HARARE - Despite his advanced age and the mounting economic woes the country is grappling with, President Robert Mugabe is not leaving office yet, with his closest ally in Zanu PF Didymus Mutasa yesterday declaring that the 90-year-old veteran leader is here to stay.
Mutasa told the Daily News on Sunday in a brief interview yesterday that they wanted to entrench Mugabe’s grip on power such that they are considering coming up with laws that criminalise the discussion of Mugabe’s succession publicly and in the media.
He also warned journalists against publishing stories on Mugabe’s health saying the regime will deal ruthlessly with such scribes.
Mutasa told the Daily News on Sunday that journalists and people who fuel speculation on Mugabe’s health should be punished severely.
“Such news (discussing Mugabe’s succession) will lead us to arrest journalists, vanhu vanonyepa ngavabatwe vachiendeswa kumajeri, (People who lie must be jailed) working on the stories,” said Mutasa, whose party commands a two thirds majority in Parliament and can therefore pass such draconian legislations.
Critics say discussing Mugabe’s succession or his retirement — even though he is showing signs of strain — is now taboo not only in the ruling party but across the country because Zanu PF cannot fathom a future without him.
Mutasa, a close confidante of Mugabe, has in the past made it clear that people are wasting time eyeing the aged leader’s post saying the Zanu PF hierarchy and constitution explain that vice president Joice Mujuru will take over in the event of the president’s incapacitation.
He insists that for now Mugabe will not go anywhere and said no discussion around the veteran leader’s succession would be entertained at the party’s congress in December.
But commentators were quick to dismiss Mutasa yesterday. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition chairperson Dhewa Mavhinga said Mutasa was living in the past.
“Zanu PF should stop threatening and intimidating journalists who have constitutionally-enshrined media freedoms. No amount of harassment or intimidation will make Zanu PF’s big problem of succession go away. Instead of deflecting attention, Zanu PF should be busy working hard towards an orderly resolution of the succession problem,” said Mavhinga, a critic of the ruling party.
Given his advanced age, it is not clear if Mugabe will still be around to choose a successor, but analysts warn that his failure to appoint one presents a very dangerous scenario for his party.
Mugabe’s repeated trips to Singapore for regular check-ups have only added fodder to the speculation that he would soon appoint a successor, but infighting in his party has made such a move contentious.
Mugabe says although he has names of the likely candidates to succeed him, it is only the masses that will make the ultimate selection.
Frontrunners to replace him are Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who have been manoeuvring to take control of party organs critical for ascendancy come the elective December congress.
Interestingly, the impending congress offers Zanu PF a chance to map the way forward in preparation for 2018, but the top brass is adamant that they are no vacancies, especially in the coveted presidium — presently occupied by Mugabe, Mujuru, party national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo and Mutasa.
Senior Zanu PF officials have in the past weeks been secretly lobbying for leadership renewal at the upcoming congress, questioning the point of having an elective congress if the party was averse to change.
On the other hand, the opposition — although fractured — has been piling pressure on Mugabe to step down with Simba Makoni leader of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MDK) last week saying the veteran leader should retire because he is trapped in the past.
Makoni, a former Zanu PF politburo member said whenever he meets Zanu PF officials, they would be discussing about change but are afraid to come out.
But Mugabe is taking no notice, and is plodding on, impervious to the distress calls from an economy that is teetering on the brink of collapse resulting in the crumbling of social services delivery such as health.
In his early years in power, Mugabe expanded public education and health services that were the envy of the continent and is celebrated by his ardent supporters as a champion of black empowerment, a liberation hero and a crusader against neo-liberalism.
His populist policies, particularly the land reform programme led to an economic meltdown that began in 2000 and continues unabated as his clueless government fails to provide answers.
Unemployment has soared to an estimated 85 percent.
Hundreds of long-established companies have closed down, often blaming Mugabe’s new black empowerment laws that compel companies to give black Zimbabweans 51 percent control.
Mugabe has blamed the economic slump on Western travel sanctions, imposed on him personally and his closest associates.