The two leaders have been slugging it out since 2002 – and they will be at it again come the elections in 2018.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” That famous saying rings true for Zimbabwe’s politics.
After battling it out in the national polls last year, long-time rivals Zanu-PF’s President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai will turn to their respective political parties at the end of the year to secure a new mandate to lead. If they succeed, which is a foregone conclusion barring their deaths or incapacitating injury, they will go head to head once again when they contest the 2018 election.
Both parties are set to hold elective congresses in the last quarter of this year and there is little expectation of any major upsets in the upper leadership echelons of either parties.
With no sign that he will use the coming congress to choose a successor, Mugabe is expected to sail through unopposed. On several occasions this year, the nonagenarian leader has voiced his growing intolerance for those lobbying to take over from him and has questioned why jostling for the presidency should take place when he is still alive.
Rashweat Mukundu, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said there was “nothing new” to be expected from the two congresses. Mugabe and Tsvangirai would seek to tighten their grip on their respective parties.
“While there is an incipient power struggle in Zanu-PF this will only affect the central committee and politburo members while the top leadership will remain unscathed,” said Mukundu.
Political commentator Allen Hungwe said the likely elevation of Simon Khaya Moyo to the vacant second vice-presidency would create the major fireworks at the December congress, as that would leave the national chairman post that Moyo currently occupies vacant.
“Let us not forget that there is already disquiet in Zanu-PF on whether the second vice-presidency should continue to be given to former Zapu members as has been done in the past, so we may see battles intensify around that in the months ahead,” said Hungwe.
The MDC on the other hand has also been kept on its toes as it prepares for its October congress, at which Tsvangirai is likely to seek a fourth term in office.
Its congress was brought forward from the initial 2016 date following the fallout between Tsvangirai and his former right-hand man, party secretary general Tendai Biti.
Unlike Zanu-PF, which has largely managed to keep the lid on its leadership wrangles, the fissures in the MDC have often degenerated into violent skirmishes and taunting between factions.
In its bid to weed out any unpleasant surprises ahead of the congress, Tsvangirai’s allies have embarked on a restructuring programme that is set to shake up the party’s rank and file at its cell, district, provincial and national levels.
MDC organising secretary Nelson Chamisa told the Mail & Guardian this week that the party would only go to congress with people with a “proven track record of loyalty and unquestionable service”.
“We are close to getting to our goal of democratising Zimbabwe and we need to have the right people on this journey,” he said.
Party insiders suggest that Tsvangirai is mulling either the abolition or dilution of the powerful position of secretary general, held by two of his former colleagues, Biti and Welshman Ncube. Both unsuccessfully tried to topple him in the past – and both left to form their own alternative minnow parties.