By Stella Mapenzauswa
HARARE – Zimbabwe’s ruling party meets this weekend triumphant after solidifying its grip on power with a Senate win over a deeply divided opposition.
But analysts said ZANU-PF was unlikely to use its new strength to a
ddress the country’s mounting economic problems or the thorny question of who will succeed President Robert Mugabe.
“These are issues they really should be talking about but previous experience has shown that they are unlikely to do that,” said government critic and political commentator John Makumbe.
“Coming after last month’s Senate poll victory this conference will be a parade to say we are in power, we are ruling,” he added.
ZANU-PF holds its annual conference on Friday and Saturday at the south-western district of Esigodini against the background of a deepening economic downturn critics say is testimony to 25 years of post-independence Mugabe mismanagement.
The venue ranks among districts hardest hit by food shortages that critics say are largely the result of flawed government land reforms, which in the last five years have turned what was once the breadbasket of southern Africa into a net food importer.
ZANU-PF officials said the summit would discuss charges that some beneficiaries of the land programme, which saw the forcible redistribution of white-owned farms among blacks, have not fully utilised the land.
But analysts say the party was likely to gloss over the country’s other economic problems — chronic shortages of fuel and foreign currency, unemployment of over 70 percent and rampaging inflation, which is expected to revisit an all-time high of 600 percent.
Mugabe, 81, denies he has misruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980.
He says former colonial power Britain has sponsored Zimbabwe’s main opposition party since its formation in 1999 to topple him over his land reforms.
He also blames Zimbabwe’s economic problems on Western sanctions.
ZANU-PF goes into this year’s conference with more power than ever before.
With its victory in last month’s Senate elections, the party now has final say on all Zimbabwe laws and controls virtually all the levers of patronage.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, by contrast, is beset by factional infighting that analysts say has hobbled its ability to challenge Mugabe’s rule.
Within ZANU-PF a topic likely to be on the minds of members but largely left unspoken is selecting a successor to Mugabe.
“Even if succession arises it will not be on the public agenda because there are no vacancies, the president is only retiring in 2008 and therefore there is no sense of urgency,” Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst from the University of Zimbabwe, told Reuters on Thursday.
Tensions still exist from last year’s ZANU-PF row over a successor to Mugabe. The dispute nearly split the party in two a few months before crucial parliamentary elections, which ZANU-PF went on to win despite the internal turmoil.
Mugabe persuaded his party faithful to endorse his preferred candidate for the vacant post of second vice president in ZANU-PF party and government, a post seen as a step up the ladder to his own position.
Mugabe then cracked down on senior members of a faction which had lobbied for a rival candidate, suspending several from the party and demoting others both within ZANU-PF structures and government, quelling any lingering murmurs of discontent.
But the veteran leader has not publicly anointed a successor.
Analysts said while privately some ZANU-PF members wanted the succession topic put up for discussion at Esigodini, Mugabe had fine-tuned his grip on the party by reshuffling his lieutenants’ positions to ensure that no one stokes the fires that threatened to engulf ZANU-PF at last year’s five-yearly congress.
“The faction leaders from last year’s debacle have retreated and it is still too early for them to re-enter the gladiator (arena) because the dust has not settled,” Masunungure said. — Reuter