HARARE - Vice President Joice Mujuru has thrown the first punch in the delicate battle to succeed president-elect Robert Mugabe in both Zanu PF and the country.
Although her weekend remarks that she was “ready to serve if elected” have reportedly torched a storm in Zanu PF — through misrepresentations by rivals — sources said battle lines have been drawn between her and outgoing Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“Zanu PF will never die because president Mugabe is no longer there; there are people who now can lead the party,” she told the Daily News on Sunday on the sidelines of her late husband Solomon Mujuru’s second memorial service.
She added: “If the people ask me to lead them, I will definitely do so, but I will never impose myself to them because I know the consequences of doing so. If you blunder as a leader, you will regret as to why you imposed yourself on the people.”
Analysts and other party insiders insisted yesterday that there was nothing entirely new and odd about Mujuru’s remarks, if not desire, that the party follows its tradition of keeping to hierarchies in choosing its leaders. Among those who have strenuously — and routinely — emphasised that Zanu PF would follow that path is party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa.
Mujuru said the purpose of the party was to ensure that there is continuity of Zimbabwe’s socialist system beyond its founding generation of leaders including its 89-year-old president.
While speculation has increased about Mugabe’s intentions and plan — following his disputed win in the July 31 harmonised elections — the 58-year-old mother of four has found herself in a duel of sorts with an array of ambitious men, including Mnangagwa and other fringe players.
In the Saturday interview, Mujuru, however insisted she was no faction leader, had been duly elected as Zanu PF’s second secretary by the people and saw Mugabe as a father figure, and mentor.
The sober views have, nonetheless, not shielded her from constant attacks by rivals and that she was also involved in a leadership contest to succeed Mugabe. And in the event that she is handed the baton, she faces a daunting task in rallying support at both country and party level.
Although Mujuru lacks the personality that made Mugabe a one-man political phenomenon in Zimbabwe, she has the advantage of being Mugabe’s hand-picked successor and is considered a moderate.
After her elevation to the vice presidency in 2004, Mugabe said, “When you choose her as a vice president, you don’t want her to remain in that chair do you?” — a suggestion that Mujuru, could be the next Zanu PF leader after Mugabe steps down.
A former girl guerrilla leader, Mujuru has won Mugabe’s trust as a loyalist who echoed the president’s stances.
How Mujuru will lead in the event Mugabe is no longer there remains to be seen, although she is widely known as both a dove in a party of hawks and a leader who views upholding her mentor’s legacy as her personal crusade and responsibility.
Analysts have speculated that differences are widening between factions led by Mujuru and Mnangagwa, the influential Defence minister who is thought to wield power within the military.
But thus far, both have denied such divisions and vowed to remain united.
After Mugabe’s July 31 victory, Mujuru has stepped up her public appearances, throwing down the gauntlet and declaring her ambitions, calling for unity among allies and lambasting the opposition.
Mujuru’s unflinching loyalty makes her a logical choice, political observers said.
After the death of her husband, Mujuru is now seen as the most serious contender to replace Mugabe, while on the other hand Mnangagwa touts himself as the president’s preferred heir.
Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank, said Mujuru’s declaration that she was ready to take over was a reaction to the potent threat posed by Mnangagwa.
“Many people have said that Mnangagwa is seen as one of the brains behind Zanu PF’s recent election victory,” Maisiri said.
“This seems to have created the notion that Mnangagwa’s fortunes have risen and is therefore, seen as the more favourable to succeed president-(elect) Mugabe.
“I think Mai Mujuru’s comments are a natural reaction to what she sees as a ‘Mnangagwa-run-away’ with the succession mantle. She is basically reminding Zanu PF members that she is still in the race and ably so.”
He predicted that Mujuru’s statements might heighten the succession battle.
The tiff between the two contenders has been fomented by attempts by both camps to strategically position candidates in powerful ministerial positions ahead of the inauguration of a new government.
However, some analysts have ruled out any prospect of Mugabe handing over power to either Mujuru or Mnangagwa before the expiry of his fresh term.
Mugabe told reporters just before casting his vote in Highfield, Harare on July 31 that he will not relinquish power and will finish his full five-year term.
“Don’t you want me to serve my whole term, what am I elected for? Why should I offer myself as a candidate if it is to cheat the people into resigning after?” Mugabe questioned.
Maisiri said Mugabe might use the festering divisions to remain in power.
The cunning political veteran has said if he leaves prematurely, the party would be ripped apart.
“In that case, I think Zanu PF will work on the succession issue for the next four or so years,” Maisiri said.
“This will therefore, mean that president-(elect) Mugabe will likely serve his full five-year term. I also think president-(elect) Mugabe wants to use the next five years to re-create, re-brand and consolidate his legacy. I don’t think he is going to allow someone else do that for him, so he will hang out the whole term and only pass on the baton for someone to run in the 2018 elections.”
Charity Manyeruke, a University of Zimbabwe political scientist, said Mujuru had demonstrated exceptional courage to put her cards on the table and take up the leadership challenge.
She said it was “normal and healthy” for a political party to have “small groups.”
“Mai Mujuru’s statement is not talking of factions; she is talking of leadership which should go beyond any divisions,” Manyeruke said.
“When she talks about taking over leadership, she will be talking about rising above divisions.”
Manyeruke said it was up to Mugabe to relinquish power or to continue serving as president, since he was given the mandate by the people on July 31.
“Any decision is really about him,” Manyeruke said.
“He got the mandate of the people to run this country. They will be very disappointed if he decides to leave.”