Zimbabwe's embattled Minister of Local Government Saviour Kasukuwere, who is also the ruling Zanu-PF party's political commissar, has denied allegations that he is plotting to topple President Robert Mugabe, 93.
Speaking during an interview with News24, Kasukuwere said that those pushing for his expulsion from Zanu-PF were the ones pushing for the nonagenarian's ouster.
Most of Zanu-PF's provincial structures recently petitioned Mugabe, calling for Kasukuwere's ouster. They accused him of setting up parallel structures within the party, with a view to ascend to the presidency of the party and the country.
Zanu-PF was divided into two distinct factions that sought to outwit each other in the battle to succeed the veteran leader. Mugabe has failed to groom a successor in his 37 years in power.
One of the camps, calling itself Team Lacoste, was linked to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa while another faction made up of Young Turks, going by the name Generation 40 (G40), was reportedly linked to first lady Grace Mugabe. G40 was said to be seeking to torpedo Mnangagwa's presidential ambitions.
'That is madness'
But Mnangagwa and the first lady have both publicly denied harbouring presidential ambitions.
Kasukuwere said he was a Mugabe loyalist, adding that it was "madness" for anyone to think that he was pushing for an extraordinary congress before next year's presidential polls for him to take over from Mugabe.
"That is madness, we have already endorsed President Mugabe as our presidential candidate for 2018 and I am 100% behind his candidature," said Kasukuwere.
"Our party is guided by rules and principles and one cannot just wake up and be president of the party."
Some Zanu-PF supporters have held demonstrations across the country in recent weeks, calling on Mugabe to wield the axe on Kasukuwere. They called on the president to relieve him of his ministerial duties.
But Mugabe advised his party members to follow in-house procedures if they were not happy about any official in the party.
"Those that are accusing me of trying to take over from the president are the ones who have that hidden agenda [of toppling Mugabe], not me. I am very loyal to our president and my preoccupation is mobilising people to vote for President Mugabe in 2018," said Kasukuwere.
"Anything else is sheer madness and we should not waste time on this madness being created by people with hidden agendas".
Meanwhile, Zanu-PF legislator for Gokwe-Nembudziya, Mayor Justice Wadyajena, who was reportedly aligned with Team Lacoste, said Kasukuwere was indeed plotting to oust Mugabe.
"This first came from Kasukuwere's home province [Mashonaland Central] and it's bound to be true. Why would those people in his home area lie. It's true he wants to take over from the president and we know that is his [Kasukuwere's] hidden agenda," said Wadyajena.
Mugabe recently dispatched a four-member delegation to Mashonaland Central Province led by parliamentary Speaker Jacob Mudenda to probe Kasukuwere, but the findings of those investigations were yet to be released. Mudenda refused to comment on the findings, saying he did not want to pre-empt the report.
'We celebrate Mugabe'
Following the probe team's visit to Bindura, Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs Minister Martin Dinha told The Sunday Mail newspaper that he had presented to the probe team that Kasukuwere had formed an alliance with Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa. Dinha alleged that Kasukuwere and Malema wanted to oust the leaders of both Zimbabwe and South Africa.
When asked about this, Kasukuwere said this was "madness".
Malema is on record calling on both South African President Jacob Zuma and Mugabe to step down to pave way for fresh blood. Malema has often accused Zuma of massive corruption and Mugabe of overstaying in office. At one time, he labelled Mugabe "grandpa".
"We celebrate Mugabe. We celebrate what he has done and we will continue his legacy, but grandpa, it's enough now," Malema was quoted as saying. "You must let go and allow other people to continue that legacy."
For his part, Mugabe has told the world that he would continue at the helm of power "as long as the people of Zimbabwe want me to continue".