Zimbabwe's former vice president Joice Mujuru
Zimbabwe's former vice president Joice Mujuru addresses supporters in Harare on 1 March. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Former Vice President and leader of the opposition party Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF), Joice Mujuru, was banned from attending a church meeting in Chinhoyi after local media reported security agents suspected the leader could use the event for campaign purposes.

Once a powerful ally of President Robert Mugabe, Mujuru was sacked by the ruling ZANU-PF party in 2014, after accusations emerged that she was plotting to kill the president, a move many described as orchestrated by First Lady Grace Mugabe.

Described as a reformist, Mujuru is now seen as a true contender for leadership in the forthcoming 2018 elections, while commentators have highlighted how her 10-year stint as Mugabe's deputy enabled her to cultivate a strong support base within the party.

On 26 April, "suspected" Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) agents cancelled a scheduled inter-denominational women's meeting at the Anglican Church's St Paul's Parish at Gadzema Township that Mujuru was expected to attend. Before the leader arrived around midday, the CIO agents allegedly ordered the leaders of various churches who had assembled outside the church to disperse, according to NewsDay newspaper.

When Mujuru arrived, the local media reported that, "she found the venue gates locked, while a few party members were still milling around to welcome her".

Incident is 'act of desperation by the Zanu PF regime'

A spokesman for ZimPF, Rugare Gumbo, on 27 Apriln said the move was "undemocratic" and "an act of desperation by the Zanu PF regime".

"It is most unfortunate that CIO operatives stopped the interdenominational meeting. We don't expect this to happen in a democratic Zimbabwe. It violates the Constitution, the rights of the people as well as the churches. It is a violation of the Constitution to disrupt religious organisations from carrying out their functions," Gumbo stated.

Quoting an unnamed female witness, NewsDay also described how a known intelligence operative had threatened to harm the women if they remained defiant. She said the security agent also ordered them "not to entertain Mujuru and her Western puppets".

The ZimPF party has had several of its gatherings and campaign rallies disrupted by alleged Zanu PF supporters.