Top party officials interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent this week said debate on the succession issue will remain taboo until Mugabe opens the discussion on his successor because if anyone else did, it could be misconstrued as an attempt to stampede him out of office.
In an interview with the Independent a fortnight ago, party chairman Simon Khaya Moyo was unwilling to comment on Mugabe’s succession and skirted around the matter.
In May 2009, the politburo set up a succession committee chaired by Vice-President John Nkomo to deal with the matter.
The six-member committee, comprised Emmerson Mnangagwa, retired army general Solomon Mujuru, Oppah Muchinguri, Sydney Sekeramayi and Didymus Mutasa, has since been dissolved.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo told the Independent yesterday that: “It (the succession committee) never took off the ground for various reasons.”
Asked what the reasons were, Gumbo said: “I would rather leave it at that. I don’t want to say anything further.” 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.
Six provincial chairpersons felt Mugabe’s full wrath after reports of an alleged coup plot designed to make Mnangagwa president. They were suspended from the party in 2004.
Politburo member Dzikamai Mavahaire was suspended from the party in 1998 for calling for Mugabe to go, losing his provincial chairmanship and position in the central committee. He was only re-admitted after a 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 retire.
A senior politburo this week said no one in Zanu PF would dare raise the succession issue in front of Mugabe. The politburo member acknowledged that they created this problem by making Mugabe a very powerful leader when they gave him titles such as president and first secretary of the party, which he said were not necessary.
“Unfortunately, the party has not addressed the succession issue but it has to be someone from the highest level that should address it. But he is not,” said the politburo member.
“The politburo would have been the right forum but it will depend on how it will come out. The only thing I can say is that we inherited an unfortunate system or legacy, which we have become used to and cannot undo.”
He added that: “Even having to create the post of president and first secretary of the party was not necessary but it was done and it became ingrained in the party — so you can’t all of a sudden undo these things. It is a big challenge to all of us and we have to find mechanisms of undoing this.”
While another party top official pointed out that no one in the party’s politburo, even those that are perceived to be very powerful or “darlings” of the president, would not dare raise that issue.
“The thing is that chef (Mugabe) might have his weaknesses, one of which is his old age, but he still has his brains – he is still very sharp. So the problem is that we don’t have shining and outstanding individuals who can match the president’s intellect and be able to debate one on one with him,” said the politburo member.
“In that case, who is going to raise the issue? How is that person going to phrase the question and be able to argue his or her way around it with the president, considering the downfall of other people who have raised it? All I can tell you is that no one is willing to face Mugabe’s wrath.”
Another politburo member said there were too many people with “dirty” hands, who could not afford a fallout with Mugabe.
“Some of my colleagues want to accumulate wealth and they are now some of the richest people in the country, but you ask yourself how they accumulated so much wealth and where all the money came from?” said the top official.
“We may not be dealing with the succession issue because too many people have dirty hands and would not want to make the president angry by asking him when he is going to step down.”
The last time Mugabe indicated that he would step down was in April 2005 in an interview with Indonesia’s Jakarta Post when he had three years before his term expired in 2008. He was quoted then 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.”
Mugabe added that: “I will never groom a successor. We will never do that. We will never make that mistake.”
However, since then he contested the 2008 March election and June presidential run-off poll. Mugabe has also indicated that he would be Zanu PF’s candidate in the next elections, which he wants mid-next year. All the party provinces have endorsed him as their presidential candidate for the next elections.
Mugabe has been stifling open debate on the succession issue and his argument is that it is up to the people and that he would only step down if and when his supporters decide so.