HARARE - With President Robert Mugabe in the twilight of his long and controversial political career, due to advanced age and failing health, the brutal war within his post-congress Zanu PF to succeed the nonagenarian is getting nastier and more confusing by the day.
And following the ruthless purge of former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her close allies from the ruling party late last year, only VPs Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, First Lady Grace Mugabe and embattled Zanu PF national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, appear to be the only internal candidates still standing in line to succeed Mugabe.
But Zanu PF insiders told the Daily News yesterday that of the four candidates, the under-fire Mnangagwa was at the moment ahead of the hunting pack and the favourite to take over from Mugabe, with his co-deputy, Mphoko, waiting for an ambush.
The only problem for Ngwena (Shona for crocodile), as Mnangagwa is called, is the spirited opposition that he is getting from the ruling party’s ambitious Young Turks, who are referred to as the Generation 40 (G40) group and who appear to enjoy the indulgence of the increasingly influential Grace.
Well-placed Zanu PF sources say the G40, whose kingpins allegedly include Kasukuwere and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, are on the surface of things pushing for Grace to succeed her husband, but in reality campaigning for themselves, particularly Kasukuwere — whose admirers now fondly refer to him as Obama, after the highly-regarded American president.
A politburo member close to Mnangagwa said yesterday that the presidency was for him “to lose” given his seniority in Zanu PF, as well as the fact that he had been on Mugabe’s side for more than 50 years.
“Make no mistake, Ngwena is the crown prince and the G40’s machinations will come to nought. Gushungo (Mugabe) and Ngwena are joined at the hip,” he said confidently.
A patient man with a reputation for legendary ruthlessness, Mnangagwa’s liberation struggle credentials were, however, recently questioned by some war veterans, casting shadows over his chances to succeed Mugabe given the importance of struggle credentials at this point of Zimbabwe’s history.
But academic and researcher Ibbo Mandaza told the Daily News that Mugabe’s successor would be determined by how Zanu PF would choose to move between “the democratic path”, which entailed a special congress, or “the undemocratic method”, which involved the blatant disregard of the Zanu PF constitution.
“If they go the way of appointment, it would be between Mnangagwa and the First Lady, but like I alluded to earlier, that would mean bending the constitution,” Mandaza said.
Now known as the new party kingmaker, most in Zanu PF are agreed that Grace will have a major say on who succeeds her husband as she had become the most influential politician in the party and had the “unfettered ear of the King”, as one bigwig put it, which meant that she “always gets her way”.
And although she had sent mixed messages on whether she harboured presidential aspirations, Mugabe had recently — upon his return from the United States — proclaimed that “no one can stop my wife”, which appeared to imply that she could dream even about succeeding him.
“The time has come to show people what I am made of,” Grace herself told a crowd at her vast Mazowe business hub last year, adding confusingly that, “People should learn to wait for their time … I had never dreamed of entering politics, but you have approached me and I am ready to go”.
But her rising influence, maverick streak and appetite for anarchy have thrown the ruling party into disarray, and she disastrously fronted the ill-advised annihilation of Mujuru and her allies late last year — an ongoing crisis that the ruling party still has to recover from.
Mandaza also warns that it is foolhardy for people harbouring presidential aspirations, like Mnangagwa and Grace, to entirely depend on Mugabe’s benevolence for their ascendancy.
“Jonathan Moyo made that point at the weekend, saying the VP should not bask in the hope of appointment, although it was expedient for him (Moyo) given that he was part of the process that saw Mnangagwa being appointed and those who had been elected being sacked.”
Mandaza was also of the view that if Mugabe’s succession was to be determined by election, then many other candidates, including the likes of Kasukuwere, would have a decent shot at getting into power.
Although Tyson, as the combative Kasukuwere is also known as, has no liberation war credentials, as he was barely a teenager when the liberation war ended in 1980, he has steadily risen through the ranks of the ruling party and many young Zanu PF members are coalescing around him in search of opportunities.
“Someone from the fringes, including those who were sacked, could bounce back and take over. Remember, 90 percent of the leadership was sacked, the nine provincial chairpersons had been elected but were sacked. Many MPs were also affected.
“They could re-organise themselves with all those who are purporting to be People First during the provincial elections that will precede the national congress.
“After all, has People First been formed as a party yet? No. That could be the reason why it is not being formed because they are watching in the knowledge that such a scenario is a possibility,” the highly-regarded Mandaza said.
He also noted that Mugabe was aware that Mujuru was lurking on the fringes and that she could capitalise on the goings-on in the ruling party and seek to bounce back, which could force the nonagenarian to appoint his successor.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure weighed in, saying in terms of both the Zanu PF and national constitutions, Mnangagwa and Mphoko were better positioned to succeed Mugabe.
“But politics does not always work in terms of constitutional naivety as non-constitutional mechanisms could be employed. As things stand, however, Mnangagwa is the most likely candidate.
“The others like Grace and Kasukuwere are not strategically placed to leapfrog Mnangagwa to the post in terms of the balance of power and probability,” Masunungure said.
On the other hand though, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisayi Ruhanya said in the absence of a clear succession plan by Mugabe, nobody in Zanu PF was guaranteed to succeed him.
“It is only Mugabe and perhaps his wife Grace who know who the next party president is. This is an authoritarian regime that does not invest in institutions and because of that, it would be misleading for anyone to say so and so will succeed Mugabe.
“Look at what happened to Mujuru. Mugabe’s succession will not be premised on rules but his own will,” Ruhanya said.
He added that there were also often “controversies in politics” such as “the role of accidents in determining succession”.
Citing the way Mphoko had risen from relative obscurity to Zanu PF’s top echelons, Ruhanya said, surprises could not be ruled out.