Speculation of President Robert Mugabe’s expected departure before the end of his tenure in 2018, and possibly as early as January after handing over the African Union chairmanship, has further polarised Zanu PF as warring factions go for broke to position themselves ahead of his potential exit. Zanu PF is now divided into two main camps: the transition camp, which is led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the consolidation camp, which consists of First Lady Grace Mugabe and her backers, including the Generation 40 (G40) group.
Mnangagwa appears to have the upper hand in the succession race after the demise of his predecessor, longtime nemesis, Joice Mujuru and her faction, but is facing resistance from a group coalescing around Grace. The transition camp has been pushing for an extraordinary congress in 2017 to pave way for Mnangagwa to take the reins ahead of the 2018 general elections. The camp believes Mugabe’s accelerated departure would even be better as it will give their candidate more time to learn the ropes before the elections and is therefore encouraged by signs that the veteran leader (91) is considering quitting.
In addition, the camp believes Mnangagwa would get time to consolidate, while completing Mugabe’s tenure, making him a ready-made party candidate for the 2018 general elections.
The consolidation camp, however, wants Mugabe to cling onto power and possibly run as the party candidate in the 2018 general elections until 2023. Grace and her backers believe Mugabe’s extended rule would give them time to build a constituency and penetrate the party’s structures, which they hope to use as a springboard to upstage the Mnangagwa faction. Mugabe’s early departure would, however, leave Grace seriously exposed as she lacks a power base and gravitas.
“In the event that Mugabe fails to complete his term or to represent the party in the 2018 elections, the anti-Mnangagwa group believes Grace should be propped up to fill her husband’s shoes,” said a senior party official.
The consolidation camp believes the Mnangagwa faction is promoting talk of Mugabe’s possible resignation in both the party and the media. The camp says Mugabe has a popular mandate from the electorate and should therefore stay in office until 2018.
“In any case, why should he surrender his mandate to an unelected official? Mnangagwa was not elected as vice-president of both the state and the party and should therefore not inherit a national mandate from an elected leader. That will be betrayal of the people who voted the president into power,” said another senior party official, opposed to Mnangagwa taking over. While talk of Mugabe’s possible early retirement continues, the Mnangagwa faction is also wary that behind the scenes Mugabe may actually be entertaining the idea of propping up his wife.
Despite her growing influence in both government and Zanu PF, Mugabe has not appointed his wife into cabinet, a move some believe is meant to ensure she is not tainted by allegations of incompetence or corruption.
The Mnangagwa camp believes the distribution of T-shirts to some Zanu PF supporters and members of Mbare Chimurenga Choir which led to clashes between Mnangagwa and Grace’s supporters during the burial of national hero Sikhanyiso Ndlovu in Harare on Saturday, pointed to organised work to tarnish and stop the vice-president from ascendancy.