HARARE - With President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF hurtling towards a December congress expected to work out the party’s succession plan, reports in Zanu PF indicate that a few voices could be considering the possibility of pushing the 90-year-old leader to go.
Senior Zanu PF officials in the past weeks have secretly demanded change at the December congress, questioning the point of having an elective congress if the party was averse to change.
It is impossible to know how widespread the sentiments expressed are among the party officials, but the flurry of calls for leadership renewal is almost unheard of and startling, given that criticism of Mugabe is strictly prohibited.
It underlines the challenge that Zanu PF’s rulers have themselves recognised that they must address the growing need to resolve the succession question, along with demands for transparency and reform.
At the same time, Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, is facing an equally critical question: How to pass the baton to the next generation.
The succession debate has been stifled and Mugabe’s rule has been relatively smooth for decades, but time is approaching when he must decide who will assume the throne next, potentially putting himself in a quandary at the December conclave.
Mugabe, in power for over three decades, has not designated a successor.
Last weekend, administration secretary Didymus Mutasa took the unusual step of officially declaring at the Zanu PF Manicaland Women Inter-District Congress that elected leaders should die in office, branding all those keen to unseat presidium members “rebels.”
While Mutasa was not picking up his mobile phone yesterday, he told the Mutare meeting, where he was accompanied by vice president Joice Mujuru that leadership renewal was out at the forthcoming congress.
“We should respect the elected leadership until they say they want to retire,” Mutasa said. “But we have not seen those who have said they want to leave office. They are retired by God. That’s how things are done in Zanu PF.
“Kana pane vamwe vedu vane pfungwa dzekuti pacongress iri kuuya iyi vanoda kuva president ivo vanhu ivavo imhutsa (rebel).”
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo declined to comment on the matter yesterday, referring questions back to Mutasa, who is said to be recuperating from ill-health.
“Mutasa is a senior member of the party and secretary for administration for that matter. If he, indeed, made those remarks I suggest you talk to him,” Gumbo told the Daily News.
Justice and Legal Affairs minister Mnangagwa, a 66-year-old guerrilla war veteran and Mugabe’s key ally and enforcer, is widely seen as a succession contender, along with Mujuru, 58, another liberation war veteran whose nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa and is leading the stakes to succeed the long-serving ruler.
Both have been members of Mugabe’s Cabinet since 1980, and played a major role in Zanu PF’s re-election machine, and are looking to strategically position themselves ahead of the congress in that is supposed to decide a successor to Mugabe.
Zanu PF factions positioning themselves to succeed Mugabe are also panicking following recent suggestions that the 90-year-old could be grooming retired Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono to take over the reins when he finally retires.
That December congress is potentially divisive given the stakes. Analysts say there are many who could qualify for the throne, including those whose names have not been thrown in the succession hat.
The successor will inherit a country where half of the population of 13 million people is under the age of 25, in need of jobs, housing and education. Mineral-rich Zimbabwe is potentially wealthy, but there are deep disparities in wealth; and unemployment is growing among the young.
The ruling elite is showing that they are aware of the challenges, and has unveiled an economic blueprint ZimAsset, which proposes a cocktail of measures to revive the economy, including borrowing money from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a group of large emerging market nations collectively known as BRICS, and setting up a sovereign wealth fund.
International Crisis Group’s southern Africa project director Piers Pigou, said the party will be a different animal no matter what, when Mugabe moves on — one way or the other.
“His departure provides an opportunity for renewal and a shift from the cult of personality,” Pigou said.
“His absence is likely to weaken the brand though. At some point, though, this former liberation movement is going to have to re-brand itself if it is to remain relevant to majority of Zimbabweans. Otherwise it will eventually become an anachronism.
“This challenge is not unique to Zanu PF. It seems unlikely Zanu PF will be able to keep the legend of patriotic nationalism alive in a context where Zimbabweans continue to be impoverished and the realities of patronage and self-enrichment amongst the party and connected few continue to be exposed.”
Pigou said much depends on who takes over and the import they give or retain around this approach.
“Factionalism could certainly get worse if Mugabe passes on, without key issues being resolved and or him making his views on either his preferred successor and or Zanu PF succession procedures very clear,” Pigou said.
“It is unlikely the party will disintegrate, although there are possibilities for major configurations and a shifting of certain elements of the old guard. To a certain extent, the influx of new blood or middle management into Zanu PF political representation provides some space for this."
"Much depends on whether a post-Mugabe dispensation encourages or suppresses the active exchange of ideas and new thinking or whether it will be a case of old wine in new bottles.”