Lady is not for turning: Chigumba defiance stuns Mnangagwa

HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa reportedly told Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) boss Justice Priscilla Chigumba that “clearly we are no longer together” after her determined refusal to make further amendments to the final delimitation report she submitted on February 3.

Chigumba met Mnangagwa at State House on Monday morning after the Zanu PF leader missed Friday’s deadline to publish the report in the Government Gazette.

The latest meeting followed another held on February 13 when Mnangagwa, who was still hoping to secure amendments to the final delimitation report, is understood to have handed the ZEC boss further comments.

Mnangagwa and his supporters are reportedly unhappy that ZEC did not make any significant changes to the final report even after getting comments from parliament and the president. The preliminary report was criticised for using the wrong formula for fixing ward and constituency voter populations, but Mnangagwa loyalists claimed gerrymandering by ZEC – allegedly in cahoots with vice president Constantino Chiwenga – to hand more seats to the opposition and deny him a two thirds majority with which he can amend the constitution to scrap term limits.

A source briefed on the discussions told ZimLive: “Mnangagwa asked Chigumba if she had brought the final report. With a hint that she was ready to resign if required, she insisted that she was not prepared to change what she said on February 3 when she told Mnangagwa and reporters outside State House that she had presented her final report.

“The president was taken aback and told her something like ‘clearly we’re no longer together’. And the meeting ended not long after.”

Mnangagwa, sources said, then met with justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and justice secretary Virginia Mabhiza and told them to immediately gazette the delimitation report without fail. Ziyambi and Mabhiza – acting in concert with seven ZEC commissioners who have denounced the delimitation report – have been leading the resistance against its use in elections now expected in late August.

“Ziyambi told the president that he was ‘throwing them under the bus,’ but Mnangagwa let them know it was done and they should move on,” the person said, asking not to be named.

Central Intelligence Organisation boss Isaac Moyo, said to be one of Chigumba’s backers, reportedly attended the meetings.

From the meeting with Mnangagwa, the officials – including Chigumba – presented at Chiwenga’s office where the vice president reportedly asked them to smoke a peace pipe.

At this meeting, Chigumba reportedly demanded from Ziyambi and Mabhiza that a Zanu PF supporter – Tonderai Chidawa – should drop his Constitutional Court application, set to be heard on March 29, seeking the nullification of the delimitation process on the basis that it was the product of Chigumba and her deputy Simukai Kiwa, and not the entire ZEC, as contemplated in the constitution.

Chidawa’s court application is supported by two ZEC commissioners – Catherine Mpofu and Shepherd Shepherd Manhivi – who signed affidavits stating that they and five other commissioners Jasper Mangwana, Abigail Millicent Mohadi-Ambrose, Jane Mbetu Nzvenga, Kudzai Shava and Rosewita Murutare had not taken part in the decision to approve the preliminary delimitation report.

“Chigumba said she would resign as soon as the final report is gazetted if the court case was not withdrawn,” ZimLive heard. “She said there was no scope for working with the rebel commissioners, especially Mpofu and Manhivi, as long as their affidavits were being used to undermine her authority.”

Ziyambi, it is understood, told Chigumba that they had no control over Chidawa and their hands were tied.

Chiwenga and Moyo reportedly pleaded with her to stay and work on healing the divisions at ZEC.

Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana tweeted on Monday: “His Excellency President Mnangagwa received the Final Delimitation (Report) and has sent it for gazetting.”

He did not say when Mnangagwa received the report.

The delimitation exercise has exposed growing fissures in the ruling Zanu PF party, pitting Mnangagwa against his deputy Chiwenga.

Mnangagwa loyalists claim that ZEC redrew ward and constituency boundaries in a manner that could hand the opposition more seats, and deny Mnangagwa a two thirds majority. This was allegedly done by strategically moving voters from urban opposition hotbeds into neighbouring battleground rural seats controlled by pro-Mnangagwa MPs.

ZEC also “deleted” seven constituencies held by Mnangagwa loyalists among them ministers Felix Mhona and Mangaliso Ndlovu, and Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi.

Mnangagwa hawks led by Ziyambi and the powerful justice secretary Mabhiza have briefed the Zanu PF leader of an alleged plot to first deny him a two thirds majority in parliament, and with it the ability to amend the constitution to abolish term limits, and then to cause his removal through a process similar to impeachment in which pro-Chiwenga Zanu PF MPs will gang up with opposition Citizens Coalition for Change MPs to ensure he does not finish his second and final term, if re-elected.

Mnangagwa’s growing apprehension over possible ZEC gerrymandering triggered chaotic briefings by his aides following his meeting with Justice Chigumba on February 3. His spokesman George Charamba initially said the ZEC boss had submitted the final delimitation report, but this was countered by information ministry secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana who insisted that the report was only “preliminary.”

Charamba then changed tune, telling state media that the report submitted by ZEC was a draft of the final report – which constitutional law experts said was an attempt to abuse the process.

Justice Chigumba left no doubt she was done when she submitted her report to Mnangagwa, and briefed journalists outside State House on February 3.

“The president has a mandate to gazette the final delimitation report within 14 days of today,” she declared.

That deadline expired on February 17 as Mnangagwa held out for what he hoped would be an amended final report.

ZimLive has been briefed that Mnangagwa is irritated that ZEC has the final say on delimitation under the constitution.

The gazetting of the delimitation report on Monday means the window for general elections, if they are to be held under the new boundaries, is now between August 20 and 26.

Mnangagwa can still call an election any time from July 28, the date when parliament’s term expires, but before August 20, effectively abandoning the new ward and constituency boundaries for the old boundaries drawn in 2007 and 2008 which were used during his election in 2018. But analysts warn this would present him with a political problem even within his own party.

A constitution adopted in 2013 gives Mnangagwa a maximum two terms. Should he win in the forthcoming elections, he would enter his second and final term – unchartered territory in Zimbabwe.

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