PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s unexpected remarks that none of his two deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, are guaranteed to succeed him have fuelled tensions in the faction-riddled Zanu PF amid reports that two cliques — one led by Mnangagwa and the other by First Lady Grace — are on a collision course.
In an interview to mark his 91st birthday, Mugabe told Zimbabwe Television (ZTV) last week that his successor would come from any level of the party, throwing the pigeon among the cats in the process.
“A successor can come from any level of the party but usually the top levels, the central committee, the politburo,” Mugabe said.
“It may not be either of the VPs, it’s up to the people who choose who they think, at the particular time, is the most suitable candidate for the presidency, vodiscusserka (and debate on the candidate’s suitability). That’s how it should be. I was not appointed successor by anyone.”
Factionalism has taken root once again in the party despite the significant weakening of the faction led by former vice-president Joice Mujuru.
Zanu PF insiders told Zimbabwe Independent this week that although the faction led by Mnangagwa had made significant inroads in controlling the party, another force is consolidating and coalescing around Grace, who because of her proximity to Mugabe, has become a key player in the party.
The two camps, which joined hands in the run up to the December congress to thwart the Mujuru faction, are now engaged in a battle to control the party after getting rid of the common enemy. The Mujuru camp, however, remains active in Zanu PF despite being emasculated.
Mujuru lost the vice-presidency to Mnangagwa, while several party heavyweights linked to her lost their positions in Zanu PF and government in the run up to, during and after congress.
The casualties include former secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, former spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, former political commissar Webster Shamu and politburo members Dzikamai Mavhaire, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Francis Nhema, Nicholas Goche, Olivia Muchena and Angeline Masuku.
The Grace camp, which appears to be growing, buoyed by the fact that it has Mugabe’s ear, includes politburo members Savior Kasukuwere, Jonathan Moyo, Ignatious Chombo and Oppah Muchinguri, as well as Edna Madzongwe, Patrick Zhuwao, Shuvai Mahofa and Phillip Chiyangwa.
Mnangagwa, however, has loyalists who have stood by him for many years, among them, politburo members Josiah Hungwe, Kembo Mohadi, Patrick Chinamasa and Joram Gumbo. Other prominent members of the faction are July Moyo, Larry Mavima, Owen Ncube, Daniel Mckenzie Ncube, Tsitsi Muzenda and Pupurai Togarepi.
Party insiders say that the Grace faction is claiming that Mnangagwa and Mphoko are failing to be national figures by continuously associating themselves with their regions and tribes.
The group has reportedly gone to the extent of informing Mugabe about this, hence his public urging of Mnangagwa and Mphoko to assume the role of national leaders instead of being regional leaders. Mugabe made the call at the Harare International Airport on arrival from his annual holiday in the Far East last month.
“Although members of the two groups communicate, there is mutual mistrust and suspicion. The tensions have not exploded into a fully-fledged factional war but things are moving in that direction,” said a party official.
“The friction is spreading into government where the Mnangagwa faction, for example, prefers that Jonathan Moyo be removed from the Information ministry which they believe he has been using to destabilise their leader.”
Sources say the Mnangagwa camp believes those rallying around Grace want to use her to shipwreck their faction using a strategy similar to the one deployed against the Mujuru faction.
The sources say those in the Mnangagwa camp suspect that their rivals also want credit for thwarting the Mujuru camp and thus their demands they should have had more rewards when cabinet and politburo appointments were made.
As a result members of the two factions have been meeting regularly to strategise and discuss possible scenarios and solutions going forward, sources say.
Infighting in Zanu PF, insiders say, was continuing because of the realisation that Mugabe, who turned 91 last week, was now frail and therefore unable to exercise full control of the party.
There are fears in the party that Mugabe does not have the capacity anymore to complete his term because of the combination of old age and ill-health.
Officials say Grace has taken an interest in Zanu PF affairs because she realised that her husband would not last long and would thus want to secure her own political future to protect herself and family interests.