CONTROVERSIAL state media columnist, Nathaniel Manheru, widely believed to be President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba, has called on Zanu PF and the public to openly discuss the president’s leadership succession, saying the nonagenarian leader is now in the twilight of his long political career.
Manheru, whose real identity was all but previously revealed by Information minister Jonathan Moyo as Charamba, even threatened to quit if dialogue on succession does not happen. Charamba apparently took over the column from Moyo after he was fired from government in 2005.
Charamba has served Mugabe for a very long time and has seen Mugabe’s rise and decline from a darling of the international community to being widely viewed as a pariah dictator.
In a revealing insight, Manheru wrote in his Saturday weekly column last week: “In the twilight of President Mugabe’s leadership, we badly need a frank debate on leadership. I am ready to lead the charge right away, from as early as next week. Or else I quit.”
Mugabe (91) is experiencing mounting health problems which insiders say will eventually force him to quit.
Over the years, the president has been shuttling to the Far East for regular medical treatment, including his December annual vacation during which he underwent what was said to be a major prostate cancer operation at Parkway Cancer Centre at the exclusive Gleneagles Hospital. He had to extend his stay by a week in January to allow him time to recuperate for which he apologised upon his return.
Mugabe is battling mounting deteriorating problems, among them, reportedly prostate cancer, eye and knee problems. His trips to the Far East for medical check-ups are also increasing as years go by.
Lately, Mugabe has been showing signs of old age, ill-health and general frailty.
Mugabe’s old age and health problems have created a situation, now all-too-evident this year, in which he is often away from official duty either attending holiday-like meetings or going for medical treatment.
Top Zanu PF officials say it was quite revealing that the call for leadership debate was coming from one of Mugabe’s closest aides, Charamba.
“Charamba, who as you know writes as Manheru, must know something we don’t for him to call for an open debate on leadership implying Mugabe’s successor, which is taboo in Zanu PF,” said a senior government official.
“For him to even threaten to quit if the issue is not discussed is very revealing. Maybe he has the blessings of the President to start debate on the issue, who knows? We will watch and wait to see who takes the lead.”
Charamba revealed early this year that he was Manheru when he said “at the risk of revealing who I am”, Gukuruhundi occurred while he was still at the University of Zimbabwe, which was the only university in the country at the time.
After leaving university, he said he joined the government as an information liaison officer for the then titular State President, Canaan Banana while Mugabe was still prime minister until 1987. Charamba was Banana’s last spokesperson and joined the new President’s Office when Banana stepped down to give way to a new executive president, Mugabe.
Another senior government official said: “The succession issue is taboo in Zanu PF and even more so now after (former vice-president Joice) Mujuru was fired together with her allies for having ambitions to take over from Mugabe. But it’s interesting that it is now coming from Charamba.”
After the elimination of Mujuru, Vice-President Mnangagwa is widely seen as the front-runner to succeed Mugabe as he could become Zanu PF presidential candidate in the 2018 general elections.
However, he might have to face an internal mini-presidential poll, if there are two or more candidates vying for the top post.
According to the constitutional amendments adopted at Zanu PF congress in December, almost 900 000 party card-carrying members will be eligible to vote through a secret ballot in a national primary election to choose the party’s next leader whenever Mugabe eventually goes.
Zanu PF had 866 701 card-carrying members as at December 2014, according to the Central Committee report presented to its controversial congress last year.