Anyone with hopes about him stepping down or announcing his retirement at the Zanu PF congress in December, must now know that Mugabe wants to remain at the helm of the party for a long time and to be its sole presidential candidate in the next elections, which will be held after the constitution-making process.
When asked if he would consider stepping down, Mugabe told journalists after meeting with an EU delegation two weeks ago that: “You are asking a regime change question. I am still young.”
In 2003, Mugabe hinted in an interview with the state broadcaster that he would quit by 2008, but, as is emerging now, he is in no hurry to go.
Two years later in April 2005, Mugabe reaffirmed that position. He was quoted by the Herald in an interview with Indonesia’s Jarkata Post newspaper saying: “I have said it before that when my term ends I will retire. I still have to do three years…but it is my intention to retire” adding that “I will never groom a successor. We will never do that. We will never make that mistake.”
Since then, he has stifled open debate on the succession issue. His argument is that it is up to the people and he would only step down when his supporters decide so. To make matters worse, the succession debate remains a taboo in Zanu PF. Conferences for the youth and women’s leagues were silent on the issue and Mugabe even tried to quash the divisions that came out at the two meetings.
He indirectly told delegates to shun the “two or three sides” which were fighting for supremacy. He told them to remain united and described the divisions as “ruinous”. Mugabe has not taken kindly to those people who have shown their interest in taking over. He has taken great offence at anyone who has tried to stampede him out of office. In the past, he accused some of his Cabinet and politburo members of waiting at the door (to the presidency) “like a witch”.
Although Mugabe at one time permitted little debate on the succession, he, at the same time moved swiftly to destroy politically anyone who declared a personal ambition to succeed him.
Vice President Joice Mujuru, together with her husband Retired Army Commander General Solomon Mujuru, tried it.
Mujuru, who in 2004 seemed like the chosen successor, fell out of favour when it became increasingly transparent that her husband’s camp wanted Mugabe to retire as soon as possible.
General Mujuru, who thought he had won the fight to raise his wife to the highest post in the land, now knows that the wait is going to be very long or might never be, depending on when Mugabe finally decides to step down.
Six chairpersons felt Mugabe’s full wrath after reports of an alleged ‘coup plot’ designed to make the powerful defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa president.
They were suspended from the party in 2004. Whoever wants to oppose Mugabe is almost reminded of the downfall of Dzikamai Mavhaire, who was suspended from the party in 1998 for calling for Mugabe to go. Only years later was he allowed to return. He lost his provincial chairmanship, his position in the central committee and was readmitted as an ordinary member of the party after the five-year suspension. Mavhaire’s closest ally, the late Eddison Zvobgo, was dropped by Mugabe from government in 2000 for his criticism of his ruling style and for suggesting he retires. Zvobgo, who never hid his own presidential ambitions, died in 2004 at the age of 68 .
One Zanu PF official once said: “Only divine intervention can change that reality.”
It is true because I can’t think of anyone, be it kingpins Emmerson Mnangagwa or his rival Mujuru, who can dare stand up and tell the congress that he or she no longer wants Mugabe as the party leader.
As long as he does not announce his retirement or resignation, “the young old man” is not going anywhere. The problem in Zanu PF is that everyone is trying to protect their own interests. Remember, some members have been engaging in illegal and corrupt activities and are afraid that the president might have their dossiers.
Mugabe allowed corruption to flourish knowing that he could one day use it against them. Even in the central committee, which is the best platform to discuss such issues, no one can dare to raise the succession issue. Free debate in Zanu PF is almost impossible but it would be in Mugabe’s interest to encourage debate on the succession issue.
What happened at the Women’s League conference should be a warning that Mugabe needs to sort out his succession. If he is so worried about divisions reversing the country’s “hard-won Independence”, he should allow the congress to choose his successor to take over when he does retire.
If elections at that level can degenerate into fistfights because of factionalism, what will happen if suddenly there is a vacancy at the presidency? Kunotofa vanhu (Someone will die).
Unfortunately for Zanu PF, Mugabe has perfected divide-and-rule tactics that fuel factionalism in the party. Mugabe has been switching support among the presidential contenders.
General Mujuru and Mnangagwa are probably the only two people powerful enough to risk standing up publicly to challenge Mugabe. I dare them to stand up at the party congress and tell Mugabe to honour his earlier promise to retire now.