HARARE – While First Lady Grace Mugabe and her husband’s two deputies Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko together with Saviour Kasukuwere appear to be front-runners to succeed President Robert Mugabe, four dark horses have emerged — retired Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, army commander Constantine Chiwenga, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo.
Analysts who spoke to the Daily News said with Mugabe reluctant to name a successor despite him being in the twilight of his controversial political career, it would be naive to write-off dark horses.
University of Zimbabwe War and Strategic Studies lecturer, Wesley Mwatwara said military and ex-military men including Defence Forces commander Chiwenga and Defence minister Sekeramayi are some of the dark horses in the race to succeed Mugabe.
For his part, Chiwenga has commendably tried to be civil in his approach to society having recently attained a doctorate with a South African University and in recent years, the army boss has been busy with social events like the Army Race and other charitable activities. His young wife, Mary had also made sure that the husband is demystified of the feared military tag by heavily involving him in her activities like the Miss Zimbabwe pageant and other charitable events.
“It is pertinent to underscore that the views of senior officers vary widely, and it would be unwise for any factional leader within Zanu PF to count on the support of the vast and disparate organisation (ZDF) which itself is in a crisis of uncertainty that surrounds the succession issue. In fact, some of its commanders are rumoured to harbour presidential ambitions and have not hid their desire for top office,” Mwatwara said.
He added that top military leaders will always be part and parcel of Zimbabwean politics especially in the absence of security sector reforms.
“Questions, therefore, arise whether such military men will be willing to work with any new presidential candidate from the known feuding factions?”
Early this year, Mnangagwa himself introduced Chiwenga as the Zanu PF political commissar at a rally to drum up support for his wife Auxilia ahead of the March 27 by-election.
“The person I want you to meet is our commissar. Do you know Chiwenga? He is the one who brought all the helicopters which you saw here today. Stand up Chiwenga so that people can see you,” Mnangagwa said.
But it is Gono’s name among the dark horses that will create a buzz of excitement from both foes and enemies. In every succession debate, Gono’s name has been mentioned and although his rivals in Zanu PF have made sure he is ostracised from the party for now, he is one man who is trusted by the First Family that he could spring a surprise.
In March 2014 for example, speculation was rife that Mugabe was grooming Gono for a Cabinet post and eventually the presidency.
This followed Mugabe’s unannounced tour of Gono’s New Donnington Farm in Norton where he showered him with praise.
Mugabe openly defended Gono’s credentials and right to ascend to higher political office despite glaring opposition from some within Zanu PF especially the ever scheming G40.
Mugabe regards Gono highly and credits him with saving the country from total collapse during the 2008 madness when the country ran out of basic commodities and inflation reached levels never seen in the world. Gono’s chances lie with Mugabe and Grace who can easily catapult him to the top as they believe in his turnaround strategies.
But his major weakness is that he does not have many pillars to lean on in Zanu PF as he has steadfastly refused to work with any of the factions in the warring party. Last year, the State media quoted Gono at the late national hero Kumbirai Kangai’s memorial event saying: “I do not want my attendance at this memorial event to be interpreted on factional lines.
“I do not subscribe to the notion of factions. I belong to whatever HE the President, Cde RG Mugabe stands for.” This was interpreted to mean that he was effectively saying no to the Mnangagwa and Mujuru factions then.
Last Saturday, Gono added a further dimension to this intriguing succession matrix when he was spotted in the company of Grace, Kasukuwuere and Makhosini Hlongwane at the Danhiko annual Paralympic Games and social media began to speculate that he had joined the First Lady and G40 group both of whom are opposed to Mnangagwa’s faction.
When questioned by the Daily News, Gono denied belonging to any faction and urged people to focus on rebuilding the economy.
While he is regarded as a Mugabe loyalist and disciple, Gono’s other weakness is that of being outside the party structures and also that he has hit hard times in his business ventures, meaning his focus is far removed from politics.
As RBZ governor, Gono was regarded as the de facto prime minister and worked closely with the 91-year-old especially on his quasi-fiscal policies and came up with anti-sanctions strategies.
Commenting on Mugabe’s visit to Gono’s farm at the time, University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure described the gesture as “merely anecdotal evidence that Mugabe had a special interest in Gono and that attempts by political rivals to put a wedge between the two had failed.”
Higher Education minister Moyo’s name has also been mentioned as a potential Mugabe successor, notwithstanding his love-hate relationship with the nonagenarian.
Moyo was part of the war Cabinet after the controversial land reform but fell out with Mugabe after refusing to take orders from Mugabe not to stand as a candidate in Tsholotsho North in 2005.
Moyo was subsequently kicked out of Zanu PF and he went on to win as an independent candidate whereupon he started working with the opposition. But Moyo made a U-turn, dumped the opposition and went back to Zanu PF where he claims credit for Mugabe’s 2013 electoral victory.
A serial survivor in politics, many thought Moyo was history two years ago when Mugabe went ballistic at the funeral of Nathan Shamuyarira, describing him as “devil incarnate” and a weevil which wanted to destroy the party from within.
Only Moyo knows how he survived but what is known is that he was one of the schemers who helped dethrone ex-Vice President Joice Mujuru. Today, Moyo is said to belong to the G40 group that is opposed to Mnangagwa taking over from Mugabe.
He is said to be harbouring ambitions of first being vice president representing the Matabeleland region and later take over as president but will not hesitate to pounce on an opportunity if it arises.
Sekeramayi has always been considered a dark horse and a preferred choice of Mugabe but since the carnage that claimed Mujuru’s job, he has been ostracised politically but he is hanging in there.
UK-based political analyst and constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa yesterday said a dark horse scenario was based on the assumption that there will be a peaceful, free and fair election whose outcome will be uncontested.
“Nevertheless, there is a high possibility that this assumption may be false, particularly if Mugabe’s departure is of an abrupt nature, such as in the event of death,” Magaisa said.
He said given Mugabe’s dominance of the political terrain and his omnipresence within Zanu PF, his death will likely create “a huge chasm that could precipitate panic, confusion and chaos within the party.”
Being the glue that holds the competing factions together, Magaisa said, Mugabe’s natural wastage would take away this cohesion and lead to open confrontation and conflict between the factions.
“The signs are already ominous while he is alive and it can only get worse when he is out of the picture,” he said.
“Thus the open election described above is unlikely to be free of confusion, conflict and chaos.
“It is in this chaos and confusion that an election to choose a successor would have to be conducted. It is in this context of confusion, conflict and chaos that other groups with a remote eye on the throne, quite likely with a military background, or civilians who have the backing of the military might step in, ostensibly to ‘restore order’, in defence of the ‘national interest’ and with a promise to ‘clear the path for a return to democracy’,” he postulated.