Mugabe’s leadership succession battle has now become one of the biggest political questions in Zimbabwe, intertwined as it is with the fate of Zanu PF and the nation.
Infighting has rocked DCC elections across the country as the factions led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa battle for control of the provinces.
The situation is complicated by emergence of a strong security establishment-based group rooting for Mugabe to stay on. While Zanu PF has two main camps, there are various factions within factions fighting for positions of power and influence.
Internal strife has never been so pronounced in Zanu PF as has been the case during the DCC elections countrywide. This has forced Mugabe to publicly denounce factions and their leaders, saying they are destroying the party.
This has raised public debate and questions about the significance of DCC polls in the broader scheme of things.
Zanu PF infighting is rampant and has become an issue of public interest given the years the party has been in power and the nature of the divisions. The party’s factionalism is defined by regional and ethnic loyalties in the context of political power and economic interests. Those fighting to take over from Mugabe mainly want power to gain access to resources. That is why they have not advanced any ideological and policy alternatives to distinguish themselves from one another.
While there is a lot of informal debate in Zanu PF about the need for the 88-year-old leader to retire because of old age and ill-health, none among those interested in replacing him has come forward with different policies and programmes.
The focus has always been on power and money. That is why even though Mugabe remains the party’s candidate for the next elections, Mujuru and Mnangagwa would still fight to strategically position themselves for the inevitable post-Mugabe era. They are looking beyond Mugabe as Zimbabwe goes through a transition.
Mugabe was re-elected as party leader at the 2009 congress in Harare and he remains Zanu PF’s presidential election candidate until the next congress in 2014 after he was endorsed by the party’s national conference in Bulawayo last December.
However, if he is not fit to run in the next polls, an extraordinary congress may be convened at the instance of the majority of central committee members or by the president at the request of not less than one-third of central committee members. It may also be held at the instance of at least five provincial executive councils.
According to the Zanu PF constitution, one of the powers and functions of the congress is to elect the party presidium.
So how do the DCC elections fit into this power matrix?
According to the party constitution, it all starts at district level, which elects the DCCs. The DCCs are an important component in this whole chain of events; they represent the grassroots in the districts which can cover as many as four constituencies in some areas.
In addition to being the face of the grassroots, they also elect the provincial executive councils which make up part of the provincial coordinating committee (PCC).
A national youth executive member said: “They are the ones who decide the set-up of the provinces and they are the ones who run the constituencies. A DCC chairperson is a very powerful person. For those individuals with aspirations to succeed the president, they use the DCC elections to try and gain control of the provinces so that they can determine the provincial leadership and thereby, in theory, influence the succession issue although the reality might be different”.
The central committee composition is determined at provincial level. Of the 245 central committee members, the PCCs nominate the presidium and 190, who include 50 women and provincial chairpersons, while the rest come from the women and youth leagues and 10 members are nominated by the presidency.
The PCCs elect the party’s four top positions which make up the presidium — the president, two vice-presidents and the national chairperson.
“All of whom (the presidium) shall be elected by congress directly upon nomination by at least six provincial coordinating committees of the party,” reads the party constitution.
The congress, which elects or endorses the provincial nominations of the top four positions, is composed of the central committee, national consultative assembly, national council of the women’s league, national council of the youth league, PCCs, provincial executive councils, DCCs and eight district executive council members.
That is why the succession issue is currently playing out in the DCC elections.
Zanu PF national spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo, said: “It could be possible that there are some people who want to use the DCC elections to control the provinces. They might want to set up provincial executives so that they will get support in the succession race at the next congress.”
Senior Zanu PF officials believe the Mnangagwa faction’s strategy is to seize control of the party at a time when Mujuru is struggling to take advantage of her position in government and the party to claim the throne following her husband’s death in a mysterious fire in August last year.
However, political analyst, Dr Ibbo Mandaza, believes the DCCs’ role in determining Mugabe’s successor is “exaggerated”.
“There is a long-standing belief that the people who go into the DCCs are the ones that go to the congress and they are the ones singing the names of people who are supposed to be elected,” he said.
“It’s erroneous. By the time they go for congress, a lot would have happened. You could have the succession issue resolved by then and I don’t see a new president calling for a congress. People are misreading the party constitution. The present DCC fights are related to either early elections or a special congress. But in the past, there was no relationship or logical co-relation between DCCs and the congress outcome. The co-relation is exaggerated.”
But senior Zanu PF officials argue it is difficult to gain control of the party without the support of the structures. That is why infighting at the structures is intensifying.