JUST five months after the controversial Zanu PF congress and contrary to assertions by the party hierarchy that factionalism would be extinguished following the removal and subsequent expulsion of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and her top allies, fissures are deepening within the party due to swirling speculation President Robert Mugabe will for health or old age reasons fail to complete his term or resign before his tenure expires.
It is now patently clear factionalism is deeply rooted in Zanu PF at all levels as a result of succession manoeuvres spawned by the perennial question of who will succeed Mugabe which remains unanswered.
While the 2014 congress succeeded in getting rid of Mujuru as Mugabe’s deputy in the party and government, along with ministers and other high-ranking politicians aligned to her through suspensions and expulsions, it did not address the root cause of factionalism — the unresolved succession conundrum.
Mujuru’s ouster was sealed in dramatic fashion after she was subjected to a vicious and sustained public attack bordering on character assassination by First Lady Grace Mugabe and her supporters during Grace’s so-called “Meet the People Tour” during which Mujuru was accused of, among other things, plotting to oust and kill Mugabe, abuse of office, corruption, extorting shares from private companies, and illegally dealing in diamonds and gold.
The claim that ousting Mujuru and her allies would ended Zanu PF factionalism, dismissed by many Zimbabweans right from the outset, has since been predictably proved baseless.
If anything the fresh fissures have proved, if any proof was needed, that factionalism in the party is not about individuals but is centred on Mugabe’s succession power struggle.
Information minister Jonathan Moyo’s interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s HardTalk, broadcast this week, confirmed factionalism is worsening as the battle to succeed Mugabe (91) intensifies.
In the interview, Moyo became emotional when presenter Stephen Sackur referred to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s heir-apparent, a view which is shared by most Zimbabweans though politically rather than constitutionally grounded.
Moyo immediately interrupted and retorted that Mnangagwa was not the anointed one, but one of the two vice-presidents appointed by Mugabe to assist him implement his agenda.
“That’s your view (that Mnangagwa is Mugabe’s successor),” a bristling Moyo responded.
“Don’t state it as a fact. He’s the vice-president of the country, one of the two appointed by the President to assist him to implement the President’s agenda related to his pledges to the electorate. You can ask those who see him that way (as heir apparent).
When Sackur continued to make reference to Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s successor, a thoroughly irritated Moyo said: “Mnangagwa is an appointed Vice-President; the President didn’t appoint him so that he could succeed him … I repeat, he has been appointed to assist the president.”
Moyo, pointing a finger at the presenter, said: “I want to repeat, this reference to him as the next president is yours and it’s as burden that you should unravel for yourself and not state as a fact.”
Although Zanu PF has two main factions led by Mnangagwa and Mujuru, there are other groups within factions, including a pro-Mugabe clique, the military element allegedly led by Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga who is said to harbour presidential ambitions, and a youthful group referred to as Generation 40 allegedly fronted by Moyo, Water minister Saviour Kasukuwere and politburo member Patrick Zhuwao.
Political analysts pointed out that factionalism does not disappear in a party with a many ambitious people such as Zanu PF, although such candidates have mostly kept their ambitions in check for fear of attracting the wrath of Mugabe who has often dealt decisively with those eying his presidential and party leadership posts
They said the desire to create one centre of power in Zanu PF through Mujuru’s ouster and purging of her loyalists at all levels of the party is proving to be a pipedream as the battle will continue as long as Mugabe’s succession remains unsolved.
The divisions are likely to continue even long after Mugabe is gone due to pockets of resistance being created by certain individuals in the party against aspiring candidates like Mnangagwa, who is the current front-runner for the top post, Moyo and his Generation 40 group, Chiwenga and even co-Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko.
Political analyst and University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said actions that preceded the congress did not end factionalism in Zanu PF.
“Factionalism is inevitable in any functioning organisation,” Masunungure said. “Eliminating factionalism is ideal, but it cannot be done, especially if there is a leadership crisis.
“We saw a unity of purpose to push out Mujuru, but those groups are now re-organising themselves since their common agenda has been fulfilled, but their missions remain different.”
Another analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said the new battle in Zanu PF is a race to get closer to Mugabe and the First Family.
“Zanu PF is a political system that strives on patronage and battles to get as close as possible to Mugabe and his family,” Saungweme said. “So after Mujuru was dealt with it was inevitable that more factional fights would erupt as people battle it out for proximity to Mugabe and his family given the need for an heir,” Saungweme said.
“Zanu PF can never deal with the spectre of factionalism and it will continue to raise its ugly head. Since Independence and even before, Mugabe has been breeding the monster of factionalism by his divide-and-rule tactics where he makes people fight each other while he takes advantage of the fighting to stamp his authority.”
Mugabe’s failure to resolve his succession crisis can only exacerbates factional battles he cannot deal with, said Saungweme.
“The party risks disintegration after Mugabe as there are now so many centres of power where every leader of each of the splinters wants to replace him.”
In a sustained onslaught in the run-up to the congress, Mujuru was accused of having created an alternative centre of power surpassing that of the party leader, thus conveniently justifying amendments to the party constitution — widely deemed illegal — which gave Mugabe more powers including handpicking the presidium comprising of two vice-presidents and himself.
However, days after Mujuru was ousted, the broad alliance comprising the Mnangagwa group and the other initially led by First Lady Grace Mugabe — which ganged up to remove the former VP — were locked in a nasty and escalating fight for the spoils of their victory over Mujuru.
The so-called “Gang of Four”, comprising party heavyweights Moyo, Kasukuwere, Oppah Muchinguri and Zhuwao, which emerged in the run-up to the congress and worked closely with Grace, has since split.
Succession has been central to Zanu PF politics since the late 1990s when economic turbulence set in, inciting mass unrest and the birth of the opposition party MDC-T in 1999.
This led to questions being raised regarding the sustainability of Mugabe’s leadership going forward by elements both within and outside the party. Since then, with the country plunging deeper into economic crisis and Mugabe’s political appeal slowly waning with age and deteriorating health, high ranking party officials have been angling to succeed him.
Rashweat Mukundu, another political analyst, said factionalism would only end when the succession problem is resolved.
“Factionalism will only end with either the death or retirement of Mugabe. At 91 everyone is aware that his time is almost up and factionalism is a reflection of the jostling for the top seat. It was never about Mujuru but about Mugabe,” he said.
Adding fuel to the factional fires are fresh Zanu PF constitutional amendments with the potential to trigger a free-for-all situation if Mugabe goes and an extraordinary congress is called to endorse a new candidate for the 2018 general elections, who would now be chosen through a national vote and secret ballot.