At 19, she shot down a helicopter, she married a general at 23, became the youngest female cabinet minister at 30 and rose to the country’s number two position, in 2004, next to President Robert Mugabe. This is the story of the rise, fall and possible recovery of Joice Mujuru: politician; entrepreneur; PhD holder; a woman also known by her nom-de-guerre, Teurai Ropa (spill the blood) who now wants to unseat her former comrades in arms.
“She adds excitement and momentum to an otherwise dull political terrain dominated by a ZANU-PF factionalism chaos on one side and many weak splinter comical groupings of opposition parties and pretenders on the other side,” says political economist Maxwell Saungweme.
Mujuru’s life began with rifle in hand. She went to the bush, after two years of secondary school, to train as a guerrilla fighter in Mozambique in 1973.
Mujuru, from Mount Darwin, 99 miles from Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, rose through the ranks of ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army), the military wing of liberation movement ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union). She became one of its first women commanders.
At independence, in 1980, Mugabe appointed her the youngest cabinet minister, responsible for sports, youth and recreation. He encouraged her to finish secondary school while she learned the ropes of government.
The next three decades were fulfilling and full of power. On her way to becoming the deputy president, she held a number of ministerial portfolios.
It was her time at the telecommunications portfolio that would cement her place among ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) hardliners and make enemies with moderates like the late vice president Joshua Nkomo. She tried to deny millionaire Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s richest man, an operating license for his mobile network Econet.
Many will never forgive her for questioning Nkomo’s mental faculties when he supported Masiyiwa. Masiyiwa’s Econet went on to win a court battle but it set back his company years. It left the government looking lumbering and out of touch.
There was talk of her becoming the first female president as she had the backing of her feared husband and kingmaker, General Solomon Mujuru. General Mujuru was killed in an inferno on August 15, 2011 at his Alamein Farm in Zimbabwe. Many believe he was a victim of ZANU-PF internal infighting.
It all turned sour in 2014 when Mugabe fired her. Comrades, who for years talked of her bringing down a helicopter with an AK-47 rifle, turned against her and the story. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, increasingly active in politics, called her a witch, thief, liar and undeserving of a place in ZANU-PF.
If anything, Mujuru is a fighter. She wants to unseat Mugabe with her new political party, Zimbabwe People First – the second PF party in the country. She believes someone should stop Mugabe’s quest to rule, in his own words, “until Jesus comes” and her party will seek to do just that. This move enraged Mugabe and his close associates who went on the attack.
Cabinet minister and propagandist, Professor Jonathan Moyo, who many call the loyal son Mugabe never had, has savaged Mujuru.
Moyo tweeted that, to call this ‘gamatox-trio’ (pseudonym given to the faction Mujuru allegedly led while in the ZANU-PF) a political party yet ZANU-PF expelled it in 2014 for factionalism is the joke of the year.
Mujuru was expelled with veterans Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo.
“Without the late General Mujuru’s name and without President Mugabe, Joice is politically nothing. She knows this as we do. The idea that Joice Mujuru can succeed where the inimitable Edgar Tekere [former liberation hero] failed is daydreaming,” says Moyo.
After 15 months of speculation and secret meetings, Mujuru confirmed her plans, launching a new political outfit in March.
“We confirm the existence of a viable home-grown inclusive political party. The unjust system that Zimbabwean masses fought against remains a noose around our necks as that [colonial] system. We are living under an unjust system. There is selective application of the law, one for the poor and the powerless, one for the rich and the powerful, one for opposition party supporters and one for ruling party supporters. Zimbabwe requires investor-friendly and market-driven policies to stimulate economic activity and in order to realize this to happen, one of the challenges that should be uprooted is corruption,” said Mujuru launching her party.
Saungweme concedes Mujuru represents change.
“She represents hope to many, and her seeming rebellion from ZANU-PF portrays her as a strong woman capable of changing things. However, an apple does not fall far from the tree. She is ZANU-PF at heart. Her veins have ZANU-PF blood. She is likely to act and behave in the manner ZANU-PF does.”
The country’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, welcomed Mujuru to the opposition ranks.
“Our political adversary is the faction-ridden ZANU-PF party that has ruined Zimbabwe’s economy through decades of unparalleled misgovernance, thievery and rampant corruption,” says MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu.
Mujuru’s newfound human rights rhetoric doesn’t convince everyone, especially those who suffered on her watch. This might see her party struggling as Western donors might see her as a recycled ZANU-PF leader and spoiler.
Tafadzwa Musekiwa is one of the exiled former MDC legislators. He left Zimbabwe after his life came under threat from Mugabe’s regime. He believes Mujuru is no different to her former boss.
“This Mujuru praising nonsense must just stop. I witnessed the worst violence in Mt Darwin [a region where Mujuru comes from], the violence that completely changed how I view violence and violent people. For anyone to tell me Joice is their choice is exactly the same as saying ZANU-PF is their preferred party,” said Musekiwa on his Facebook wall.
Nqobani Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean journalist, says Mujuru’s 34 years in ZANU-PF is a stain that can’t be removed.
“Shaking off her ‘dark’ past with ZANU-PF and proving to the electorate that she truly is a social democrat will make or break her,” he says.
Whatever happens, Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections will be a thriller and will certainly make history. Mujuru could be Zimbabwe’s first female president; Tsvangirai could become the first Zimbabwean opposition leader to unseat Mugabe; and for the man himself, Mugabe, he could become the first 94-year-old to win an election.