ZIMBABWE – First it was unfortunate he missed his steps. Later, it was bad he wobbled and fell on all four. At various times, he was helped to the podium by hosts. But it only gets bizarre as he dozed during an occasion. It became alarming last September as he fumbled and read a wrong speech from the beginning to the end without even realising it. These are not uncommon traits from old people and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who would be 92 years of age in February, is no exception to the rule of nature.
In a correspondence with The Guardian, South African-based leadership communication entrepreneur, Mr. Bunmi Makinwa, painted the dilemma facing Zimbabwe in the coming days. According to the former UNFPA regional director, “Mugabe’s legs, the locomotive appendages that help humans to maintain gravity on earth, will receive closer attention (in the coming days), when and if President Mugabe appears in public forums in 2016. And the legs may well impose the imperative of choosing another leader for Zimbabwe.”
Apart from age taking its toll, Mugabe had fought many wars and battles, which must have taken their tolls on him. But Zimbabwe is stuck with him, apparently until death separates the southern African country and the man who has ruled it since independence in 1980. There are growing concerns that post-Mugabe’s Zimbabwe could be significantly undermined by succession crisis.
Beneath the concern for Mugabe’s ability to continue in office — he will be 94 year-old in 2018 when he fulfils his party endorsement of another term — there is intense succession battle gradually boiling over in Harare, especially within the president’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Curiously, 50 year old Mrs. Grace Mugabe has more than a passing interest in who inherits the presidential stool in a race she has become one of the front-runners.
Even as Mugabe was being endorsed by his party in December for the 2018 elections, the backstage was riddled with focus on his successor. The President himself must have raised the most important poser confronting Zimbabwe today when he cautioned against factionalisation in the ZANU-PF. He said, “We don’t want to hear people saying these ones belong to (second Vice-President Phelekezela) Mphoko, these ones to (Vice-President Emmerson) Mnangagwa. If all people belong to factions, who then are mine?
The succession question is the mother of all problems bedeviling the party and it will continue to haunt the party until it is resolved,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist from the University of Zimbabwe. “National development is being sacrificed at the altar of political feuding.”
Increasingly, the spotlight is falling on Mrs. Mugabe, who was recently appointed leader of the powerful ZANU-PF women’s wing. She allegedly led an orchestrated campaign that brought about the expulsion of Mugabe’s deputy president and possible successor, Mrs. Joice Mujuru.
Mujuru, loosely referred to as Mugabe’s daughter before her expulsion, is seeking her pound of flesh as she recently rallied other dissatisfied former ZANU-PF and opposition figures under the platform of her breakaway ZANU-Peoples Front, in preparation for 2018.
Attended by former ZANU-PF senior officials Dzikamai Mavhaire, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti and Retired Colonel Claudious Makova, the meeting also attracted over 30 war veterans, including district coordinators drawn from various districts in the province.
Some war veterans described the meeting as heralding the dawn of a new era.
With the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in disarray following a routing in 2013 elections, the initiative is firmly within Mugabe’s political family. Mujuru is believed to enjoy strong support at the local and regional party levels.
She also has significant support of Zimbabwe’s securocrats on the basis of her liberation struggle record, a war in which she fought under a nom de guerre, which translates to Comrade Spill Blood. In addition, her husband was the commander of Mugabe’s liberation army and led Zimbabwe’s army after independence. It is these factors that may have emboldened her to go all the way.
Last year, Mugabe branded Mujuru a witch and accused her of plotting to kill him. The President claimed that the then vice president had hired Nigerian ritualists to perform bizarre rituals aimed at killing or ousting him so that she could become the country’s leader; charges Mujuru flatly denied. But with Mrs. Mugabe in contention for influence, and a frail President who has begun to see witches in his sleep, the ultimate winner is easy to predict.
Not going out of political limelight quietly, Mugabe’s former foe, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC said in his new year message that Mrs. Mugabe had effectively taken over from her husband in a “palace coup.”
According to Tsvangirai, “No one in government is thinking of solutions to the national challenges as everyone is preoccupied with issues of who will succeed this tired man steering the ship of State; the man who has now been surreptitiously but willingly replaced by his wife in a palace coup.” Still, Grace, who dumped her then husband in 1996 to marry Mugabe, has denied presidential ambitions, saying the President will continue ruling until he is 100.
“We are going to create a special wheelchair for President Mugabe until he rules to 100 years, because that is what we want,” Grace said, adding: “That is the people’s choice. We want a leader that respects us.”
Outside the estranged political daughter, Joice, and wife, Grace, there are other core Mugabe’s loyalists that should not be discountenanced. Two of them are Messrs Mnangagwa (60 year-old) and Mphoko (75 year-old), first and second vice presidents.
Until recently, Mnangagwa, who replaced Mujuru in 2014, was believed to be the heir apparent to the throne. Vastly experienced, the vice president has recently been Zimbabwe’s acting President. He was previously Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities and later Minister of Defence. Mnangagwa was nick-named The Crocodile for his daring activities during the liberation period leading independence in 1980.
However, Mrs. Mugabe at a point insisted she is “senior” to him, amidst growing fears that the Mujuru’s treatment may be in the offing for the vice president. On his political ambition, Mnangagwa has remarkably kept quiet, even as impression is rife that he may be biding his time below the Zimbabwean’s murky political waters.
There is the shadowy Generation of 40 also to be considered. The G-40 is comprised of younger ZANU-PF officials like political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao. Many of the members of this group are in their 40s.
Though, the existence of this group is still shrouded in secrecy, even as they are believed to be backing political ambitions of Mrs. Mugabe, but there are also concerns that the group may be using the first lady for its own ends. On the other hand, Vice President Mphoko, until recently seen as being in a much weaker position than Mnangagwa, is believed to have the sympathies of this grouping.