HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF is mired in confusion over a politburo meeting called today in the 90-year-old leader’s absence.
Top officials yesterday contradicted each other over the meeting as a fresh storm brews in the faction-riddled party.
With Mugabe away in Singapore for a “routine eye check-up”, today’s politburo meeting, which was scheduled to be chaired by vice president Joice Mujuru, widened divisions in the party, with officials in the rival Emmerson Mnangagwa faction reportedly questioning the motive of administration secretary Didymus Mutasa to convene such a meeting in the absence of the veteran Zanu PF leader without urgent business to discuss.
Mutasa is believed to be loyal to Mujuru.
Usually the politburo only sits in the absence of Mugabe if it is considering conferring hero(oine) status on fallen comrades.
Today’s scheduled meeting has irked hawks in the Mnangagwa faction, who accuse acting president Mujuru of trying to show off her “temporary command”.
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, 59, 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 elective congress in December that is supposed to decide a successor to Mugabe.
Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo yesterday told the Daily News that the Politburo meeting was on today, and in the absence of Mugabe, who was expected back last weekend, Mujuru would chair the meeting.
“I am not sure who will chair the meeting but if the president is not available the vice president will chair,” Gumbo told the Daily News. “The president might come back tonight or early in the morning tomorrow. If he is not there it means the acting president will chair.”
In a statement issued on Monday, Mutasa urged all Politburo members to attend today’s meeting.
“The secretary for administration is advising all members of the Politburo that there is going to be a Politburo meeting on Wednesday, 21 May at Zanu PF headquarters,” Mutasa’s statement said.
He said all members “should be seated by 9am”, with the time decree betraying fears that some rival faction members could abscond.
While Gumbo was saying the meeting is proceeding, Mutasa yesterday backtracked, saying the meeting had been called off.
Asked why the Politburo was sitting in the absence of Mugabe and who would be chairing the meeting, Mutasa said: “Why do you like to ask too many questions? I told you that the Politburo meeting has been cancelled and what more do you want?”
Asked when the Politburo will sit next, Mutasa said: “It is none of your business, we will inform you when the next Politburo meeting will be.”
It was not immediately clear if the cancellation had been communicated to all politburo members.
Insiders say deadly infighting now makes it difficult for such crucial meetings to be held in the absence of Mugabe.
Authoritative sources linked to the Mnangagwa faction told the Daily News yesterday that they contested the holding of the politburo in the absence of Mugabe.
Mutasa has insisted that Mnangagwa is not in the running to succeed Mugabe, as the party’s succession politics becomes more convoluted.
This comes as the Presidential Affairs minister has — for the umpteenth time — tipped Mujuru to take over from the 90-year-old nonagenarian, but Mugabe himself has recently ruled out both “contenders”.
With the ex-Defence minister locked in a perpetual succession duel with Mujuru, the Chirimanzu-Zibagwe MP has emerged as one of the leading contenders to take over from Mugabe — but Mutasa recently said he was a distant number 14 and far beyond the perking order of making it into the presidium.
Although the country and ruling party’s constitution place the VP as the front runner, Mnangagwa has often been touted as the 90-year-old ruler and other hard-line elements’ choice or preferred candidate.
And with Mugabe flatly refusing to name anyone as his successor, other names have cropped up and these include ex-Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
In a recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Zanu PF leader hinted he may not contest the 2018 election and the people would have to choose his successor — although he had not made that decision yet.
“I have people in mind who would want to be,” Mugabe said in the documentary dubbed “Robert Mugabe @ 90”.
“But I have looked at them. I have not come to any conclusion as to which one, really, should be. I leave it to the choice of people,” he told Ghanaian-born British film-maker Roy Agyemang in the interview.
The decision not to contest the next elections has surprised many in the 51-year-old party that has won successive elections since independence in 1980, albeit under controversial circumstances.
Mugabe’s views lacked clarity on what exactly he thought would happen at the elective December congress which is expected to choose his successor.
Mugabe’s continued stonewalling on leadership succession as the party gears up for an elective congress in December could create chaos, uncertainty and insecurity, analysts have warned.
Although Zanu PF officials have sworn loyalty and comradeship to Mugabe, behind-the-scenes they are upping the ante for a place on the high table — the presidium.
In recent months, the party’s members have openly challenged each other and threw all sorts of accusations around.
That is also what makes Mugabe’s eventual absence a riddle and, potentially, a ticking time bomb, observers say.