Zanu-PF succession battle: Mugabe still the wild card

The protracted battle for the control of Zanu-PF and ultimately who will succeed President Robert Mugabe, who has led the party since 1977, may be decided at the party’s congress in December.

But, although two main ­factions are jostling for position – one led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the other by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa – political analysts have warned that the one that wins the most posts will not necessarily be assured of ­taking power.

Although Mugabe (90) is expected to be elected unopposed, all other posts, including the very important presidium positions, will be hotly contested by the factions, which are seeking to position themselves for eventual takeover.

Mugabe’s home province of Mashonaland West has already endorsed him for the December congress.

There is a strong belief in the party that Mugabe will not be able to stand in the 2018 elections because of old age and ill health, and so the ­factions want to ensure that they are strategically placed to step in.

Mujuru vs Muchinguri
Zanu-PF officials and political analysts concur that this year’s congress is likely to be critical in determining succession in Zanu-PF but say there are no guarantees.

Mujuru, according to Zanu-PF insiders, is likely to be challenged by the leader of the women’s league, Oppah Muchinguri, for the second time. Muchinguri, a strong ally of Mnangagwa, unsuccessfully tried to topple Mujuru at the party’s last congress in 2009.

Oppah Muchinguri is likely to challenge Joice Mujuru again for the position of vice-president. (Aaron Ufumeli)

But the officials said Mujuru is likely to retain her post because her faction has seized control of most of the party’s provinces and vital organisations, such as the politburo and central committee.

The Mujuru faction won control of nine of the 10 provinces in provincial elections last year, placing it in a powerful position.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said this week that, although all positions would be up for grabs, it was too early to tell who would contest them because the politburo and the central committee have yet to meet to establish rules and procedures for nominations.

“People can speculate and do whatever they want, it’s part of democracy, but it’s too early to comment on who will stand because even the rules have not been set.

“As long as there is no violence, disturbances and division, I’m sure people can do whatever they want [in terms of campaigning] before the congress,” he said.

Zanu-PF officials said another Mujuru ally, the party’s national chairperson, Simon Khaya Moyo, is likely to be elevated to the second vice-presidency, although Phelekezela Mphoko, a former ambassador to South Africa and one-time Zipra commander, is also campaigning for the position.

But, with Mujuru’s backing, Moyo is likely to land the post. He also has the advantage of already being in the presidium and Zanu-PF’s politburo, whereas Mphoko is a low-ranking party member, although he played a prominent role during the liberation war.

National chairperson post
A huge battle is expected for the important position of national chairperson, which is being eyed by the secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, and Mnangagwa.

Sources in Mnangagwa’s faction say that, although he is weighing up his options, he is desperate to get into the presidium and launch his bid for the presidency from there.

Both Mutasa and Mnangagwa have both tried for the position of chairperson before and lost out. Mnangagwa challenged the late vice-president John Nkomo for the position at the 1999 congress and Mutasa lost to Moyo at the 2009 congress.

But Mnangagwa’s and Mutasa’s bids to land the position have unsettled some former Zapu officials, who joined Zanu-PF after the 1987 Unity Accord that brought the two parties together.

The officials believe the position should be held by one of their own because of an unwritten code to ensure the balance of power between the two parties. The accord ended the conflict over the Gukurahundi massacres, during which an estimated 20 000 people, mostly from Matabeleland and the Midlands region, were butchered by the Fifth Brigade.

Since then, one of the vice-presidencies and the position of national chairperson have been traditionally held by a former Zapu official.

“The late vice-president Joseph Msika was the first national chairman after the Unity Accord and, when he was elevated to the vice-presidency after Joshua Nkomo’s death in 1999, John Nkomo took over the post, despite interest from Mnangagwa,” a former Zapu official said.

“Nkomo in turn took the vice-presidency after Msika’s death in 2009, leading to the elevation of Moyo to be the national chair.

“Now that Moyo is likely to be elevated to the vice-presidency, we expect the national chair’s post to be taken by an ex-Zapu official, although our counterparts are eager to break the convention.”

The chairperson presides over the powerful national people’s congress and its extraordinary session, the national people’s conference. He or she also presides over the extraordinary session, the national consultative assembly, the women’s and youth leagues’ national conferences and the national disciplinary committee.

The national people’s congress is the supreme policy-making body of Zanu-PF. It is responsible for electing the president, the two vice-presidents and members of the central committee.

Women’s and youth leagues’ congresses
But, before the main congress, Zanu-PF will first hold congresses in August for its women’s and youth leagues. They are likely to be used as a barometer to measure the factions’ popularity before the congress.

Muchinguri is likely to be challenged by Olivia Muchena for the position of women’s league chairperson. If Muchinguri loses out, it will signal that she has no chance of landing a vice-presidency.

A University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said that, although the congress is probably the most important in a long time, it is not a given that the faction that gains the most posts will take over from Mugabe. The next national elections were in 2018 and much could happen between December and then.

“Theoretically, it’s a make-or-break congress,” Masunungure said. “It’s crucial … but, at the practical level, we should not expect too many challenges. The president will not be challenged and we expect no change there, except if he decides not to contest, which is very unlikely.

“Mujuru will most probably retain her post and Moyo is likely to get the other vice-president’s position. The interesting battle will be for the national chairperson and changes in the central committee and politburo.”

Mugabe’s influence
Masunungure said that, although the faction that wins will be at an advantage, Mugabe still has the potential to influence Zanu-PF’s succession race.

“Politics is very fluid and there is a possibility that Mugabe may have his own nominee and he will send coded signals to the party structures to let them know who he prefers.

“He has already indicated that there are some people that he has considered, and he may as well start letting his feelings be known after congress,” Masunungure said.

Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo also said Mugabe’s influence may be critical, regardless of the outcome of the congress.

“He has a young family so he wants to continue in power to protect his family’s interests. There has been talk of the Mnangagwa and the Mujuru factions, but Zanu-PF is heavily divided and Mugabe is likely to support and strengthen a third faction so that he has a say on who eventually takes over,” Nkomo said. “Mugabe is still key in determining the succession race.”

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