SHE already has brains, wealth and the ear of the president. Now a little-known former woman guerrilla-leader with the chilling nickname of ‘Spillblood’ is laying plans to become Zimbabwe’s first female head of state.
When she was a teenager in 1974, Joyce Mujuru told her mother that she was leaving home to join Robert Mugabe’s fight for freedom in the then white-ruled Rhodesia.
She said to her startled parent: “I want to be called Spillblood because my ambition is to spill as much white blood as I can.”
During the war against Ian Smith’s white-officered army and air force she proudly boasted of taking an AK47 from a dying black soldier and shooting a Rhodesian Air Force helicopter out of the sky.
“A helicopter saw me,” she recalled. “I lay on my back, aimed and fired. Bullets hit the machine and it fell out of the sky. There was black smoke everywhere as it hit the ground. A big bang followed.”
A big bang and later lots of fame and money for the ruling party stalwart who joined Mugabe’s first Cabinet in April 1980, though she could then hardly speak a word of English.
After being anointed one of Mugabe’s two vice-presidents at the ruling party’s annual congress yesterday, the 49-year-old will be in a strong position to take over as national leader after the death, retirement or downfall of her mentor.
“Spillblood is one of our most wonderful women,” Zimbabwe’s first vice-president, Simon Muzenda, used to tell British journalists in Harare before his death last year.
And Spillblood now sees herself as Zimbabwe’s first woman head of state. So does her wealthy and influential husband, Solomon Mujuru, who white soldiers tried to capture and kill when he was head of Mugabe’s ‘terrorist’ forces during the Rhodesian War (1972-1979) which cost at least 32,000 African lives.
In those days he was known as Rex Nhongo. Soon after Independence, he told a group of fellow tribesmen at the plush Harare Club: “I didn’t fight the liberation war to end up a poor man.”
Today, he’s one of Zimbabwe’s wealthiest black farmers after buying up a large percentage of the country’s once grain-rich provinces close to the capital city.
He and Spillblood have five children, all of them educated in England. Both are on UN/EU/UK sanctions lists. Neither is allowed into Britain, not even for shopping at Harrods.
Comrade Spillblood tells friends in Harare that she is determined to serve her country to the best of her abilities and few doubt her hunger for supreme power.
A senior Zimbabwean journalist said that with the vice-presidency secured, it was almost certain she would become Mugabe’s number two after next March’s elections. The other vice president will be 81-year-old Joseph Msika, who says he also intends to leave politics when Mugabe retires in 2008, clearing Mujuru’s route to the presidency.
Mujuru has the backing of an influential lobby. Powerful women’s leaders told Mugabe last week that if he wanted their support at the elections he must appoint a woman with a sound guerrilla war background who had become associated with government.
Mujuru already enjoys the trappings of power. Comrade Spillblood owns several farms, sits in the back of a chauffeur driven Mercedes-Benz and takes her holidays in Cape Town with her husband, still known to millions of people as “the general”.
But she also poses as a champion of the poor. “She likes to see herself as Zimbabwe’s answer to Winnie Mandela,” says Sikota Chiume of the now dwindling opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
“My war experience changed my entire life,” Mujuru has said. “I became very, very strong and learned to make decisions and not to wait for men to decide everything.”
She tells male MPs who insist a woman will never lead Zimbabwe, that while they were at home by the fire in Rhodesia she was busy killing white soldiers in the African bush.
When Mugabe ordered the occupation of more than 4,000 white-owned farms in 2000, Comrade Spillblood advised Mugabe supporters to go out and return with the blood-soaked T-shirts of not only whites but any blacks who wanted them to stay on the land.
At last week’s congress Mugabe, once again, underlined his awesome strength by presenting himself, Msika and Spillblood as the country’s three candidates for national leadership.
Political observers point out that all three are from the same small ethnic branch of the majority Shona tribe—the Zezurus. Tribalism is known throughout Africa as “the wasting disease”.
Like HIV and Aids, it is biting hard in Zimbabwe where national leaders from other ethnic groups, including the powerful Karangas and Ndebeles, are being sidelined as Africa’s most ambitious octogenarian dictator goes for yet another three years of power.
The row over the England cricket tour, which went ahead last week only after Mugabe allowed in the media organisations he had previously banned in another display of political muscle, was a distraction from the cathartic events that preceded the assembly.
While most of the world counted runs, 81-year-old Mugabe stepped up an already advanced campaign to win—by fair meals or foul—next year’s general election.
He suspended six ruling provincial chairman of the ruling party Zanu (PF) for daring to oppose his approval of Comrade Spillblood as one of the country’s two vice-presidents.
He also indicated that the man who once seemed almost certain to take over from him when he retires from politics, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Speaker of the Parliament, was now out of the race for the presidency.
To further bolster his power, the President approved legislation that will make it a criminal offence, with a possible sentence of 20 years in jail, to “make a falsehood” about Mugabe, the police or the army or to criticise Mugabe in a private letter or e-mail.
Ian Coltart, legal adviser to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: “This is the most fascist legislation we have ever seen—worse than anything done by Ian Smith when he ran Rhodesia.”