THE Speaker of the House of Assembly, John Nkomo’s bold pronouncement that he would stand for the highest office in the land when President Robert M
ugabe retires from office has rattled his rivals and sparked debate on his suitability for the post.
It has also disturbed the political machinations on the broad and messy national chessboard on the succession issue.
Nkomo made the revelations when responding to a barrage of questions from journalists at a function of the Bulawayo Press Club last week.
When asked about speculation that he aspired to succeed Joseph Msika as vice-president, Nkomo retorted: “Why stop at the vice-presidency? Why not the presidency?”
Nkomo said there was no chance of him retiring from politics as this was like a “cancer” in him.
He said he would need the equivalent of chemotherapy treatment to cure him of “the political bug” that he claimed has afflicted him since 1954 when he joined politics.
Before Nkomo’s unexpected pronouncements last week, the political temperature in Matabeleland and throughout the country has been heating up over who would replace Msika when he leaves office. There was speculation that Nkomo was positioning himself for the post.
Other contenders who were touted to give Nkomo stiff competition in the race include politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, Industry and International Trade minister Obert Mpofu and Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa, Simon Khaya Moyo.
Dark horses in the race were Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) minister Sithembiso Nyoni and politburo secretary for education, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu.
The declaration by Nkomo that he would have a go at the highest office if chosen by the people is a twist in the tail in a succession debate that is always undertaken in undertones.
By his open declaration, Nkomo has thrown his candidature into the hat that already has the names of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, Emmerson Mnangagwa and former Finance minister Simba Makoni.
Others vying for the presidency have not come out so openly, largely for fear of Mugabe’s reaction.
Mugabe has often reacted angrily to any debate on his successor and several party leaders were reprimanded and some suspended from the party after meeting at Dinyane School in Tsholotsho two years ago, which Mugabe said amounted to a coup.
Mugabe alleged that those who met at Dinyane were plotting a coup against him and the presidency.
He has also accused those seeking to succeed him of consulting witches. However, there have been indications that there is serious lobbying for the top position going on and camps have emerged in the ruling party over who will succeed the 82-year old Zanu PF leader.
Political analysts this week had mixed feelings on the statements by Nkomo, with some saying he had a fair chance of landing the highest office while others dismissed him as a pretender.
John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe political lecturer, said Nkomo was not suitable to run for the presidency as he did not have the capacity to marshal support in Zimbabwe and lacked the political stature of other national leaders.
“John Nkomo is correctly ambitious but suitability is another issue,” said Makumbe. “He lost elections in 2000 and he does not have the popularity of someone aspiring to be president.
“He has not demonstrated a capacity to run bigger things than parliament and he does not have the capacity to mobilise support in Zimbabwe.”
He added that nationally,Nkomo was not known compared to Mujuru who has been on a whirlwind country tour to drum up support.
“We know Nkomo is related to Mugabe and maybe he hopes for a continuation of the dynasty but democratically that would not work. Nkomo does not have national stature in the mould of (the late) Eddison Zvogbo or Amai Mujuru,” Makumbe said.
More importantly, Makumbe raised the tribal factor in Zimbabwean politics against Nkomo’s ascendancy.
He said the Zezuru clique in the party would never allow a situation where the party is led by someone from the former PF Zapu, and worse still, a person from Matabeleland.
“The Zezurus would not allow anyone from PF Zapu to be Zanu PF president.
“They are comfortable with Msika as vice-president because he is a Ndau and not Ndebele and he stays in Chiweshe and not in Jotsholo,” Makumbe said.
“The Zezurus in Zanu PF would never allow that. They make sure they make whoever is vice-president from that camp to be as useless as they have done with Msika,” he said.
Max Mnkandla, a former sergeant in Zipra and now president of the Zimbabwe Liberators Peace Initiative (ZLPI), said Nkomo did not have a constituency and would find it difficult to identify his support base.
“Even in Matabeleland which he claims to represent he does not have support. So how does he expect to get support in Mashonaland? It would be difficult for him and he also has a bloat that he is related to Mugabe and that relationship will taint him.”
Political analyst, Ibbo Mandaza, said Nkomo’s chances of landing the presidency were slim.
“The actual positioning for the presidency took place in 2004 when the vice-presidents were elected and Nkomo only made it to the presidium as national chairman and all this gives the two vice-presidents an advantage over him,” Mandaza said.
Former war veterans’ national chairman Jabulani Sibanda, who was suspended from Zanu PF by Nkomo, said the next president of the country must be somebody who will adhere to the party and the country’s constitution without any reservations.
“I do not know whether John Nkomo can do that but he has a right democratically to say that he wants to be the president. What we have seen in the past is that Zanu PF can shut out leaders through unconstitutional means,” Sibanda said.