Joice Mujuru, Zimbabwe’s former vice-president (VP), was once touted as the natural successor to President Robert Mugabe.
The veteran politician had long been in the inner circle of Zimbabwe’s leader, who has now been in power for 35 years, and looked well-positioned to take over if and when he stepped down.
However, all that changed ahead of the ruling party’s congress in December 2014. In a well-orchestrated plot spearheaded by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, Mujuru was accused of a litany of crimes that ranged from plotting to assassinate the president, to dividing the party and using witchcraft.
Mujuru watched helplessly as Grace attacked her on national television day after day. And by the time the First Lady had finished her meet-the-people rallies in the country’s 10 provinces, it was evident Mujuru was going to be purged from both the ruling Zanu PF party and the government.
At party’s congress in December, the once powerful Mujuru was reduced to an ordinary card-carrying member.
Since then, the former VP has maintained a low profile. This may well continue, which would leave Emmerson Mnangagwa, another veteran insider who replaced Mujuru as VP, as Mugabe’s most likely successor. However, it may be too soon to write off Mujuru just yet.
No one knows what is going on in Mujuru’s head, but there are three possibilities for what might be next for the once revered VP.
Mujuru walks away
Since she was sacked from government, Mujuru has relocated to her Ruzambo Farm 40km south of Harare. Pictures of her at her farm have circulated on social media and she seems happy in her new role.
According to court papers, Mujuru’s late husband, General Solomon Mujuru, left behind vast riches and businesses across the country, including farms, mines, real estate and pharmaceuticals companies.
With her now in charge of these entities, she could be one of the richest women in the country and could lead a very comfortable life away from politics. In fact, for the past eight months, Mujuru has shown no interest in returning to the political fray, even avoiding national events such as the recent Heroes’ Day commemorations.
If she is to stay away from politics permanently, it is likely Mugabe will leave her alone in return. However, for someone who has lived and breathed Zimbabwean politics since she was a teenager, the prospect of Mujuru turning her back on events in Harare’s corridors of power for good appear slim.
She re-joins Zanu PF
While it might seem far-fetched, another possibility is that she will be brought back in from the Zanu PF cold.
In the past, Mugabe has extended an olive branch to former political nemeses when it suited him. In 1987, for example, the president signed the Unity Accord with fierce rival Joshua Nkomo and made him his VP. Similarly, over the past couple of decades, the influential Jonathan Moyo has fallen in and out with the Mugabe administration; once expelled from the party, Moyo is now a government minister.
When it comes to Mujuru, one might be able to read signs of a possible reconciliation in the pipeline too.
Mugabe appointed some of Mujuru’s close allies — such as Nyasha Chikwinya and Ambrose Mutinhiri — in a recent cabinet reshuffle, and has confessed that the expulsion of Mujuru and her allies has failed to stop factions angling to succeed him in his party. For her part, Mujuru has tended to avoid criticising her former boss publicly, saying that she was taught during the days of the liberation struggle not to question her superiors.
However, the possibility of a Mujuru return to the Zanu PF fold would likely meet resistance from other bigwigs. For instance, Grace, who many believe is now the centre of power in the party, would probably still see Mujuru as a potential threat.
Furthermore, two of Mujuru’s close allies — former presidential affairs minister Didymus Mutasa and former Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo — say that she has no intention of re-joining the ruling party.
Former VP forms own party
A final possibility for the ousted VP then is that she stays in politics but forms her own party. Mutasa and Gumbo have already indicated that they have laid the groundwork for a party which Mujuru would lead.
They have used the slogan “People First” at various fora, which suggests that could be the name of the party. And in one of her press statements early this year, Mujuru used the slogan herself.
Mujuru has also sought to distance herself from Zanu PF by publicly apologising for “aiding” Mugabe’s “misrule” for the past 34 years.
If this is indeed Mujuru’s plan, it could send shivers through the ruling party. The former VP is reportedly popular with ordinary people, especially in contrast to her likely rival, Mnangagwa, who has been nicknamed “the Crocodile” and has a reputation for being ruthless.
In fact, Mnangagwa was defeated in his constituency of Kwekwe Central in consecutive elections, in 2000 and 2005, before switching to the safer seat of Chirumanzu-Zibagwe for the 2008 elections.
Mujuru also still enjoys much support within Zanu PF itself and is said to have had the loyalty of nine of 10 provinces when she was sacked. The leaders of these nine provinces were expelled along with her. Many factors thus fall in Mujuru’s favour. But if she is considering launching her own party to contest the 2018 elections, she will be well aware that the road to power will not be straightforward.
Having worked with Mugabe, she will be all too familiar with how he deals with his opponents. Mugabe has arrested, violently harassed and intimidated his rivals for decades, and Mujuru might decide to only form a political party just before 2018 so that Mugabe will not have enough time to dismantle her politically.
Mujuru will also have to woo Zimbabwe’s powerful security chiefs, some of whom have previously vowed never to salute anyone other than Mugabe and have been pivotal in keeping him in power by means including launching brutal poll campaigns.
Will Mujuru want to confront these hugely risky challenges? Would she consider a return to Zanu PF if welcomed? Or would she rather just bow out and retire to her businesses?
Only time will tell. But it would be too soon to forget about the once-admired and still-influential veteran VP just yet.
Masau is a Zimbabwean journalist.