THE Zanu PF succession race to replace the late Vice-President Joseph Msika and possibly fill the position of party chairman if it becomes vacant intensified this week, as infighting in Mashonaland West and Harare further heightened ahead of the party’s congress in December.
The escalation of power struggles within Zanu PF deepened internal strife in a party already battling to prevent almost inevitable defeat by the MDC wing led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
Zanu PF is also struggling to maintain political cohesion and avoid the threat of disintegration after President Robert Mugabe’s departure.
The scramble for power shifted to Matabeleland this week after the party’s politburo last week gave the region up to next Wednesday to select a candidate to replace Msika.
Official meetings and behind-the-scenes gatherings to nominate a candidate for vice-president have been taking place since last Sunday and were due to continue today.
The process to find a candidate to replace Msika has fuelled a wave of battles for power in the party, guaranteeing incessant bickering in the run-up to congress. The infighting is expected to reach its climax in the two months ahead, Zanu PF insiders say.
The battle to replace Msika came as the political situation was rapidly deteriorating in Mashonaland West where politburo members including Ignatius Chombo and Webster Shamu are battling it out for control with the provincial executive council led by John Mafa who was this week openly threatened by a rival faction for refusing to bow to pressure from politburo members who want to wrest control of the province.
Senior Zanu PF politburo members including party chairman John Nkomo, Didymus Mutasa, Nicholas Goche, Richard Ndlovu and Absalom Sikhosana met with provincial leaders at the party headquarters on Wednesday to discuss factionalism in Mashonaland West and Harare.
The Mashonaland West provincial executive meets this morning to further review the crisis caused by clashes between provincial politburo members and the provincial executive. Chombo wrote to Mafa on Tuesday asking for a meeting on Sunday to tackle the problems but no agreement had been reached by yesterday on when to meet.
Warring Harare Zanu PF leaders are also meeting continuously to sort out the situation. The province has no substantive provincial executive due to factionalism.
After the politburo meeting on Thursday last week, Zanu PF Bulawayo provincial politburo and central committee members met last Sunday on their own and chose Nkomo as their candidate. On the same day they also met with the provincial coordinating committee members to officially endorse Nkomo — who was recently severely damaged by sodomy allegations — as their nominee.
The provincial coordinating committees — which act as election directorates for provinces — comprise provincial executive councils, central committee, National Consultative Assembly, Women’s League and Youth League members, as well as chairpersons of district coordinating committees from the relevant province.
Bulawayo politburo member Sikhanyiso Ndlovu confirmed Nkomo’s nomination but said consultations with other provinces were still ongoing. “We met as Bulawayo province on Sunday and came up with Nkomo as our candidate, but we are still waiting for the other provinces to finish their processes. After that we will continue to consult and lobby so that we can have one candidate,” Ndlovu said.
“We are also consulting other provinces outside Matabeleland for input and advice even though the position is reserved for Zapu because we want to be national in our outlook and inclusive.”
Sources said while Nkomo sailed through in Bulawayo, he was struggling to jump hurdles to secure support in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South. This has created a cutthroat political contest in which the winner will come out bruised.
Sources said Nkomo was struggling in his home Matabeleland North province because Bulawayo governor Cain Mathema and politburo member Obert Mpofu — who are long shots — were jockeying for the same position.
The sources said while Nkomo has an edge because he is already in the Zanu PF presidium, he is also helped by the fact that Mathema is battling to overcome a compromising political past of deadly clashes with former Zipra commanders in Zambia during the liberation struggle.
Nkomo’s cause is aided by the fact that Mpofu is seen as an outsider because he crossed the political floor to Zanu early and was not a senior Zapu official after all.
Sources said despite these drawbacks, Mathema and Mpofu were still soldiering on.
In Matabeleland South, Nkomo is facing stiff competition from former PF Zapu chair Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu and Simon Khaya Moyo.
Political trouble is expected to grow in Matabeleland because if Nkomo succeeds in getting nominated by all provinces — which is still most likely despite his battered reputation — there would also be battles over the position of chairman.
Naison Ndlovu and Moyo are hoping that if they fail to beat Nkomo, they could still squeeze into the Zanu PF presidium as chairman. However, Kembo Mohadi is also a major contender for the position.
In terms of an internal Zanu PF arrangement ensuing from the 1987 Unity Accord, Msika’s position and the chairmanship are only open to those from PF Zapu.
This is because Zapu and Zanu agreed to share the top four positions — president, two vice-presidents and chairman — equally although there was a failed bid in 1999 by politburo heavyweight Emmerson Mnangagwa to upset the pecking order.