PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, at 90 Africa’s oldest president, has added yet another twist to the Zanu PF succession race by hinting he may prefer another candidate to take over from him other than the two front runners, Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice and Parliamentary Affairs minister Emmerson Mnangagwa — although it is clear he is not ready to relinquish his hold on power just yet.
Mugabe set tongues wagging recently when he announced neither Mujuru nor Mnangagwa had an automatic ticket to take over leadership of the country. He said the people would have their say and choose whomever they deemed fit to be president.
He also announced he still had unfinished business — which he did not disclose — to fulfill, giving credence to a belief held by many that he wants to die in office.
Although Mugabe’s comments on Mujuru and Mnangagwa were not shocking considering he took a swipe at the two officials accusing them of destroying Zanu PF through promoting factionalism rather than uniting people during an interview aired on ZTV to mark his 90th birthday in February, his near-dismissal of the two senior officials came as a surprise.
During the ZTV interview, Mugabe said it was “terrible even to have your name mentioned as leader of a faction,” and suggested that faction leaders be expelled from the party.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer Dr Eldred Masunungure said there were many messages to read from the President’s statement.
“Well, this unfinished business mantra has been said before and the objective has always been to deflect his ambitious lieutenants who want his position. He is essentially saying for as long as I still want to be at State House, its hands off; put your ambitions on ice,” said Masungure.
“He is saying, I first have to give an expression I no longer wish to continue in office for you to start campaigning. He is saying Mujuru and Mnangagwa are prematurely gladiating for power because he is still there.”
He however said also crucially, by announcing they were not assured of landing the top post, he may be having someone else in mind, and that candidate could be a shocker.
“I have little doubt that he has his preferred candidate and that he is barricading the person by not mentioning him or her. The person may be announced at a strategic time such as a congress (the next one is in December) or another opportune time,” said Masunungure.
“I would be shocked if he has not privately, perhaps in his household or heart, settled for a candidate. That candidate would be a present confidant, someone he trusts to secure his family’s safety and interests in the long term. This person is likely to be someone most people do not consider to be in the race.”
He said Mugabe may be feeling he is strong enough to be active for some more years, hence the continued shielding of the candidate because if he makes his choice known early, “the vultures in the party may pounce.”
Masunungure said if Mugabe has a preferred candidate, it’s likely the person would be someone who can command the respect and support of the security sector and has been in the system for some time.
He said although it may be possible that Mugabe preferred to die in power, his family interests may push him to have a role in choosing his successor.
“If he dies in power and allows a free for all, it will mean his family’s business interests and security may be at the mercy of whoever takes over. He may do a Nyerere by crafting some arrangement which may see him withdraw from government and relocating to the party headquarters while his preferred candidate takes over,” said Masunungure.
Another analyst, Dumisani Nkomo also said it was possible Mugabe may be harbouring ambitions of dying in power.
“There is also a possibility that he wants to give power to someone close to him, someone he trusts, and this may not be any of the persons currently considered among the favourites. If he doesn’t want to die in office and wants to have a say on who takes over, that person could be neither Mujuru nor Mnangagwa,” he said.
Nkomo said First Lady Grace Mugabe could play an important role in Zanu PF’s succession dynamics as she could have influence on who takes over.
“She would be worried about her family interests and wealth, so she would want someone who would be protective. The president would also be considering his family in the decisions he makes,” said Nkomo.
Dr Ibbo Mandaza was however of the opinion that, by dismissing Mujuru and Mnangagwa, Mugabe was working towards his ambition of dying in office. He said the indications were that he had no desire to hand over power to any of his lieutenants.
Mandaza said Mugabe’s statements do not inspire confidence that he wanted to see a smooth transition of power.