Mnangagwa told the Zimbabwe Independent last Friday at Heroes Acre during the burial of Zanu PF politburo member Edson Ncube he was ready to govern if given an opportunity. This virtually confirmed he is positioning himself to succeed Mugabe, remarks which could anger senior Zanu PF officials and fuel factionalism and internal power struggles ahead of the next elections.
“I am ready to rule if selected to do so,” Mnangagwa said. “Zanu PF is about observing the will of the people and I will respect the people’s wishes if they choose me.”
Mnangagwa’s pronouncement comes at a time when his bitter rival, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, continues to skirt the burning succession issue, saying she would only join the fray when Mugabe is no longer in office although it is known she is working behind the scenes to angle for the top position.
In remarks which show succession is now hotly-contested, Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa this week poured cold water on Mnangagwa’s ambitions, saying he would not waste his time commenting on individuals’ dreams. “I do not want to be drawn into baseless arguments by commenting on individuals’ wishes,” said Mutasa. “I will comment on that issue when the time comes; that is when the people – here I mean Zanu PF – have chosen him as the leader of the party.”
Mutasa, who is number five in the hierarchy, recently said Mnangagwa, who is not in the top 10, was far down the pecking order to succeed Mugabe compared to Mujuru and others.
While Mnangagwa for the first time came out in the open to declare his ambitions, Mujuru squandered an opportunity to project herself during the memorial service of her late husband General Solomon Mujuru on Saturday. Instead of laying claim to the throne, Mujuru, who has burnt her fingers over the issue before and forced Mugabe to denounce her in public, spoke about private matters between herself and her late husband.
Mnangagwa has been battling the Mujuru faction for years in a sustained turf war to succeed Mugabe. The Zanu PF fight for power has escalated as evidence mounts that Mugabe is struggling with old age complications and ill-health.
Factionalism and infighting recently flared up in Zanu PF, forcing Mugabe last Friday to slam faction leaders and greed, saying they were destroying his party.
Mnangagwa has been fighting to take over from Mugabe for a long time. He first tried to position himself as heir apparent by vying for the vice-presidency in the run up to the 2004 congress but was ruthlessly crushed by Mugabe and the Mujuru faction. His camp was also trounced during the 2009 congress, but is now gaining ground. The succession race is currently unfolding during the party’s district elections, which have fuelled bickering.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo also appeared to dismiss Mnangagwa’s ambitions, saying his party had laid-down procedures to be followed on succession.
“In Zanu PF, we have a hierarchy and this is adhered to whenever there is need for promotion,” said Gumbo. “Whilst people may harbour presidential ambitions, it is unfortunate (for Mnangagwa) that we follow this hierarchy.”
Insiders say senior Zanu PF officials want to force polls this year to secure victory using Mugabe and then press him to resign afterwards.
Mnangagwa’s open declaration also comes at a time Mugabe and members of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) are fuming at Zanu PF leaders they accuse of fanning divisions.
Mugabe and JOC, comprising army, police and intelligence chiefs, have castigated factional leaders of causing the chaos in the party ahead of elections.
Sources JOC chiefs have been holding meetings and denouncing Zanu PF faction leaders.
Mugabe made a passionate plea to his party’s bigwigs at the end of March to close ranks and deal with the raging factionalism threatening to ruin his party.
According to minutes of a politburo meeting held at the end of March, seen by the Independent this week, Mugabe acknowledged the growing fissures in the party in his closing remarks like he did last Friday.
He appealed to politburo members to desist from infighting and unite to save the party from potential defeat in the elections. Mugabe also spoke strongly against top party officials who are already campaigning ahead of primary elections.
His plea for unity ahead of the elections came after Zanu PF national commissar Webster Shamu gave a damming report of factional fights which he said were raging like a veld fire in all the provinces.
Politburo sources at the same meeting said Shamu was also interjected several times by fellow politburo members who fingered him in Mashonaland West clashes.
The Zanu Youth league said factional leaders causing chaos in the party should be confronted and dealt with head on.
“These are pretenders (factional leaders) and we don’t work with pretenders but the person elected at the congress. We deal with reality – that is the person in power,” National deputy youth secretary for external affairs Tongai Kasukuwere said. “If people are named for fanning divisions, they must be disciplined. We don’t want to work with people who cause confusion.”
Zanu PF national secretary for youth affairs Absolom Sikhosana said it was taboo to discuss Mugabe’s successor. “Nobody at whatever level of the party should interfere with the processes (succession). We want to put all that to rest that people should not attempt us beyond our ability to restrain ourselves, we only have one president of the party.”
Senior Zanu PF officials this week attributed growing factionalism to Mugabe’s divide-and-rule tactics, saying the clashes dated back to the days of the liberation struggle. However, the intra-party divisions are now haunting Mugabe.