HARARE – Since President Robert Mugabe was last year re-elected for another five-year term, Zanu-PF politics has been dominated by explosive succession battles, some of which have been fought publicly while others, involving back stabbing and deadly rumour mongering, have been quietly simmering.
The battle to succeed the 90-year-old has heightened in the last few months and with the veteran leader travelling to Singapore for an eye check-up last week, Mugabe’s succession puzzle has become more intricate.
Mugabe has indicated no intention of stepping down, and ruled out his two leading succession contenders – his deputy Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa from taking over from him.
Mugabe’s statement that Mujuru and Mnangagwa are not the automatic choices has left the door wide open for other members to fight for the top post, analysts say.
Whatever else can be said about Mugabe’s 34-year reign as president of Zimbabwe, no other chief executive in the southern hemisphere has managed a brand the way Mugabe has.
He has ruled virtually unchallenged since taking office in 1980. Along the way, he shaped his so-called empowerment revolution for “21st-Century socialism” into a durable political arrangement at home.
That is also what makes Mugabe’s eventual absence a riddle and, potentially, a ticking time bomb, analysts warn.
Re-elected last July for a seventh five-year mandate, Mugabe never prepared a political successor.
His continued stonewalling on leadership succession as the party gears up for an elective congress in December could create chaos, uncertainty and insecurity, analysts warn.
The presidential succession promises more of the same, but without the consummate Mugabe to keep the peace — ever maintaining rivals at dagger point and yet somehow toeing the official line — all bets on his future are off.
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.
Just last weekend, Zanu-PF Women’s League chairperson Oppah Muchinguri said some senior party officials were trooping to see prophets and traditional healers as they try to get charms ahead of the congress.
Piers Pigou, International Crisis Group’s southern Africa project director, said the lack of a clear succession plan in Zanu-PF will fuel speculation and uncertainty.
“The absence of clarity is likely to feed into the politics of speculation,” Pigou told the Daily News on Sunday.
“As with Kremlinologists in the 1970’s and 1980’s who tried to work out the changing lines of influence in the Soviet politburo, so the varying interpretations of utterances and silences are likely to continue.
“And on occasion, Mugabe is likely to generically slap down any pretenders, which will be echoed by a coterie of praise singers. Nothing is new about this. What is concerning, of course, is that it feeds a sense of uncertainty and insecurity, precisely what Zimbabwe does not need at this juncture.”
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure said no one was in charge to steer the country away from the “precipitous fall which it is about to plunge into.”
Masunungure said Zanu-PF officials were “either too selfish or too timid” to tell Mugabe to step aside.
Africa Confidential, a newsletter covering politics and economics in Africa, warns that Zanu-PF risks wading into chaos as it approaches the elective congress.
The newsletter further states that the proxies used by factional leaders, Mujuru and Mnangagwa are already strategically positioning themselves.
“President Mugabe’s continued stonewalling on the leadership succession threatens chaos as increasing numbers of politicians from Zanu-PF throw their hats into the ring,” the report says.
“The established rival senior factions, those of Mujuru and Mnangagwa, are unable to operate openly and have to rely on proxies to gain advantage before the Zanu-PF elective congress in December.
“As a result, some have spotted an opportunity and are setting out their stalls for the 2018 election in the hope that the leadership will skip a generation.
“Mugabe has not been able to endorse any of his lieutenants as having the requisite leadership potential to succeed him.
“This dismissal of the talents of Mujuru and Mnangagwa is another factor that encourages other heads to appear above the parapet,” the report says.
Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, said the elective congress is important as it will help position either faction for takeover once Mugabe is gone.
“The party in one way or the other has to have the elective congress. However, a lot of factional fights will come up.
“Factions would want to be better positioned to field a candidate when Mugabe is gone, so this congress if very important to all in Zanu-PF,” Saungweme said.
He said the main contest at the congress will be for the second vice president as no one will challenge Mugabe.
“About the biggest issue of replacing Mugabe, forget it,” Saungweme said.
“I don’t think this party in its current form can handle this issue.
“It failed to handle it in over 30 years. They can deal with issues of VPs but the one at the helm will die in power.”