ZANU PF has started preparations for its much-awaited December congress amid indications that it will be another damp squib that will simply rubber-stamp the re-election of incumbents President Robert Mugabe and Vice-President Joice Mujuru, leaving ambitious aspirants in the shade.
Party insiders told the Zimbabwe Independent that Mugabe, who at 90 is Africa’s oldest president, would be grudgingly re-elected as none of the front-runners to succeed him are bold enough to challenge him publicly despite his advanced age and associated ailments, and deepening but mostly behind-the-scenes frustration over his decision to hang on to power. Mugabe has been at the helm of Zanu PF since 1977.
The sources said Mugabe was however likely to speak about his succession at the congress, possibly revealing what his thoughts are. Although some officials believe Mugabe wants to die in power, there is growing belief he may in fact have a preferred successor but is keeping his cards close to his chest.
“Mugabe has a young family and he would want to secure his family’s interests in the long-term and one way of doing so is ensuring that whoever takes over from him protects his family’s interests and wealth. This therefore means his wife Grace could also play a major role in influencing him on succession,” said a Zanu PF official.
The party has for a long time been deeply divided into two major factions, one reportedly led by Mujuru and the other by Justice minister Emerson Mnangagwa, although both steadfastly deny leading factions. Mugabe however recently hinted that neither of the two was certain to succeed him, as there were other potential candidates that the people may prefer.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba refused to comment on whether his boss would run for office again. He referred questions to Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo saying he (Charamba) only “speaks on government, not party issues”.
Gumbo said although preparations for the congress had started, talk about candidates was premature as the party is “still to look into the modalities and even the the agenda of the congress”.
“We are just beginning to lay the groundwork and we will start with the Women and Youth congresses that will be held in August,” Gumbo said in an interview on Wednesday morning.
“We have not looked into the modalities and we have not even worked on the agenda so I cannot comment on that matter of candidates.”
Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who has always been associated with the Mujuru faction, has in recent weeks been mentioned as a possible successor.
“As things stand, people can plot and plot, but as long as Mugabe does not indicate that he is not running then it’s given that he will run unchallenged. It’s however clear that he wants another term and of late he has taken every opportunity to reveal that he has unfinished business to take care of, which in essence is a warning to ambitious pretenders that they should stop dreaming about the presidency,” said another party official.
Party insiders also revealed that the congress may elevate current national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo to the post of second vice-president although it is not a done deal as some former Zapu members reportedly have serious misgivings about him.
Some former Zapu members say Khaya Moyo is in fact junior in Zapu structures after serving as an aide to former Zapu president, the late former Vice-President Joshua Nkomo. Mujuru, who is almost certain to retain her post, is however trying her best to prop up Moyo to fill a vacancy which opened up following the death of John Nkomo on January 17 last year.
Zimbabwe’s former ambassador to South Africa Phelekezela Mphoko has also been campaigning for the post. He however has the disadvantage that he does not hold a senior position in the party whereas Mugabe, who will have a big say at congress, respects seniority.
A huge battle is however expected for the national chairman’s position with Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa eyeing the post, especially if Moyo is elevated. Although the post has gone to former Zapu members since the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987 with the late Vice- President Joseph Msika being the first ex-Zapu official to hold it, Mutasa and other Zanu PF officials say there was no agreement that the post should be reserved for former Zapu members.
Mnangagwa is also weighing his options and may also contest the post as he seeks to get into the Zanu PF presidium, which would be a springboard for his presidential ambitions. Zanu PF politburo member Kembo Mohadi is also reportedly eyeing the position.
Although Gumbo, who like Mutasa is in the Mujuru faction, insisted there had not been any discussions around candidates and nominations for leadership positions, he suggested that the door was open for Mutasa and other members of the pre-unity accord Zanu PF to challenge for the post of chairperson.
“There was never any gentleman’s agreement that the post should go to former Zapu members but it just so happened that it kept going to Zapu people,” Gumbo said, adding, “the only consensus was on the question of the second vice presidency”.
Mutasa refused to comment, telling this paper that “handichadi kutaura neve ma-pepa” (I no longer want to speak to the press.
Women’s league boss Oppah Muchinguri, who is one of the key figures in the Mnangagwa faction may be challenged by Olivia Muchena, according to party officials.
People who have allegedly expressed an interest in the post of deputy secretary for youth affairs, a powerful post that automatically makes one a politburo member, are incumbent Edison Chakanyuka (Midlands), Mayor Wadyajena (Midlands), Kudzanai Chiponga (Manicaland), Innocent Hamandishe (Harare) and Mike Gava (Mashonaland West).
It is however the likelihood of Mugabe winning another term that analysts believe is a recipe for disaster for Zimbabwe whose resurgent economic malaise has many citizens fearing for the worst.
“It is no surprise that there will be one candidate (Mugabe) again in December but to have a 90-year old at the helm is frightening for Zimbabwe,” said Dumisani Nkomo, a Bulawayo-based analyst.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said it is obvious that Mugabe wants to be life president but warned that this would only worsen the policy vacuum and more importantly the lethargy in policy implementation that has affected the entire government bureaucracy.
“It appears to be his intention to be life president and it is accepted by Zanu PF,” Mandaza said.
“But this means there will be a policy vacuum and more importantly failure to implement policies given that he is no longer young enough to manage issues that are always centralised in the presidency.”
Mandaza gave examples of the failure to implement important agreements including the Essar deal signed almost three years ago with India to revive the iron and steelmaking industry in Kwekwe.
Even China, Zimbabwe’s “all-weather friend”, is baulking at providing a rescue package through structured deals to Mugabe’s government in the aftermath of last year’s controversial general elections, largely because of the country’s high political risk profile and the aging leader’s succession problems.
“China will continue to help Zimbabwe in its own way, but it will not provide an economic rescue package or bailout largely because it’s worried about the country’s political risk associated with Mugabe’s age and health complications, as well as his succession issues,” a senior government official recently said.
“The president’s age was a major point of anxiety for them and his continued hold on power when he should now be handing it over to a younger and energetic successor probably at the party’s congress in December.
“What makes it worse for us is that there is no succession plan on the table and debate on the issue has effectively been banned. If we are to move forward as a country, we need to deal with this succession issue,” the official said.