HARARE - Analysts say Zanu PF’s continuing infighting, and growing speculation inside the party around the possibility of President Robert Mugabe relinquishing the reins of power before the end of his current term betrayed the fact that many ruling party bigwigs were now desperate for the nonagenarian to leave office.
At the same time, there was almost 100 percent agreement among the analysts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday that it would be “nothing short of a miracle” if Mugabe willingly handed over complete power to one of his lieutenants anytime soon.
These sentiments came amid the political storm ignited by fraud-accused businessman and prominent Zanu PF member Energy Mutodi, who sensationally claimed on social media at the weekend that Vice
President Emmerson Mnangagwa would succeed Mugabe by March.
Rather disappointingly, the musician-cum-politician did not say how his cryptic New Year wishes would come true.
Psychology Maziwisa, the junior Zanu PF spokesperson said: “Why don’t you call Cde Khaya Moyo.”
Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo’s mobile was continually engaged.
Analyst Shepherd Mntungwa said yesterday, there appeared to be “a growing sentiment within the party that perhaps it is time president
Mugabe handed over the reins of power to one of his lieutenants”.
“Events of the past few months, including the vicious succession wars, also suggest that this sentiment cuts across the major factional lines in the party, with the only issue being who should take over from president Mugabe — hence the brutal purging of (former Vice President Joice) Mujuru and her allies.
“But we must not confuse the fact that many Zanu PF bigwigs want Mugabe to go, even if they won’t climb Mount Everest to say so, with Mugabe actually going.
“My own reading is that president Mugabe has no immediate plans to go anytime soon. In addition, (First Lady) Grace’s starring role in the purges of last year suggest an inert fear within the family about any possible political changes within Zanu PF’s power matrices,” Mntungwa said.
Piers Pigou, southern African director of the International Crisis
Group, said it was likely that speculation around Mugabe’s imminent departure and Mnangagwa taking over would escalate within Zanu PF, even as some senior party apparatchiks tried to argue, unconvincingly, that “succession was a non-issue”.
“But unless there has been a significant and rapid deterioration in his (Mugabe’s) health, it would make little sense for him to pull out ... but the possibility of running out of steam is ever present given his age.
“But does stepping back have to be an ‘all or nothing’ affair. This seems highly unlikely. It may well be that Mugabe pulls further back and gives his VPs more room to run a range of issues around governing the country and dealing with party issues.
“This would also allow him to focus on his regional and continental roles as Sadc and AU chair, and also to retain a position ‘above’ the ongoing machinations within the party,” he said.
Mugabe took over from Malawi’s Peter Mutharika as Sadc chairman in August last year, after the regional bloc controversially endorsed the outcome of Zimbabwe’s disputed 2013 elections.
The African Union will be conferring a similar honour on Mugabe this year, with the analysts saying regional and continental leaders were in a way also suggesting that these honorary positions were some sort of “golden handshake or farewell incentive” for him to hand over power in Zimbabwe.
And even though Mutodi also postulated that Grace would become VP when Mnangagwa succeeds Mugabe, Pigou said: “I suspect his (Mugabe’s) presence will be required to help shore up and consolidate her options too.
“Her political cachet will be more coherently developed if Mugabe remains politically active, albeit in a reduced role”.
Pigou also said with the criticism directed at Mugabe growing within Zanu PF — as Zimbabwe faced one of its worst ever liquidity crunches, increased power blackouts, rising violent crime, and worsening public sector corruption among a cocktail of other problems — it would make “perfect sense” for Mugabe to step back at this point.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha also said a Mnangagwa take-over was unlikely to occur anytime soon, except if this was orchestrated by Mugabe himself.
He added that it was “too soon for Mnangagwa to have consolidated his own power base,” outside Mugabe to force his way to the top.
But other analysts said with Mugabe plagued by ill-health associated with advanced age, which had seen him shuttle between Zimbabwe and Singapore for medical attention in recent years, even he realised that he could not continue as leader forever.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said rumours of Mugabe’s health have abounded, but said he seemed sometimes confused both during and after the party congress.
“If the issues are indeed health-related, it would be good to stand down at this point and concentrate on his Sadc and AU ceremonial duties — which I have always considered to be valedictory in his case,” Chan said.
Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country’s independence in 1980, after first working as prime minister until 1987, and then becoming executive president from then until today.