DEFENCE minister Sydney Sekeramayi’s name is featuring prominently among those who believe a compromise candidate to eventually succeed President Robert Mugabe should be identified to avoid a potential split, as the intensifying succession struggle threatens to tear Zanu PF apart ahead of a crucial congress in December.
The acrimonious succession battle, largely fought covertly, is worrying a section of the military and some party officials who now believe it may be better if the reins of the party are not taken by one of the leading factional leaders, Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, when Mugabe finally leaves office.
Just as the military was discussing possible scenarios ahead of the general elections last year, some military figures are now discussing scenarios in the post-Mugabe era in the wake of continued infighting in the party which has occasionally played out in the state media, which Mugabe recently alleged is being used to divide the party.
Sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that although the military did not want to publicly wade into the succession row, a number of party officials are becoming increasingly restless as cracks in Zanu PF continue to widen.
“The feeling is that it may be in the best interests of the party if neither of the two frontrunners lands the top post. Another person with experience and capacity to mend bridges may be necessary considering how torn apart the party is,” said a high-ranking party source.
“There is a possibility that the party may split if one of the factions assumes power. A neutral and level headed candidate, if one can be found, would be the best to take over. Someone who is cool, calm and collected like Sekeramayi could be a good choice and that’s what a number of people are pushing for. His name has been on the lips of many people.
“Essentially, people are discussing the possibility of having a compromise candidate who has been in the struggle for a long time and understands security matters and Sekeramayi’s name is top of the list.”
Sekeramayi is one of the four individuals from Zimbabwe’s first cabinet after Independence alongside Mugabe, Mujuru and Mnangagwa who are still serving. He was appointed Lands minister in the first cabinet.
The other member Dzingai Mutumbuka, Zimbabwe’s first Education and Culture minister at Independence, is no longer politically active.
Sekeramayi has mostly been in charge of Defence ministries including the Ministry of Defence and State Security.
He was Minister of State for National Security between 1984 and 1988.
From 2001 to 2009 he was the Minister of Defence. He moved to the Ministry of State Security during the inclusive government era (2009 and 2013). After elections last year he was appointed Defence minister.
His knowledge in security matters has been one of the key reasons he is touted as a replacement.
Zanu PF officials said although Mugabe has kept his preferred candidate close to his chest, there are indications he also favours a compromise candidate.
“Just go back to what the President said in his 90th birthday interview. What he said about Mujuru and Mnangagwa is very relevant and he should be taken seriously,” said a Zanu PF official.
In an interview to mark his birthday, Mugabe blasted Mujuru and Mnangagwa for dividing the party and said the two should be ashamed of their actions. He also blasted senior party officials for promoting regionalism and tribalism by imposing themselves as provincial godfathers ahead of the party’s provincial chairpersons.
Commenting on factional leaders Mugabe said it was “terrible even to have your name mentioned as leader of a faction. It is shameful”.
In April while addressing members of the Gushungo clan at Murombedzi Growth Point Mugabe again tore into Mujuru and Mnangagwa saying the two would not automatically take over from him, while also revealing he was not ready to relinquish the presidency.
“I am saying this because in many provinces we hear of divisions along factional lines. It is said Mai Mujuru and Minister Mnangagwa are aspiring for the presidency… people will choose whoever they want. It’s not only these two who can succeed me. The day I retire the people can choose any other leader they think is the best candidate.”
Mugabe also sent tongues wagging when he told Ghanaian-born British film-maker Roy Agyemang in a BBC documentary dubbed Robert Mugabe @ 90, that he had thought about potential successors although he had not made a choice and preferred to leave it to the people.
“I have people in mind who would want to be,” said Mugabe. “But I have looked at them. I have not come to any conclusion as to which one, really, should be. I leave it to the choice of the people.”
Succession fights have been a feature of Zanu PF for a long time although the battles have intensified over the years as Mugabe grows older. At 90 he is Africa’s oldest executive President.
Factional fights manifested themselves in the party’s primary elections and provincial elections last year and the ongoing batle to control the Information ministry, which members of the Mujuru faction believe Information minister Jonathan Moyo has been using to destroy the party from within.