Ministers searched at meetings

Brian Mangwende
6/24/2004 7:28:41 AM (GMT +2)

THE increasingly cryptic ZANU PF succession conundrum has taken another mysterious turn as it emerged that President Robert Mugabe now distrusts some of his lieutenants, who are now being frisked for electronic devices before politburo and Cabinet meetings.

Politburo meetings are held at ZANU PF's party headquarters in Harare while the Cabinet meets at Munhumutapa Building, also in the capital.

Reports of the searches, emanating from the ruling party's inner circle, have been widely interpreted to mean that the 80-year-old President Mugabe is increasingly getting paranoid.

The President, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, has since indicated he is seeing out his last term in office.

Impeccable sources said the move comes against the backdrop of accusations and counter-accusations by senior members of the party over the leakage of sensitive information - verbatim - to the local and regional press with a view to discrediting certain individuals whose names have been thrown up as President Mugabe's possible successors.

Suspicion has manifested itself within the party ahead of its crucial congress slated for December.

President Mugabe, an object of attacks from Western and European governments over his style of governance, recently announced what critics said amounted to a distant departure date -2008.

This was widely seen as an attempt to patch up cracks emerging within the ruling party over the emotive succession issue.

Lack of trust and cohesion, the sources said, had prompted the new developments as senior party members were now going for each other's throat by whatever means possible, including using the local and international media at a time when the government was at pains to spruce up the country's political image.

"Cabinet ministers and politburo members are now subjected to thorough searches when they go for meetings," one source said.

"The reason being that some people go for meetings with agendas different from the rest. Gadgets that record proceedings are no longer allowed because it is that information that is later published in various newspapers.

"These meetings are supposed to be confidential, but you see some very delicate information being splashed in newspapers, even abroad," the source added.

Another party insider said there was nothing amiss about not entering Cabinet meetings without electronic gadgets such as cell phones with camera facilities.

In fact, the source said, it was general practice that people were searched at the buildings in question, including senior party officials.

"It's normal for security reasons," the source said. "Unless those complaining are unaware of the security measures which have always been in place."

Contacted for comment, Minister of State for National Security in the President's Office Nicholas Goche gave a belligerent response.

"What has that got to do with you and your paper? Has anyone come to complain about that to you?" an audibly agitated Goche charged.

As this reporter continued questioning, he ducked and repeated: "I said tell me whether anyone has come to complain, tell me. I want to know whether anyone has come to complain to you. Stupid!"

Goche, who is also the Member of Parliament for Shamva, then switched off his mobile phone.

Of late, relative ruling party newcomers and the so-called "young turks" in ZANU PF and the government have clashed with the old guard over various issues without regard to party protocol and suffering no apparent reprisals.

This is reported to be bothering the rank and file of the ruling party and has at the same time raised questions as to the source of their bravado.

Political squabbles within ZANU PF have spilled into the public domain as senior party members openly attack each other in the media. Traditionally, this has been done in dark rooms at the party's headquarters.

But now the disputes between party stalwarts are being played out in the public media, a development without precedence in ZANU PF, which has long projected a fa?ade of harmony, with rifts rarely admitted over any issue.

The state's own paranoia has also heightened ahead of next year's parliamentary election and only last month, the government, through Tel*One, proposed new contracts for all Internet service providers compelling them to intercept e-mail content or report messages perceived to be politically incorrect.

This has been slammed as another desperate bid to control the flow of information in the country by a government that has enacted laws that have put two newspapers out of business.

However, the move hit a brick wall because the government had not anticipated the kind of wizardry involved in that technological sphere.