STARTING this week, the Zimbabwe Independent will serielise a report titled The Mortal Remains: Succession and the Zanu PF Body Politic, produced by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Research Advocacy Unit (Rau), although written by researcher and lawyer Derek Matyszak, unpacking the unfolding Zanu PF power struggle and President Robert Mugabe’s succession drama, focusing on the national and party constitutions, the movers and shakers and the internal dynamics attendant to the process.
The somewhat provocative title of this report conceals an extremely serious issue with Zimbabwean politics. The theme of succession, both of the state presidency and the leadership of Zanu PF, increasingly bedevils all matters relating to the political stability of Zimbabwe and any form of transition to democracy.
The constitutional issues related to the death (or infirmity) of the President have been dealt with in several reports by Rau. If Zanu PF is to select the nominee to replace Mugabe, as the state constitution presently requires, several problems need to be considered. The Zanu PF nominee ought to be selected in terms of the Zanu PF constitution.
In order to understand this process, the structure of Zanu PF is outlined in the paper, together with the powers, duties and responsibilities of each component.
Of particular importance are the powers relating to internal elections. It is evident that there are a number of grey areas in respect of election to the office of any of the four posts in the Zanu PF presidium, including the post of president and first secretary.
The clarity of the procedures leaves much to be desired and is a fertile area for dispute. In the past, the practice has diverged widely from the requirements of the party constitution.
With an understanding of the applicable provisions, rules, and the powers of the various structures within Zanu PF, the question of election to the presidium is analysed and the important role of the provincial co-ordinating committees (PCCs) is described.
The Zanu PF constitution stipulates that any candidate receiving nomination by six or more of the 10 provinces will be directly “elected” to the presidium by the national people’s congress. It is unclear what happens if the congress refuses to “elect” the nominee(s) chosen by the PCCs. It is also unclear what happens in the event of multiple nominations and splits between the PCCs.
The difficulties become amplified considering that the Zanu PF constitutional and electoral machinery must conclude its processes within the 90-day timeframe required by the state constitution.
Although the national succession problem has yet to occur, there have been problems of succession within Zanu PF over the years, and these are analysed with respect to the Zanu PF constitution, especially the events related to deaths of previous members of the presidium: that of Joshua Nkomo in 1999, Simon Muzenda in 2003, Joseph Msika in 2009 and John Nkomo in 2013.
The manner in which the replacements to posts in the presidium have been made is considered as a possible indicator as to what might happen when the next vacancy arises. As the report shows, each of these deaths lead to considerable internal conflict over succession, and, following the death of Simon Muzenda, to the remarkable events of the “Tsholotsho Declaration” in 2004.
The consequence of all of these events has led to an increased centralisation of power in the hands of the politburo and the marginalisation of the democratic core of the Zanu PF constitution.
The paper shows that nominations to the Zanu PF presidium have, to date, been determined, in the face of considerable resistance, by a process of “guided democracy” on instructions issued by a politburo controlled by Mugabe. The question thus arises as to what will happen when the post to be filled is that of the “guide” — Mugabe himself. Several scenarios suggest themselves based on previous manifestations of Zanu PF “internal democratic” practice.
The first is that the “Emmerson Mnangagwa faction” (who is current Justice minister) may seek to reinvigorate, activate and enforce the democratic processes in the Zanu PF constitution. These very processes have been altered significantly by Mugabe, who moved a constitutional amendment to change the provincial electoral colleges from the 44-member provincial executive committee to the 100 plus PCCs to facilitate Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s ascendancy.
Ironically, it is possible that Mujuru now is in the ascendancy in the former, but not the latter body. But as noted, this juristic approach may fail in the face of disputes concerning the composition of the PCCs.
The costs and logistical difficulties of bringing such a large number of delegates together should the body be required to convene on short notice may also present difficulties. Following nominations by the PCCs, the elaborate process of endorsement by the national people’s conference and “election” by congress may need to take place.
All will need to be completed within the 90-day timeframe set by the state constitution.
In view of these difficulties, a second scenario may arise where the central committee exercises its power to amend the Zanu PF constitution and establishes an expedited method of nomination.
Thirdly, the Mujuru-dominated politburo may continue to arrogate to itself powers it does not have, as it has done under Mugabe, and, taking advantage of Mujuru’s likely interregnum incumbency at state and possibly party level, direct the nomination procedure.
In the latter two instances (that of the central committee or politburo assuming control), none of these bodies is likely to speak with one voice and the process may be susceptible to legal challenge or, worse, extra juridical conflict. This is not to suggest that only the “Mujuru faction” is capable of ignoring the party constitution.
A May 2014 report that military leaders were directing Mugabe to cancel the party’s December congress so that securocrats could manage the smooth transition of Mnangagwa into power, is unlikely to have struck many readers as beyond the bounds of possibility.
Despite claims from Zanu PF functionaries that the Zanu PF constitution contains clear succession procedures, past experience suggests the distinct possibility of intra-party conflict upon Mugabe’s demise which will affect the nation as a whole. This is probably something of which Mugabe is all too aware. It is thus likely that he may seek to guide the process of his succession while he is still able. His difficulty is to do so without the party tearing itself apart in the process.
‘Fit as a fiddle’
Mugabe turned 90 in February this year. Although he and party officials insist that he is “as fit as a fiddle”, it is unlikely that he is immune from the health problems which accompany any nonagenarian.
Frequent, and often seemingly urgent, trips to Singapore for specialised medical treatment in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 suggest that Mugabe’s current spell of reasonably good health is precarious at best.
Various articles have been written outlining some of the legal and political implications which might arise if Mugabe were to suddenly “depart the stage” or become too ill to perform his duties. The last of these addressed the contradictions and legal quagmire caused by the provisions in the previous constitution which established the inclusive government (2009-13).
With the adoption of a new constitution for the country on May 22, 2013, the issue of what happens in the event of Mugabe’s sudden departure from office is differently governed. This paper thus updates previous analyses to take these new provisions and various recent pertinent events into account.
The new constitution
Given Mugabe’s age and alleged frailty, the manner in which succession to the presidency was to be determined was a key issue in the inter-party negotiations during the inclusive government which led to a new constitution for the country.
The sensitivity of the subject is reflected in the fact that early drafts did not address the matter at all, indicating that the question had been “parked” for future discussion. Significantly, none of the proposals that emerged in this regard during the course of the negotiations suggested that there should be a return to the electorate in the event of the president’s demise.
Section 92(2) of the new constitution provides that: “Every candidate for election as President must nominate two persons to stand for election jointly with him or her as Vice-Presidents, and must designate one of those persons as his or her candidate for first Vice-President and the other as his or her candidate for second Vice-President.”
Section 101(1) then stipulates: “If the President dies, resigns or is removed from office —
(a) the first Vice-President assumes office as President until the expiry of the former President’s term of office.”
Section 100(1), to the following effect, is also of relevance: “Whenever the President is absent from Zimbabwe or is unable to exercise his or her official functions through illness or any other cause, those functions must be assumed and exercised by the first Vice-President.”
Before continuing, it is necessary to insert a caveat here for any reader who does not proceed further: the above provisions are not yet in effect and do not currently govern the succession issue.
Genealogy of the provisions
The genealogy of these provisions is of some interest, particularly to students of Zanu PF.
The first draft of the constitution which became publicly, if unofficially, available contained no specific clause relating to the death of a sitting president and anomalously, while it mentioned that the President “may resign by giving notice to the Speaker (of Parliament)”, gave no indication as to the procedure to be followed in the event of such resignation.
However, a “final draft consolidated constitution” appearing four months later, in mid-July 2013, introduced the idea of “presidential running mates”.
Each presidential candidate in an election was to nominate two persons to stand for election jointly with him or her as his or her Vice-Presidents, and had to designate one of those persons as his or her candidate for first Vice-President, and the other as his or her candidate for second Vice-President. In the event of the resignation, removal from office, or death of the President, the first Vice-President would assume office as President for the remainder of the former President’s term of office.
In the context of Zanu PF’s succession politics, this proposed clause was quite remarkable.
It led to considerable political gossip and speculation as to how it had come to be included in the draft. The effect of the provision would have been to grant Mugabe the power to determine his potential successor and compel him to do so ahead of the election.
The Zanu PF constitution contains no provisions to deal with the contingency of vice-presidential running mates, though certainly there would be those within the party who might argue that existing provisions for the appointment of party Vice-Presidents should stand as the provisions to select nominees for national vice-presidential candidates.
This then would leave the sole incumbent, Mujuru, (there presently being no second Vice-President) in pole position. The adoption of this clause would have been interpreted as an agreement within Zanu PF or determination by Mugabe, that Mujuru should succeed him as President upon his death or resignation. As such the clause is not likely to have found much favour with those aligned to the other reported pretender to the presidency, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The grave risk this clause posed to Zanu PF was the possibility that the selection of Mujuru as Mugabe’s running mate would result in Mugabe being de-campaigned by members of his own party in the impending 2013 general election. Such de-campaigning, under the moniker Bhora Musango was believed to have been at least partly responsible for Mugabe’s loss in the first round of the 2008 elections.
Since it was clear that in whatever way the clause pertaining to succession was drafted, it would not involve a new presidential poll and would retain the presidency within the party, it was imperative for all coveting the highest political office of the land, not to jeopardise a Zanu PF victory.
Accordingly, when this “final draft” of the proposed constitution was placed before Zanu PF’s powerful politburo for consideration, the fate of the proposed succession clause was watched with considerable interest.
The politburo, partly due to a 2012 decision to dissolve the district co-ordinating committees (DCCs) — party structures believed to be aligned to Mnangagwa — is thought to be dominated by those in the Mujuru camp.
In the event, the politburo expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the draft constitution and demanded a raft of changes, which included the proposed succession clause. Instead of running mates, Vice-Presidents would, as under the then extant constitution, be chosen by the president.
Succession, the politburo held, should be governed by the following provision: “In the event that the President dies, or resigns or is incapacitated, one of the Vice-Presidents nominated by the party of the former President shall take over immediately and in any event not later than 48 hours, as the President for the remaining tenure of the former President.”
This formulation dealt with the possibility of another Bhora Musango campaign, while leaving Mujuru ahead in the succession race. To the extent that the door was left open to Emmerson Mnangagwa, entry into the race would have been by securing (in the face of precedent favouring other candidates ) the vacant position of Vice-President within the party (and state).
The realisation of this possibility was strengthened by removing presidential discretion to appoint only one of the two permissible Vice-Presidents.
To be continued next week.