VICE-PRESIDENT Joice Mujuru has virtually secured a copper-bottomed guarantee to take over as the next president of Zimbabwe in the event that President Robert Mugabe resigns, is incapacitated or dies in office, provided he wins the next elections, it has emerged.
Report by Faith Zaba
Senior Zanu PF politburo members said this week, barring unforeseen events and circumstances, Mujuru was almost assured of taking over from Mugabe if she wins the party leadership at congress next year.
A top politburo member said this week the succession issue was virtually dealt with by Zanu PF’s senior leadership during marathon meetings last year when the party was discussing the Copac draft constitution.
During the lengthy meetings — which cumulatively lasted 50 hours and at which Zanu PF made wholesale amendments to the Copac draft constitution — the politburo tacitly endorsed Mujuru as the likeliest person to succeed Mugabe by secretly agreeing the most senior official of the party would take over from the president in the event he leaves office for whatever reason.
The politburo meetings, held between June and September last year, made extensive amendments to the draft constitution but the most important change was a provision on succession at the national level.
Realising Mugabe would be 89 and frail, the Zanu PF politburo made a contingency plan to ensure that his departure for whatever reasons would not negatively affect the party.
“We proposed the removal of the clause on the running mates and suggested that when the president retires or dies in office after he is re-elected, he would be replaced by a person from the same party,” the senior politburo member said.
“We then agreed as a party at those meetings that the most senior person in the party will immediately take over as president of the country. We were all in agreement on that and this is contained in the minutes of those politburo meetings. This means as things stand Mai Mujuru is the person to take over because she is the most senior official in the party.”
According to the 54-member politburo’s official ranking revised list provided to the Zimbabwe Independent this week, Mugabe is at the helm of the party, followed by Mujuru (2), then a vacant second vice-president position after the death of John Nkomo (3), Simon Khaya Moyo (4), Didymus Mutasa (5), David Karimanzira (late) (6), Webster Shamu (7), Sydney Sekeramayi (8), Stan Mudenge (late) (9), Rugare Gumbo (10), Nicholas Goche (11), Emmerson Mnangagwa (12), Dzikamai Mavhaire (13), Oppah Muchinguri (14), Absolom Sikhosana (15), Sikhanyiso Ndlovu (16), Obert Mpofu (17), David Parirenyatwa (18), Saviour Kasukuwere (19), Abigail Damasane (20), Ignatius Chombo (21), Stanley Sakupwanya (22) Olivia Muchena (23), Sithembiso Nyoni (24) and Francis Nhema (25).
The politburo also has 10 deputies and 19 committee members.
In terms of the Zanu PF constitution, the politburo should have four members of the presidium, 19 heads of departments, 19 deputies and 10 committees. However, the revised list provided for four presidium members, 21 heads of departments, 10 deputies and 19 committee members.
Another Zanu PF official, however, said while the official pecking order matters, it could always change after congress or a reshuffle of the politburo. Although seniority is a major advantage, there have been instances in the past where junior members, including Mujuru herself in 2004, leapfrogged their seniors. However, Mnangagwa’s allies have dismissed the hierarchical rankings, saying they were merely for operational purposes and not for determining the succession issue.
“We have a presidium and ordinary politburo members who are equal in terms of seniority in the party,” a Mnangagwa ally said. “If we go by the constitution and the list that would mean Kasukuwere, for instance, was more senior than the late General Solomon Mujuru, Dumiso Dabengwa, General Vitalis Zvinavashe and Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai. That doesn’t make sense.”
When the new politburo was appointed after the 2009 congress, there was a public row between Mnangagwa and Gumbo over who was more senior. Gumbo insisted he was senior in terms of the constitution, while Mnangagwa said he was higher-ranking than him in practice. Mujuru and Mnangagwa are fighting pitched battles to succeed Mugabe who seems to be on the cusp of departure.
During last year’s debates on the Copac draft constitution, the original documents introduced presidential running-mates under the chapter dealing with the executive. It stated the presidential candidate would nominate two candidates to contest as running-mates, who in the event of the team winning would become first and second vice-presidents.
The draft said in the event that the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, the first vice-president will automatically assume office for the remainder of his term. This clause was rejected by Zanu PF during the meetings but a compromise was later reached to introduce it after 10 years.
Instead, Zanu PF inserted a clause that says if the president retires after his re-election, is incapacitated or dies, he would be replaced by a candidate from the same party. The politburo agreed privately the most senior party official would take over, giving Mujuru a major boost.
Given that Zanu PF will hold its congress in December next year to elect a new leadership, Mujuru’s chances will also depend on whether she will win, something her allies think is assured given her current traction in the party succession race.
Although some Mujuru allies wanted a special congress to anoint her, senior Zanu PF leaders, particularly those aligned to Mnangagwa, have rejected the move as it would fuel divisions and weaken the party’ election campaigns. Party officials also say there would be no point in holding an extraordinary congress after elections because a scheduled one was due next year anyway.
Mujuru and Mnangagwa are going head-to-head across provinces in a bid to seize control of the structures ahead of congress. Mnangagwa last year outmanoeuvred Mujuru during District Coordinating Committee elections before the latter went for broke and got the structures dissolved.
That gave Mujuru space to reo-organise and now a politburo team comprising her allies is going around the country putting her faction’s ducks in a row, in preparation for the final assault on power, given Mugabe’s frailty.