msika is understood to now include Industry and International Trade Minister Obert Mpofu. Msika says his post is not yet up for grabs.
Political observers said it was too early to rule Nkomo out because Mugabe’s sentiments were general.
“I did not follow the debate closely but I believe the President’s sentiments were aimed at the general leadership,” political commentator Lawton Hikwa said.
John Makumbe said though Nkomo was one of the targets, Mugabe could have also been addressing people like Joseph Made and Didymus Mutasa because they were also involved, especially in the Kondozi saga.
The government took over Kondozi farm, a leading horticultural project, from TZI, a listed company, and the farm has since been looted of vital equipment.
“Nkomo is too close to Mugabe. So I don’t think this will spoil his chances of rising to vice-president,” Makumbe said. “Besides, Mugabe’s bark does not have bite anymore. He just talks but does nothing.”