ZANU PF president and first secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa has mutilated the party constitution introducing sweeping changes, ostensibly, to remove some provisions that hounded his firm grip to power.
The new amendments were presented by the former party secretary for legal affairs Paul Mangwana at the 7th Zanu PF National Congress held in Harare, a fortnight ago.
Mnangagwa was re-elected party first secretary and was named as the presidential candidate for elections next year.
National chairperson Oppah Muchinguri also told congress that the amendments were adopted.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday, Mangwana confirmed the changes.
However, political commentators argued the constitutional changes were cosmetic while others said Mnangagwa was gearing up for the elections.
One major topical amendment was the provision for a female member of the presidium — be it a woman vice president or party chairperson. The position of national chairperson was also included in the presidium.
The national secretary for administration will be the secretary to the presidium.
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An amendment to Article 5 (6) indicates that “there shall be a presidium, of four members at least one of whom shall be a woman, consisting of the president and first secretary, two vice presidents and second secretaries and the national chairperson”.
This, according to observers, protects the status quo, especially the positions held by vice presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi.
Confirming the changes, Mangwana said: “Yes, there was the provision for a female vice president but that amendment makes it clear that a woman can take any of the positions in the presidium.”
Another amendment includes the need for the secretary for administration to give a 14-day notice to convene an extraordinary session of congress in case of a vacancy for the president.
Mnangagwa has been facing a court case with a party supporter Sybeth Msengezi, who is challenging the former’s ascendancy following the late Robert Mugabe’s ouster in 2017.
Mangwana dismissed assertions that the amendment was made to make the court case irrelevant.
Other observers noted that Mnangagwa was in breach of the party constitution after failing to appoint a full politburo during the congress.
Section 49 (Appointment of members of the politburo and the deputy heads of departments) states that Mnangagwa should appoint the 24 members “immediately” after his and central committee elections during the sitting of the congress.
The politburo, according to the constitution, would have 24 heads of department, five committee members and 24 deputy secretaries.
However, Mangwana said Mnangagwa had, in appointing the vice presidents, national chairperson and five heads of departments, avoided violating the party constitution.
“There is a politburo in place, technically, because the president announced heads of department and other members of the presidium during the congress.
“He will continue making the appointments using his discretion because there are no provisions that the politburo will have a certain number of people heading the departments. The President is acting constitutionally and, remember, he is a lawyer and he knows what he is doing,” Mangwana said.
Mnangagwa appointed Obert Mpofu (secretary for administration), Mike Bimha (political commissar), Patrick Chinamasa (finance) and Lovemore Matuke (security) during the congress.
He also confirmed the position of women’s league and war veterans league bosses to Marble Chinomona and Douglas Mahiya, respectively.
Changes, including new departments, were included in the amendments amid reports that Mnangagwa would introduce new faces and technocrats in the politburo.
The new departments include war veterans, lands and agriculture, business and development, local governance, devolution and housing; and ideology and heritage training.
While Mahiya’s position was confirmed, other departments could see cabinet ministers like Mthuli Ncube and Sekai Nzenza joining the politburo.
Party sources told the Independent that firebrand characters like Jabulani Sibanda, a former war veterans boss was likely to join the top organ.
The new departments are also part of Zanu PF's moves to reflect appointments at cabinet level to ensure oversight in case the party retains power.
The amendments also cemented the incorporation of the war veterans’ league into the Zanu PF structures while also re-introducing District Co-ordinating Committees (DCCs).
The amendments formally incorporated the council of elders, associate members and Diaspora districts.
The council of elders would comprise former presidents while Mnangagwa has the discretion to appoint other members from former members of the presidium and politburo “on account of their probity”.
In an interview, South African-based political analyst Ricky Mukonza said the amendments were Mnangagwa's attempt to appease war veterans.
“There are clauses that have been added that talk about their importance and role in the party. This could be a reward for the role that they played in ED's ascendancy to power in 2017,” Mukonza said.
“This could also be Mnangagwa again playing politics of appeasement to his VPs. It could also be an outcome of behind-the-scenes negotiations. Zanu PF was also trying to close the gaps exposed by Musengezi’s challenge of Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to power in the party. However, with these changes that have been brought in, does it not prove Sybeth's case?” Mukonza added.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero, however, noted the insignificance of the changes citing that Mnangagwa was once a victim of the Zanu PF constitution.
Mnangagwa lost the race to succeed the late Simon Muzenda when former vice president Joice Mujuru was elevated from the post of the women’s league boss at the 2004 congress.
“It was just an ad hoc provision that stopped Mnangagwa from becoming the party vice president after being endorsed by nine provinces. That is when we learnt out of the blue, that there was a provision for a woman vice president with Mugabe doing so to checkmate Mnangagwa,” Rusero said.
He, however, expressed doubt that Mnangagwa, at 80 years old, would change the constitution to consolidate his grip on the party.
“The good thing about the Zanu PF constitution is that it does not have presidential terms. I think that is all one needs as a president. There is nowhere that a whole party can torpedo the president due to the balance of forces that are in and outside Zanu PF.”
Rusero also highlighted the military factor in Zanu PF.
“Mugabe was not removed through the power that resided in Zanu PF but elsewhere. So the army showed us where Zanu PF’s power resides because the whole 2017 operation was choreographed, mediated and operationalised by the military.
“Otherwise, by November 6, 2017, we saw that by the time of his dismissal, Mnangagwa’s faction had been politically grounded. It was only resuscitated by the military intervention,” Rusero said.
He said it would be “naive” for Mnangagwa to avoid balancing the military whose face in the matrix of things is Chiwenga.
Rusero also argued that while the Zanu PF system was complex, constitutions, from a Marxist view, were written to perpetuate and prolong politicians’ stay in power.
Zanu PF activist Masimba Mavaza said it was mischievous to suggest that Mnangagwa was amending the constitution at a whim.
“The constitution is not a yoke. It does not control people. People control the constitution. The constitution is made for the people by the people, not vice versa. The Zanu PF constitution requires that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation,” Mavaza said.
He said the requirement of a woman in the presidium has not been tampered with adding that the constitution had been amended to encompass the chairmanship in the presidium.
“If the chairman is a man then one of the Vice Presidents will be a woman. This amendment is in line with accommodating women into leadership,” he said.
The United Kingdom-based lawyer added that the Musengezi case had become moot.
“It died a natural death. What he has been praying for in court has been healed by congress. His application has been overtaken by the events of the congress,” Mavaza said.
He, however, argued that the appointment of members of the politburo was affected by failure to define the word “immediate” and it was up to the president to define it.
Zanu PF has been battling serious divisions ahead of the congress but the leadership is expected to form a united front as they face Nelson Chamisa, who formed the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) early this year.