The friction between Mugabe and Mujuru came as it emerged that it was impossible to hold elections this year, with the Constitutional Commission and election experts reportedly telling the government the earliest realistic time for elections was March next year.
Mugabe announced at the Zanu-PF conference in Mutare in December that Zimbabwe would hold elections as soon as the Global Political Agreement (GPA) expired – that was due at the end of last year – a view which suggested polls could be held in March.
But Mujuru differed with her boss at the same conference, calling on Zanu-PF to ensure that the constitutional process was first completed before elections could be held. It is the view shared by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the guarantor of the GPA.
But a few days after Mugabe returned from the conference, he appeared to back down at a joint news conference with fellow principals in the inclusive government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara. They announced elections would be held only after the constitutional process was completed.
Zanu-PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa added to the confusion in Zanu-PF about the elections on Friday and told the Sunday Times as far as Zanu-PF was concerned, elections would "be held soon".
"All of us in Zanu-PF will go with the view of the president. What President Mugabe says goes, no matter what other people may say. If the president says we go for elections tomorrow, then that is it. If he comes today and says we have to postpone, then we go by that.
"President Mugabe said at the conference that we will go for elections. We are a disciplined party and that is what we are going to follow. We have not been told otherwise and we will not listen to anybody else," Mutasa said.
Zanu-PF insiders told the Sunday Times Mujuru wanted the life of the inclusive government prolonged so that her chances of succeeding Mugabe would be stronger, given the divisions in Zanu-PF on Mugabe’s successor.
Mujuru hopes that if Mugabe stays on, he may be incapacitated while in power due to old age. Also, constitutionally the president will be elected in parliament, where she has reportedly made strategic alliances with MDC MPs.
To date Mujuru has officiated at two different business forums in which the business community called on the inclusive government to abort the idea of elections this year.
This has been interpreted in Zanu-PF as an attempt by Mujuru to openly fight Mugabe.
Last month Mugabe clashed with Mujuru, accusing her of siding with Finance Minister Tendai Biti in a failed attempt to grab the Zimbabwean president’s exchange control powers. And two months ago, Mujuru angered Zanu-PF hardliners when she publicly confessed that the party militia went on a violent rampage and that hundreds of MDC supporters were killed and thousands injured during the post-March 2008 election period.
A Zanu-PF insider said some members of the militia – which included top officials in the military and police – had approached Mugabe and complained that Mujuru was exposing them.
The insider said due to her stance, Mujuru had gained both admirers and enemies in Zanu-PF.
"Most Zanu-PF people, especially those in the security forces, are angry with Mujuru and have complained to Mugabe. But if the truth is to be told, she is the only one who is knocking some sense into Mugabe, as the rest are just bootlickers with nothing to offer. Mugabe is being pushed by hardliners – not that he is confident of winning," the insider said.
"Mujuru realises that an early free-and-fair election will see Zanu-PF being completely beaten. She is aware that Zanu-PF wants to use violence, but this does not work given the African Union and Ecowas’ stance on Laurent Gbagbo (of the Ivory Coast). That is why she is speaking against perpetrators of violence in Zanu-PF. The fact is that Zanu-PF is in disarray over the elections – they do not really know what to do because there are so many factors against them. There is confusion. Today President Mugabe says we are going for elections, tomorrow he says not now – at the same time Mujuru will be going in the other direction.
"The problem with Zanu-PF is that at conferences officials just go to rubber-stamp what the president says – and no one argues, except of course Mujuru, who openly questioned the rationale behind rushing for elections," the insider said.
MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the confusion in Zanu-PF emanates from Mugabe’s party being aware it would not win elections and that the road map was not yet ready.
"They have realised that we need credible elections, which guarantee legitimacy. It takes a fool to make a mistake twice. I am glad our colleagues are refusing to become fools," he said.