Nkomo (78) died on Thursday at St Anne's Hospital in Harare where he was receiving treatment for cancer.
Sources within the party say debate could potentially put to rest the accord signed between President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Joshua Nkomo’s PF-Zapu.
Nkomo was a member of Zapu before the party merged with Zanu-PF in 1987 under a deal that was meant to end hostilities between the two parties that resulted in the deaths of as many as 20 000 mainly Ndebele-speaking people.
According to the Unity Accord, Nkomo is supposed to be replaced in government by a former member of Zapu – in this case party national chairperson and former ambassador to South Africa, Simon Khaya Moyo.
But party sources said there are manoeuvres by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa’s faction to scuttle that arrangement and position Mines Minister Obert Mpofu as Nkomo’s successor.
Mugabe’s 'ever-obedient son'
Mpofu who, in a letter to Mugabe, described himself as President Mugabe’s “ever-obedient son”, has vowed to change Zanu-PF’s fortunes in the Matabeleland region.
“There is a view that the Unity Accord is divisive. Moreover, the contention within Zanu-PF at the moment is that their colleagues from former Zapu have no value to the current status quo since the death of Joshua Nkomo in 1999, because they have no constituency,” said a Zanu-PF politburo member aligned to Mnangagwa.
Another politburo member said: “We are now a united people and it might not be necessary to fill posts on the basis of previous party affiliations. It’s divisive and I think even the president [Mugabe] acknowledges that.”
Moyo, a former confidante to the late PF-Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo, would be well-placed to replace John Nkomo – but sources say questions are being asked about the value of former Zapu candidates to Zanu-PF, given all former PF-Zapu cadres have failed to win parliamentary seats under Zanu-PF since the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change party in 1999.
Mourning 'a comrade'
When contacted for comment, party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said it was not yet time to discuss the issue, saying they was mourning “a comrade”.
Mutasa is understood to be eyeing the chairmanship post, and would favour retaining the Unity Accord arrangement so that Moyo would create a vacancy for him.
State media were silent on Nkomo’s passing but the US Embassy was quick to offer his family its condolences saying: “Whether as a teacher, a politician, an advocate for Zimbabwe’s independence, or as a public servant, Vice-President Nkomo was a patriot who dedicated his life to Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and prosperity.”
Nkomo’s son, Jabulani confirmed his father’s death to the Mail & Guardian.
Nkomo, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s armed struggle, was appointed by President Robert Mugabe as deputy president in 2009 after serving time as Zanu-PF’s national chairperson.
Prior to that, Nkomo was a member of the ANC between 1958-59 – before he joined the National Democratic Party in Zimbabwe in 1960.
He later joined Zapu in 1961. At Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, Nkomo was voted member of parliament in Matabeleland North. He served as a member of parliament, deputy minister and minister of various departments including labour, industry and energy, as well as local government, rural development and home affairs.
According Zanu-PF's policy, a politburo meeting has to declare Nkomo a national hero – a process it carries out before someone is buried at Harare’s National Heroes Acre.