Former Zimbabwe vice-president Joice Mujuru on Tuesday launched a new political party to challenge President Robert Mugabe in the 2018 elections.
Her Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party is composed of disaffected former ruling party officials and leading opposition figures.
“Today we confirm our existence as a viable homegrown political party,” Mrs Mujuru told a news conference in Harare. “This is a day of significance in our country’s history.”
Mrs Mujuru was fired in 2014, alongside close to 200 other ruling Zanu-PF officials, following allegations engineered by First Lady Grace Mugabe that she wanted to kill the veteran ruler through witchcraft.
ZPF is backed by veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war who are disgruntled with President Mugabe’s reluctance to relinquish power 36 years after he first came into office.
The 92-year-old leader often dismisses his opponents as puppets of the West out to reverse the country’s independence, a charge that might not stick against Ms Mujuru and her outfit.
The former VP, who was President Mugabe’s youngest Cabinet minister at independence in 1980 aged 25 and is also a war veteran, reached out to security forces at the media briefing.
“We urge all war veterans, police, army and intelligence services to defend the constitution,” she said.
President Mugabe in December complained that members of the security forces were meddling in Zanu-PF affairs as they tried to influence his succession.
However, at the weekend he mocked ZPF saying the party would soon disintegrate.“Those who came from us tried to take our name and said we are People First,” President Mugabe told his 92nd birthday celebrations in Masvingo.
“You will hear People First, People Third and People Fourth. Zanu-PF will remain Zanu-PF, very strong, no change.”
Zimbabwe’s opposition has been weakened in recent years by splits due to fights over leadership positions.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), formed in 1999, has been Zanu-PF’s strongest challenger since independence.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008 beat President Mugabe in the first round of the presidential elections but was prevented from standing in the run-off poll after tens of his supporters were killed in political violence.
After being part of a unity government with his arch-rival from 2009, Mr Tsvangirai lost dismally in the 2013 presidential elections.
Mrs Mujuru said she was yet to consider a coalition with other opposition parties ahead of the polls.