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Zanu PF succession in practice

IN this eighth instalment of his article on succession and the Zanu PF constitution, Derek Matyszak looks at how the succession issue has played out in Zanu PF and the overlap between the party constitution with the state constitution.

Report by Derek Matyszak

In order to consider how the succession to the presidency within Zanu PF might unfold, it is instructive to look at past successions to positions within the presidium.

Fault lines
The conventional wisdom in Zimbabwe is that there are two main factions within Zanu PF contending for the presidency on President Robert Mugabe’s departure: Those who grouped around the late army commander General Solomon Mujuru, now grouped around his wife Joice, who is Vice-President; and those grouped around Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Each of these has advanced differing and expedient perspectives on the manner in which the presidium is to be constituted to advance the cause of favoured candidates to the posts.

The blurring of the lines between Zanu PF as a party and the state has been a hallmark of Zimbabwe’s polity since 1980, and is reflected in the Zanu PF party constitution. A manifestation of this is the confluence of the party presidium and state presidium. The state and Zanu PF constitution both establish the posts of a president and two vice-presidents.


Those holding the posts under the state constitution have always been the same individuals who hold the posts under the party constitution. With Mugabe having the unfettered discretion to appoint both vice-presidents under the state constitution, this power impacts upon the processes under the party constitution.

No term limits are prescribed for those holding the positions of president and vice-president under the state constitution.


Combined with the fact there is no unequivocal statement of term limits for the presidium under the Zanu PF constitution, a sector within Zanu PF, and particularly the presidium itself, which of course, includes Mujuru, has advanced the notion that unless there is a “vacancy” in the presidium, the nominations from the provinces prior to congress for the top three positions are a mere formality, in the same way as the people’s conference is required yearly to declare the president of the party as the Zanu PF candidate for state president.

Mugabe and his supporters have thus adopted the refrain that “there is no vacancy in the presidium”. This assumption of the right to office by the incumbents is disputed and contested by those aligned to the two factions, who contend that fresh elections to all posts within the presidium must take place every five years at congress by way of nominations from the provinces. These nominations are not to be merely a formal and automatic endorsement of the incumbents.

A second fault line dividing the Mujuru and Mnangagwa camps is a result of the Unity Accord, which absorbed the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu party into Zanu PF in December 1987. One section of Zanu PF claims an unwritten term of the unity accord is that the four posts in the presidium will be divided between Zanu PF and PF Zapu, with Zanu PF holding the presidency and a vice-presidential post and PF Zapu holding the other vice-presidential position and national chairmanship.

Since the power base of PF Zapu is in Matabeleland, the further inference by some is that the PF Zapu posts will be held by members of the ethnic Ndebele group from Matabeleland.

However, many of those aligned to the Mnangagwa camp have taken the understanding concerning the distribution of posts within the presidium along ethnic lines further, and maintain it ought to be party policy that all the major ethnic groups in Zimbabwe — the Zezuru, Manyika, Karanga, and Ndebele — will be represented in the presidium.

Military factor
The ethnic analysis of Zanu PF’s succession battle views the contest as between the Zezuru (represented by the Mujuru faction) and the Karanga (represented by Mnangagwa). Both are seen as periodically endeavouring to forge alliances with the Manyika and Ndebele groupings.

It certainly seems to be outside any coincidence that the head of state, Mugabe, vice-president (Mujuru), the head of the judiciary Godfrey Chidyausiku, the head of the defence forces Constantine Chiwenga, the head of the air force  Perence Shiri, the head of police Augustine Chihuri, and the Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede are all Zezuru. None of the four cabinet ministers excluded from the politburo are Zezuru. Masvingo and Midlands provinces, home to the Karanga, have consistently opposed nominations to the presidium comprising people of Zezuru and Ndebele backgrounds only. The most contentious of the District Co-ordinating Committee elections took place in Masvingo and Manicaland.

However, while some factions within Zanu PF might wish to exploit ethnic considerations, several political observers have cautioned against using ethnicity as an analytical lens through which the internal dynamics of Zanu PF may be viewed. For several years, and most obviously, in the aftermath of Mugabe’s electoral defeat in March 2008 (when those heading the security sectors stepped in to ensure Mugabe’s “victory” in the presidential run-off election in June), it has been evident that the president and any aspirant to the presidency are heavily dependent upon support from the security sector.

Zanu PF succession politics may be conceptualised in terms of the extent to which the wooing of securocrats has been accepted or rebuffed, and the extent to which the securocrats believe which of the three — Mugabe, Mujuru or Mnangagwa — are best able to safeguard their positions, interests and the status quo. This in turn infers the extent to which each of these are prepared to protect the positions of the Zanu PF old guard, most of whom, having played prominent roles in the “liberation war”, believe in “rule by entitlement”.

Early manoeuvring
From the time the executive presidency was created, and the unity accord signed, there was little challenge to the triumvirate of Mugabe as president and Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda as vice-presidents. The only position which admitted any fluidity was that of national chairman, a possible future stepping stone to the vice-presidency on the demise of any one of the two vice-presidents.

Positioning and manoeuvring around the issue of succession to Mugabe began as early as 1999, when sectors within Zanu PF were, correctly as it transpired, beginning to view Mugabe as an electoral liability. The Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions first locked horns following the death, on July 1 1999, of Joshua Nkomo, then the PF Zapu-nominated vice-president.

Pursuant to what one PF Zapu member has described as a series of “secret meetings”, the late national party chairman, Joseph Msika was “elected” as the new vice-president by congress which convened in December 1999. Although a member of PF Zapu, and raised in Matabeleland, Msika was Zezuru, the same ethnic group as Mugabe. This caused disgruntlement within PF Zapu who felt that Msika had been imposed from above, and, not being Ndebele, was not an appropriate representative of the Matabeleland provinces.

However, being fourth in the presidium hierarchy, and previously second-in-command to Joshua Nkomo within Zapu, his elevation to the vice-presidency was not overtly contentious.


  • Matyszak is a former University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, constitutional expert and researcher with the Research and Advocacy Unit.

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