ZIMBABWE – Former vice president Joice Mujuru has announced the launch of a new party in a move seen as a major challenge to President Robert Mugabe.
The new party, Zimbabwe People First, is expected to shake up politics, while Mugabe’s frequent trips for medical treatment abroad have fuelled speculation that he may not be able to contest elections set for 2018.
“We are humbled by the huge amount of encouragement, enthusiasm and support shown by people from all walks of life,” Mujuru said on announcing the launch of Zimbabwe People First on Wednesday.
“We are putting all our structures in place so that, come 2018, we would be ready to participate in the elections and usher in a new political dispensation in Zimbabwe,” the 60-year-old said.
Mugabe, who turns 92 on Sunday, sacked Mujuru from the post of vice-president and purged a group of her loyalists from the government and the ruling party Zanu PF in December 2014.
Mugabe and his wife Grace accused Mujuru of plotting to kill him, but analysts said the president wanted to eliminate his most powerful rival.
Zanu PF, which has governed Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, “has derailed”, said Rugare Gumbo, a former ruling party spokesman who has joined Mujuru’s party.
“We fought for political, social and economic independence. All that is lost now.”
Critics say Mugabe’s expulsion of thousands of white farmers contributed to the economic decline of the southern African country, where more than 80 per cent of the work force are estimated to be officially unemployed.
The government is also accused of being riddled with corruption.
Zanu-PF spokesman Simon Khaya-Moyo dismissed Mujuru’s party as a “non-existent event”.
“So many (parties) have been launched before and have gone. We are still ruling. So what is new this time?” he asked.