THE complex saga of President Robert Mugabe’s succession has taken a new twist with Zanu PF insiders now saying political heavyweight Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has gained ground to take over from the ageing leader after his faction was badly routed by the camp led by retired army commander Solomon Mujuru at last year’s party congress.Indications are that Mnangagwa, renowned for his clandestine political manoeuvrings, is now recovering and regaining lost ground in a bid to replace President Robert Mugabe.
Observers thought Mnangagwa’s prospects of succeeding Mugabe were gloomy after Mujuru’s faction won key party positions in the Women’s and Youth Leagues and held most posts in the politburo.
Mnangagwa has survived several attempts to pull him down and each time he has emerged stronger and more threatening to Mujuru’s plans to control Zanu PF.
Top Zanu PF officials are now convinced that Mnangagwa is being groomed to take over when Mugabe retires after the next elections, which the president says must be held mid-2011.
This, sources said, is based on the fact that he is the only Defence minister that drives around in a mini-motorcade. Former Defence ministers Sydney Sekeramayi, now security minister, and the late Moven Mahachi never used a motorcade.
In addition, there is talk that he is using the presidential helicopter, but Mnangagwa yesterday dismissed this saying he uses an army helicopter when travelling outside Harare which has similar colours to the one used by the president.
“It’s not the president’s helicopter but an army helicopter,” he said. “It’s not true that I am using the presidential helicopter,” said Mnangagwa who laughed off the suggestion.
But one Zanu PF insider said: “The helicopter issue has been the talk of the town in Zanu PF. People are convinced that he has already started using the presidential helicopter — which is a preserve of the president.”
Insiders said alliances and realignments were being created, with most people of the view that it was better to back one candidate to ensure Zanu PF’s continued survival in the face of a formidable MDC-T challenge.
“Top party officials have now accepted that it is better to work with the devil we know,” another insider said. “We have realised that we are better off fighting MDC as a united party than a fractured one. We have all realised that if we are not careful, we will end up all losing out if we continue fighting each other. Our common enemy is MDC.”
The insider added: “We all have interests to protect and what is important is to get that reassurance from Mnangagwa that our interests will be protected and that he won’t let down those people who have opposed him all this time.”
The sources said relations between Mnangagwa and Mujuru have since thawed, with reports saying the two recently met at the Defence minister’s offices in the capital to iron out their differences.
“They have a common interest and that common interest makes them want to work together. I am reliably informed that the two met at Mnangagwa’s offices not so long ago,” a source said.
However, Mnangagwa scoffed at the allegations that Mujuru had been to his office to seek his reassurance that he would protect the former army commander’s interests when he takes over from Mugabe.
Mnangagwa has maintained a low profile, refusing to discuss the succession issue publicly. He has said all the stores flying around about the succession were “media speculation”.
“Yes, I met with Mujuru but it was a strictly business meeting,” Mnangagwa said. “I don’t know where all this is coming from. I have never said I wanted to be president and yes I had offered myself (for the vice presidency) when (the late Vice President Simon) VaMuzenda died because I was the third top senior person from the old Zanu PF at that time. But since then I have not said anything.”
In November 2004, Mugabe amended the Zanu PF constitution to insert a clause that one of the vice presidents should be a woman and this was seen as a ploy to block Mnangagwa, who at that time had the backing of at least six provinces. Mnangagwa was the party’s secretary for administration
Because of his army and CIO links, Mnangagwa is emerging as one of the most powerful persons in Zanu PF.
“He is well-connected in the security structures and that helps him a great deal,” said another insider.
Mnangagwa, the sources said, had managed to close ranks with all top army officials, with whom he now enjoys cordial relations. These include the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Constantine Chiwenga, who in the past was linked to Mujuru’s faction.
According to party sources, anyone that commands the support of the security agencies – the army, intelligence and police – has a head start in the succession race. Army generals have played a significant role in Zanu PF’s military establishment during the liberation struggle and after Independence and as a result retired soldiers, including war veterans, are an important factor in Zanu PF’s power relations.
For many years, Mugabe’s Zezuru clan has been pushing for Mujuru’s faction to take over the party’s reins of power, but sources say the Zezurus now feel that replacing the president with another clansperson could further divide the party.
“Replacing Mugabe with another Zezuru might be problematic,” another insider said. “They now want a person not from that clan to replace Mugabe because they feel that if they put in a Zezuru, there might be resistance from other members who already have been complaining that other regions are not getting powerful posts.”
Already the presidium is in the hands of the Zezurus and Ndebele people – Mugabe, vice-presidents Joice Mujuru, John Nkomo and chairman Simon Khaya Moyo.
Mugabe has always had a soft spot for Mnangagwa, from a rival clan, the Karanga. When Mnangagwa lost his Kwekwe seat to MDC in parliamentary elections in 2000, Mugabe cushioned him by decreeing that he be given the powerful parliamentary speaker’s post.
Again in 2005, when Mujuru’s camp thought they had finally killed Mnangagwa’s political career, after his second narrow electoral defeat to the MDC, Mugabe appointed him rural housing minister, which gave him a platform from where he could rebuild his political fortunes.
After winning a parliamentary seat in 2008, Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa minister of the powerful Ministry of Defence.