Harare – Zimbabwean former vice president Joice Mujuru launched a new political party Tuesday in a direct challenge to President Robert Mugabe’s all-powerful ZANU-PF, as speculation increases over his succession.
“Today is a historic day,” said Mujuru in announcing the launch of her Zimbabwe People First party at a press conference.
“This is a day of significance in our country’s political history.”
Mugabe, who recently turned 92, has ruled since independence in 1980 during an era marked by vote-rigging, mass emigration, accusations of human rights abuses and economic decline.
He is expected to stand again for election in 2018, but jockeying over his succession has intensified due to his advanced age and speculation about his health.
“The scourge of corruption needs to be totally uprooted,” Mujuru said. “We urge all our war veterans, police, army and intelligence services to defend the constitution.”
Mujuru, the widow of Zimbabwe’s first post-independence army general, was fired from Mugabe’s government and the ruling ZANU-PF party in December 2014.
Her ousting came after a campaign by the president’s wife Grace denigrating Mujuru and accusing her of fomenting party division and plotting to topple Mugabe.
Mujuru responded to questions about Grace’s accusations by saying: “I am now swearing before you that I am neither a witch nor an assassin.”
She enjoys some public popularity in Zimbabwe, but faces a huge task to establish her new party in the country’s tense political scene.
Mujuru, aged 60, was a guerrilla fighter during Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war before rising to become vice president in 2004.
A former ZANU-PF stalwart, she served in several cabinets under Mugabe and was seen for many years as his favoured choice of successor.