Intricacies of Zanu PF leadership changes

IN the third part of his article on the topical issue of President Robert Mugabe’s succession, Derek Matyszak contends the Zanu PF constitution is an inordinately complex document and, in some clauses, poorly drafted, rendering the choice of a presidential nominee far from straightforward.
ONLY the national disciplinary committee of Zanu PF’s central committee has the power to expel a member from the party. This committee comprises the national chairman and four other members of the central committee appointed by the “presidency”.  It is unclear whether the committee is appointed on an ad hoc basis for each case to be determined, or whether it is a standing committee, appointed after the selection of the central committee.  In any event, if the national disciplinary committee must be appointed in the absence of the president, one of the vice-presidents will deputise for this purpose.
It should also be noted here that the Clerk of Parliament also has the discretion to determine exactly when, within the 90-day period, the election will be held. This discretion is only constrained by the requirement that nominations must be called for 14 days prior to the election. The Clerk thus has the power to set the election date within 14 days of the president’s demise, giving Zanu PF little time to determine its candidate.
Summary appointment
If a Zanu  PF nominee is to be summarily appointed to the presidency without the sitting of an electoral college, or if Zanu PF as a party determines that only one candidate shall be presented in terms of the procedures governing an electoral college, then Zanu PF constitution ought to hold sway and determine the issue. Zanu PF constitution is an inordinately complex document and, in some sections, poorly drafted. These two factors render the choice of the Zanu PF nominee far from straightforward, as will be apparent from what follows.
The Zanu PF constitution does not contain a direct statement that the party president must be the party candidate for the office of state president. Although usual, it is not always the case that the head of a political party is always the candidate in state elections. Term limits for the office of a state president may render this impossible. Zanu PF constitution addresses the matter obliquely with a requirement that Zanu PF’s yearly National Peoples’ Conference  declare a president of the party as the state presidential candidate of the party.  The use of the word “declare” suggests that this is merely the formal announcement or public revelation of a pre-existing condition which arises from some other provision of Zanu PF’s constitution. There is, however, no such other provision. It is thus necessary to infer that a Zanu PF party president is the party candidate for state president. This crucial point is by no means certain, and the further question may arise as to whether this position pertains in the absence of the declaration by the National People’s Conference.
The National People’s Conference could, however, convene in special session for this purpose. However, the lack of clarity in this regard would come to the fore if the National People’s Conference were to refuse to make the declaration as required. If the person appointed as president of Zanu PF is automatically the Zanu PF candidate for the office of state president, the Zanu PF nominee for purposes of summary appointment under Article 20.1.10 of the State constitution would be determined by the procedures governing the election of the new party president. In order to understand the process by which a Zanu PF party president is elected, it is necessary to examine the somewhat byzantine party structure of Zanu PF. Few have attempted to do so, probably because, until recently, a Zanu PF constitution has not been readily available.
The party’s website sets out a version of its constitution, simplified to the point of inaccuracy, and, oddly, does not make the entire constitution available on the site.
The structure of Zanu PF
There are three main components of Zanu PF –— the “main wing”, the Women’s League, and the Youth League.  Each is structured in almost exactly the same way containing the elective building blocks of the party, administrative and coordinating bodies, and consultative fora. The structure of the  main wing is set out below.
Elected bodies
The basic unit of Zanu PF is “the cell” (urban areas) or village (rural areas). Ten of the seven-member cell or village committees constitute a “Branch”, thus constituting some 70 members. The branches are grouped into “districts” under a district executive committee. There may be up to 80 such districts in each province. These “districts” should not be confused with the districts formed in terms of the Rural District Councils Act, referred to in Zanu PF’s constitution as “administrative districts”.
Thabo Mbeki, for example, was mooted for a third term as president of the ANC party, even though he would have been ineligible for a third term as South African state president.
The composition of the cell or village committee is different from that of other elected bodies. The committee is elected by the cell or village  every year, and is composed of only a chairperson, secretary, treasurer, political commissar, secretary for security, and two other committee members.
The number of times each cell or village convenes in each year is not stated. The branch, district, and provincial executive committees are elected and structured in a similar fashion to each other. The central committee will determine the number of delegates from the next lowest tier to a branch, district, or provincial conference convened for the purpose of electing the executive committee of each. The ability of the central committee to determine the delegates who will elect the respective executives committees adulterates the democratic nature of the process and allows for the possibility of manipulation by the central committee.
The outcome could be determined by carefully selecting delegates. Suspicions of this kind of manipulation appear to have emerged in the  fiercely contested election for the chairman of the provincial electoral committee of Mashonaland West. Following strenuous objections from a faction within the province, the central committee was compelled to allow delegates from all 271 party districts in the province to vote. The central committee also directed that the district coordinating committees and district executive council members of both the Youth and Women’s League be permitted to vote, in total some 4 449 people.
The executive committee is elected every two years in the case of a Branch, every three years in the case of a district, and every four years in the case of the province. At these specially convened electoral conferences, the delegates will appoint 15 members of a 44 member executive.
Vice-secretaries are appointed for each of the secretarial positions. The remaining 12 non-portfolio positions are occupied by two other elected committee members, and, ex officio, the chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, secretary for finance and secretary for commissariat of the relevant area (branch, district or province) of both the women’s and youth leagues. Each of these executive committees is required to meet monthly.
The function of the first three elected structures, (cell, branch, and district) is not stated, but presumably each is intended to further the objectives of the party. The function of the provincial executive council is specifically prescribed as being the implementation of the party decisions, directives, rules and regulations, and the organisation of public meetings and provincial rallies of the party.

  • Matyszak is a former University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, constitutional expert and researcher with RAU.