ZIMBABWE – As the fierce Zanu PF war to succeed President Robert Mugabe escalates, former ruling party stalwarts, current insiders and analysts say embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s chances to rise to the throne look “as good as dead”.
Speaking last week, former senior Cabinet minister and Zanu PF politburo member, Dumiso Dabengwa — now leader of the opposition Zapu — claimed that Mugabe had “already hand-picked” a successor who was not Mnangagwa, and whom he would reveal soon.
This comes as both party insiders and analysts warn that Mugabe’s failure to outline a clear succession plan is the main reason behind Zanu PF’s deadly and seemingly unstoppable factional wars.
It also follows the ruling party’s decision at its disputed 2014 congress to change its constitution to allow Mugabe to appoint his deputies — giving the increasingly frail nonagenarian the power to anoint his successor as its “sole centre of power”.
“There is a (succession) programme. It will be unveiled soon … his programme, not the party’s programme,” Dabengwa told the Voice of America’s Studio 7 last week — but refused to name names, while wholly discounting Mnangagwa’s chances.
“I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess, but there is a candidate in mind and all that is being done (the succession wars) is in order to clear the way for the preferred succession candidate,” Dabengwa added.
Several names have been thrown into the succession ring over the past few years — including Mugabe’s powerful wife Grace, vice presidents Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and former Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.
While virtually all of these people have said that they are not in the running to succeed Mugabe, the first lady has hinted at the kind of individual Mugabe has in mind to take his throne.
She said recently that, “Mugoti unopihwa anyerere (the throne will go to someone who is quiet and not campaigning for it)”.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure told the Daily News yesterday that in light of all this, Sekeramayi was in the succession frame.
“The real question is who will get the cooking stick, who is the quiet one? Would you say it’s Mphoko or Mnangagwa? Certainly not, given how they have been involved in the ongoing factional war?
“Would you therefore say it is Sekeramayi? One is tempted to say yes, to the Defence minister for various reasons.
“The fact that Sekeramayi has been appointed to sensitive portfolios of State security and defence for an unbroken period shows that Mugabe trusts him because he would not be comfortable with someone who differed with him in principle and ideology.
“Furthermore, the Defence minister has surprisingly survived the turbulent times that Zanu PF went through that led to the sacking of (former vice president Joice) Mujuru.
“How did he survive when he was one of the people suspected to be backing her?
“Why was he kept at the head of a sensitive ministry? The other thing that works in his favour is that Sekeramayi does not invite media attention. He is possibly the quiet one,” Masunungure said.
But academic and publisher Ibbo Mandaza said he was convinced that Mugabe wanted to die in office — adding that claims that there was a succession plan were “far-fetched”.
He said it was most likely that Mugabe’s successor would only be decided by the party upon the nonagenarian’s passing on or incapacitation, with no guarantees that any of the current frontrunners would make it in the event of a special or extraordinary Zanu PF congress.
“Talk about Mugabe’s successor is hearsay because on several occasions Mugabe has expressed his desire to rule until his death and he has also said publicly that his party had the mandate to choose his successor.
“If you go to the current Zanu PF constitution, you will notice that there is now a provision for a special congress to determine who will take over in the event of the president being incapacitated,” Mandaza said.
University of Zimbabwe War and Strategic Studies lecturer Wesley Mwatwara said military men, including Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga, should not be written off the succession matrix.
He said top military officers were “part and parcel of Zimbabwean politics”, which explained the fierce resistance Zanu PF had mounted regarding security sector reforms that were demanded by the opposition and the international community.
A senior Zanu PF official said Mugabe regarded Gono “highly and credits him with saving the country from
total collapse during the 2008 economic meltdown” that spawned critical shortages of basic goods and foodstuffs, as inflation scaled supersonic levels.