ALMOST immediately after the recent general elections, consultations are underway in Zanu PF to hold an extraordinary congress at the end of the year in place of the expected annual conference in a bid to secure a new five-year party leadership term for President Robert Mugabe to align it with his fresh state tenure, in a move seen as an attempt to pre-empt the simmering succession crisis ahead of next year’s scheduled elective assembly.
OWEN GAGARE/FAITH ZABA
Senior Zanu PF official told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that although Mugabe managed to head off the succession conundrum in the run up to the elections to avoid a disruption of his campaigns, the problem has erupted within the party which is expected to hold internal elections ahead of the conference.
While Zanu PF bigwigs want Mugabe –– effectively on his last term due to age and frailty –– to call a special congress to announce when he will go and resolve the succession problem, it has emerged in fact he wants to use the gathering to consolidate his grip on the helm.
This has created a new wave of internal discontent and instability in the party which expected him to prepare to make a grand exit at some point after his huge election victory.
“We are expecting an extraordinary congress in December, instead of the annual people’s conference, to discuss leadership issues,” a senior party official said. “Consultations on that are currently underway.”
In terms of the Zanu PF constitution, an extraordinary congress can be convened whenever it is deemed necessary and at the instance of:
The majority of the members of the Central Committee members; or
The President and First Secretary of the party at the instance of not less than one-third of the members of the Central Committee; or
The President with the backing of at least five provincial executive councils.
After receiving a request for an extraordinary congress, the president is expected to forward the request to the party’s secretary for administration, who in turn should give at least six weeks’ notice prior to convening the extraordinary congress.
The special congress deliberates only on matters for which it has been specifically convened, and three quarters of members shall form a quorum of the session.
Officials say Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa is currently conducting consultations in preparation for the extraordinary congress. But as things stand, the conference is still on in Mashonaland West.
However, Mutasa last night professed ignorance about the issue. “I don’t know anything about that. I’m the one in charge of such issues but why would we be in a hurry, we will wait for the right time,” he said.
But party officials who spoke to Independent said Mutasa and others were engaged in consultations. “It’s not in doubt, that is what is happening but we still at the consultation stages,” one official said. “It’s certainly the case.”
Besides, giving Mugabe a fresh five-year mandate at the helm of the party, the special congress will also elect a second vice-president, possibly party chairman and fill about seven other vacancies in the politburo, the officials said.
The congress is also expected to elevate party chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo –– who also chaired the party’s national elections directorate –– to become co-vice-president. The position was left vacant by the death of John Nkomo in January.
Moyo, who previously had no constituency, has been buoyed by Zanu PF’s clean sweep of all 13 House of Assembly seats in his home province, Matabeleland South.
Insiders say this has given him impetus to rise within the presidium where key decisions, including selecting cabinet ministers, are made.
However, fears abound in Zanu PF Moyo’s ascendancy would trigger a cut-throat battle for the party chairmanship between Mutasa, who has thrown his hat into the ring, and secretary for legal affairs Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has been attempting in vain to enter the presidium since 1999. Mnangagwa has suffered a series of defeats in his bid to become party chairman or vice-president.
During the 1999 congress, he was defeated by Nkomo as tried to become chairman before a disastrous campaign in 2004 to become vice-president in what became known as the Tsholotsho debacle. Mnangagwa was demoted after that and key his allies, including six provincial chairpersons, were suspended in a fierce internal backlash.
Mugabe accused them of plotting a foiled palace.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Mnangagwa are seen as frontrunners to succeed Mugabe. Insiders say the two lead factions fighting to produce a successor to Mugabe despite their public denials.
A politburo member told the Independent: “Given the current situation and circumstances, this extraordinary congress should be an opportunity for the president to announce his retirement and leadership renewal, but instead it seems he wants to use it to extend his stay in power.
“People were waiting for the 2014 congress to deal with the succession issue, but if he is going to get a fresh mandate at the extraordinary congress, then it pre-empts the succession debate.”
Lately, Mujuru, who for long has reportedly been involved in a succession battle with Mnangagwa, has been boldly sending signals through private and public remarks she is ready to take over if the opportunity arises.
In terms of the new constitutions, if Mugabe is incapacitated, retires or dies, Zanu PF will deploy someone to finish the remainder of his term. Insiders say this is fueling internal power struggles.
However, Mugabe’s special congress move suggests he is not ready to relinquish power and may be bidding for president-for-life.
Senior Zanu PF officials say Mugabe, who has managed to play Zanu PF factions against each other to ensure he maintains his grip on power, would be unchallenged at the extraordinary congress and that could as well make him life president.
“Mugabe wants to exploit his election victory to be in power forever. He is far stronger now than at any other time in the past decade, and that’s why he wants to use the special congress to align his party leadership tenure to his state presidential term, with the endgame being to be in power until he dies,” an official said.
Mugabe’s previous deputies –– Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda, Joseph Msika and John Nkomo –– all died in power.
Congress is the supreme policy-making organ of the party and has the power to amend the constitution, and is also the “supreme and ultimate authority for the implementation and supervision of the policies, directives, rules and regulations of the party”.
The president, two vice-presidents, chairperson and members of the central committee are elected at congress. Heads and deputies of departments, who constitute the politburo, are appointed by the presidium and approved by congress.
Fact file: Party leader’s political history
1964: Zanu PF holds its inaugural congress in Gwelo (now Gweru) with Robert Mugabe being elected as secretary-general.
1964-1974: Mugabe is detained along with many other nationalist leaders, including party leader Ndabaningi Sithole. Sithole ousted in a prison coup.
1974: Mugabe and other nationalists are released from prison.
1975: Mugabe crosses into Mozambique with Edgar Tekere, but Mozambican President Samora Machel banishes him to Quelimane in Zambezia Province.
1977: Mugabe is chosen as president of Zanu taking over from Sithole.
1979: Mugabe attends Lancaster House talks leading up to Independence alongside Joshua Nkomo of Zapu under the Patriotic Front umbrella.
1980: Zanu PF wins 57 out of 80 seats, Nkomo’s Zapu secured 20. Mugabe becomes prime minister of Zimbabwe on April 18.
1984: Zanu PF congress agrees on the principle of a one-party state. Mugabe recognised as party’s unchallenged leader, and he sets up a new party structures, with a central committee and a politburo as key organs.
1987: Unity Accord between Zanu and Zapu with the new party retaining the name Zanu PF and Mugabe as president.
1989: Zanu PF and Zapu formally merged at their joint congress with Mugabe retained as president.
1994: Zanu PF re-affirms a commitment to its original socialist guiding principles by ordering its leadership to abide by a code of conduct.
1999: Mugabe survives attempts to legislate him out of office by Eddison Zvobgo via the constitutional commission.
2004: Mugabe crushes a palace coup masterminded by Emmerson Mnangagwa’s faction leading to the suspension of six provincial chairpersons and others.
2007: Mugabe survives a special congress plot to oust him by the Joice Mujuru faction resulting in politburo members Dumiso Dabengwa and Simba Makoni quitting in exasperation.
2008: Mugabe loses first round of presidential elections to MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai who later withdraws from a June run-off citing violence against his supporters. Mugabe wins the run-off uncontested. Sadc brokers a power-sharing deal.
2009-2013: Coalition government runs Zimbabwe with Mugabe as president.
2013: Mugabe and Zanu PF win a crushing two-thirds majority in general elections amid rigging accusations.
2013/2014: Mugabe expected to seek a fresh mandate as Zanu PF leader at an anticipated party extraordinary congress.