THE Zanu PF “succession” crisis generates considerably more heat than light in the eyes of the media, and there remains ignorance about all the legal niceties that surround the issue of what happens when President Robert Mugabe dies, becomes too infirm to govern, or even decides to retire.
Research & Advocacy Unit report
All of these eventualities have been covered in detail, even beginning prior to the 2013 election and Zanu PF’s “surprising” victory. The unfortunate concatenation between the national constitution and the Zanu PF constitution have been analysed in considerable detail, but, as always in Zimbabwe, the legal will run second to the political reality, and succession to the presidency is increasingly complex, beginning with the purge of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and eight cabinet ministers in 2014.
This began a bitter struggle between two so-called Zanu PF factions, Team Lacoste and the G40, and has led to the interminable discussion about who is in which faction; who is moving from one faction to the other; which faction has the ear of the President and his wife the First Lady Grace; and so on and so on. However, it cannot be denied that there is huge acrimony between the two alleged factions as evidenced by Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo’s address recently to Sapes Trust, and the sustained fallout that has followed this.
While there is considerable evidence to suggest that there is indeed a factional fight going on within the party, an alternative construction might suggest that this has been rather a slow purge of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his backers.
This too is difficult to verify, but the rationale is that, rather than the blunt expulsion that was the mode for removing Mujuru and associates, this has been a sustained attempt at weakening the Mnangagwa faction prior to a planned resolution of the succession problem.
Whichever construction is correct, it is obvious that the effect has been to split the party in perhaps a terminal fashion, and has sucked in all manner of other players, and fractured other groupings allied to Zanu PF.
For example, a faction of the war veterans has all but split from Zanu PF, albeit ambiguously, and the battle for control of the provincial party structures has become increasingly acrimonious and violent.
There are now suggestions that the ambiguous allegiance of the war veterans might be clarified by their forming a political party of their own, which would further worsen splits within Zanu PF.
It has been evident for some time that, as far as the presidential election is concerned, there are only two plausible candidates, Mugabe and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Although there are many political parties with their own leaders, the only other name mentioned with regards to the presidency is Nkosana Moyo, but he is regarded similarly to Simba Makoni in 2008, as a rank outsider. While both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have reputedly serious health problems, we will concern ourselves with the former and the risks inherent in having a very elderly candidate who might not make it all the way to the poll.
Assuming Tsvangirai is still a contender for 2018, and Mugabe not, how can Zanu PF find a candidate, notwithstanding all the speculation that the election could be rigged for this candidate, that can meet the test of political plausibility and viability?
It is difficult to believe that a party as generally organised about elections as Zanu PF would not have an alternative strategy, and this is submitted as the core of the succession dilemma.
Here a number of scenarios seem plausible if elections are Zanu PF’s central strategy, each with inherent risk for the party.
First, and the most serious, with the comments advised earlier about the intrusion of the security into the actual political arena, there are indications that a “silent coup” is being prepared. According to Ibbo Mandaza, serving soldiers have been deployed in order to influence the structure of the Provincial Co-ordinating Committees (PCCs). The problem here is that any such attempt at re-arranging the current government will require a constitutional lever, such as the death or infirmity of the president, and this seems unlikely at present. Given the second construction of the nature of the factional fight, this “silent coup” may represent a defensive manoeuvre against a possible purge rather than the confidence to take over the state with strong party support.
The second scenario is the one that will certainly occur, whether or not Robert Mugabe does remain able to contest an election in 2018: mortality will have its day, and then the complications attendant of the conflation between the two constitutions, national and Zanu PF, will come into play.
As pointed out above, this option has been explained in detail by Derek Matyszak in Succession and the Zanu PF Body Politic. Since the replacement of the president lies within the party and not the parliament, those that control the party will control the succession.
This might be termed the “uncontrolled” succession, and is fraught with danger and a high probability of political violence, albeit intra-party violence.
However, there must be concerns here about the possibility for violence and disturbances escalating as suggested by the research on state instability mentioned earlier and, although this is discounted by authors as a risk factor, the “youth bulge” may also predispose towards serious instability, as other research has suggested.
Thirdly, there is the option of calling an early election and hence pre-empting the difficulties of an aged and frail candidate.
This has recently been suggested by Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo, but it is not evident that this view emerges from the heart of the state. This might forestall all the factional fighting temporarily, but still suffers the danger that the party might not have Mugabe as a candidate.
However, it must be said in all fairness that there is no credible evidence about the state of Mugabe’s health, and the health issues may well be a ploy: equally it is undoubted that age remains a risk factor.
Other commentators have suggested the possibility of an early election, with a variant on the “controlled” succession theory.
Finally, there can be a “controlled” succession, through the president pre-emptively calling an elective congress and electing his successor, something he has alluded to on several occasions. Grace has waded in the succession battle, first saying that there is no need for a successor, as Mugabe will rule from a wheelbarrow or as a corpse from the grave to her most recent statement, where she is calling the President to appoint his successor and that his word will be final.
She said this will end all the clandestine discussions about succession and factionalism. The First Lady’s call for appointment of a successor could be an admission of failing health of the President and positioning herself for appointment.
The successor, whoever he or she might be, would then be the candidate of choice for the 2018 poll. There are suggestions from Zanu PF sources that this is the preference for at least one faction in the party, and, while it would seem that it might be risky to allow the party to vote for the candidate of their choice(s), and that this may well be a reason for all the conflict over the composition of the PCC’s, it also is the case that the party has stage-managed intra-party elections and constitutional changes very successfully over the years.
It may be assumed that such a scenario is a preliminary to elections in 2018, but an alternative construction is that it would rather be a preliminary to avoid this: It is not so clear that this approach to succession necessarily aims at fighting an election: it can also be argued that it is a preliminary to setting up a government of national unity.
A possible modification here is that the arrangement may also create a Government of National Unity, with an arrangement similar to that of the 2009 Global Political Agreement, except with a titular presidency and an executive prime minister, a reversal in roles from the previous inclusive government. This, it can be plausibly suggested, is the alternative strategy and one that seems too easily dismissed by most commentators and observers, especially among opposition political parties.
This is an abridged version of the latest report by the Research & Advocacy Unit titled Zimbabwe since the elections in July 2013: The View from 2017.