Mugabe wants elections held this year without fail, with or without a new constitution, when he is still fit to campaign. The veteran leader is plagued by ill-health and old age complications. However, his re-election bid may be crippled by internal strife.
Zanu PF factions, mainly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, are largely defined along regional and ethnic lines. The factions are fighting for control and dominance with the main agenda of producing a successor to Mugabe.
Even though both have glaring shortcomings, Mujuru and Mnangagwa are seen as the frontrunners to take over from Mugabe who is now in the twilight zone of his long political career as he battles old age and ill-health. The Mnangagwa faction currently has an upper hand in the ongoing district polls, although Mujuru remains strong by virtue of her position.
Mugabe’s intensifying succession battle is fuelling internal power struggles. The polls have unleashed a wave of renewed infighting now tearing Zanu PF apart.
The district elections are important because they determine which faction controls party structures. This is crucial, especially when going to congress which meets after every five years to elect new party leaders. The next Zanu PF congress will be in 2014 when the p arty will almost certainly elect a new leader to replace Mugabe.
This is fuelling infighting. Lastweek, there were troubles within the party in the two main hotbeds of factionalism, Masvingo and Manicaland, with party officials clashing over imposition of candidates, vote-buying, doctoring of voters’ rolls and ballot-rigging.
The same problems were recently experienced in Mashonaland and Matabeleland provinces, signalling Zanu PF is rapidly descending into widespread turmoil.
Zanu PF provincial offices in Masvingo town had to be closed last week by party supporters protesting against imposition of candidates along factional lines and vote buying. Party officials led demonstrations this week over the issue. There have already been disturbances in Manicaland and Matabeleland, creating an explosive situation in the party.
This has deepened fears that factionalism and succession battles would cripple Mugabe’s re-election bid and lead to the outright defeat of Zanu PF in the next elections.
After losing the first round of the 2008 presidential election and seeing Zanu PF defeated in general elections for the first time since Independence 1980, in the process losing control of parliament, Mugabe admitted then factionalism had largely caused their loss to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T.
At the party national conference in Bulawayo last December, Mugabe also admitted that factionalism was “eating away the party”. He repeated the problem had caused Zanu PF’s defeat in the 2008 March elections.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said factionalism rocking Zanu PF had now reached crisis proportions and could be the party’s downfall in the next elections.
“Factionalism will remain a permanent feature in Zimbabwean politics but it will depend on how political players put in place institutional mechanisms to promote competition for power and that it does not erode the fabric of the party to become dictatorial,” he said.
“Zanu PF was born out of divisions, so factions were there in Enos Nkala’s house in Highfield (when the party was formed in 1963) and they were carried over to the liberation struggle. But such divisions have come to haunt Zanu PF hence its downfall in the 2008 elections. It’s likely to suffer its worst defeat since Independence if these remain unresolved,” he said.
The war of attrition between the Zanu PF factions heightened in Manicaland last week, leading to an unprecedented failure by senior officials of both camps to attend Independence Day celebrations at Sakubva stadium in Mutare. Officials stayed away as they feared for their lives due to the volatile situation.
Only the governor of Manicaland, Chris Mushowe and Zanu PF deputy minister Monica Mutsvangwa attended the Independence celebrations. The entire Zanu PF provincial leadership did not go as infighting deepened, although the chairman of the province Mike Madiro, whom disgruntled party members want fired for mishandling the district elections, showed up at the closing stages of the event.
Zanu PF members contesting the results of district elections thronged party offices in Mutare and staged protests, demanding Madiro, a Mnangagwa ally, and his provincial executive must be fired for rigging elections.
Elections in places such as Mutare, Chipinge, Nyanga, Makoni and Buhera were also characterised by disputes and clashes amid imposition of candidates and vote-rigging accusations.
The spreading factionalism has alarmed Mugabe and senior party officials, leading to the dispatch of national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo and commissar Webster Shamu to provinces to resolve the crisis. Moyo and Shamu visited Mutare on Tuesday last week on a fire-fighting mission.
There is also havoc in Zanu PF in Matabeleland provinces due to leadership wrangles. Shamu’s recent visit to Bulawayo failed to resolve the contentious issue of provincial chairman Isaac Dakamela, suspended of late on allegations of corruption and insubordination.
Shamu visited the party headquarters in Bulawayo and tried to re-instate Dakamela who was replaced by Killian Sibanda but his move was thwarted by influential politburo members, including Angeline Masuku, Eunice Sandi and Joshua Malinga. A seven-hour meeting over the issue failed to find a solution. On Tuesday last week senior Zanu PF officials in Bulawayo, except Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, boycotted provincial governor Cain Mathema’s pre-Independence commemoration function.
Early last week Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo complained about “the ugly dynamics of factionalism” and succession problems in the party. He described factionalism as “the cancerous scourge”. Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo admitted last week factionalism was wreaking havoc in the party.
Local political commentator Ernest Mudzengi said factionalism was one of the main problems afflicting Zanu PF, but would not lead to the party’s demise. He said it was a combination of factors causing the decline of the party.
“The issue of factionalism alone cannot lead one to say that Zanu PF will be finished,” said Mudzengi. “Since 1963 Zanu PF has always been affected by factionalism but the downfall of the party will be triggered by a myriad of woes bedevilling the former ruling party. Factionalism is one of the issues but there are other important factors which are political and economic by definition.” Analysts say unless factionalism and infighting is tackled, Mugabe and his party are likely to face the March 2008 fate or worse.
“We are likely to witness a repeat of the 2008 ‘bhoramusango’ (an approach Zanu PF MPs used to campaign for themselves while telling voters to cast their ballots for the opposition in protest against Mugabe’s continued leadership of the party) and that may mark the end of us if we are not careful,” a senior Zanu PF official said.