HARARE – Emotions have been running high ever since First Lady Grace Mugabe threw the cat among the pigeons by challenging her ageing husband to anoint a successor.
Grace took the unprecedented step of nudging her reluctant husband to name his heir-apparent when she addressed members of the Zanu PF women’s league national assembly at the party’s headquarters in Harare last month.
She reasoned that it was the trend in other countries for their leaders to handpick their successors, saying that act alone could also enable Zanu PF’s warring supporters to close ranks.
Her sentiments have, however, fuelled the infighting in Zanu PF, with the two factions in Mugabe’s party — Team Lacoste and Generation 40 (G40) — latching onto her calls to advance their agendas.
Businessman-cum politician Energy Mutodi, who has previously caused a storm in Zanu PF by challenging the party to convene an extraordinary congress to choose Mugabe’s successor, warned yesterday that the military could stage a coup if the incumbent mishandles the succession issue.
Mutodi is linked to Team Lacoste, which is backing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe.
He said while G40 acolytes may suggest that the president has no business in consulting the army, it was impossible to contemplate that Zanu PF could exist without the uniformed forces playing a huge role in its power-retention.
“It can only be naive for anyone to believe that the president has been in power for 37 years without the army giving him crucial support . . . The role the army has played in nurturing . . . Mugabe’s rule can therefore not be over-emphasised. Any successor without the backing of the army will therefore be rejected, irrespective whether they have liberation war credentials or not,” he said.
Mutodi said while a military takeover may be far-fetched in Zimbabwe, it was important for Mugabe to be careful in naming his successor, adding that any suspicion of unfairness or discrimination on account of tribalism or factionalism may backfire.
“There are key stakeholders that need to be consulted, among them, the military and the whole security establishment called the Joint Operations Command that is chaired by vice president Mnangagwa,” said Mutodi.
His unsolicited comments come in the wake of an aggressive push by the rival G40 faction to have Mugabe name a successor.
G40 seem to be torn between Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and the first lady to succeed the incumbent.
A few days after the first lady had pleaded with her husband to name his successor, Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko used the occasion of an inter-district meeting in Bulawayo to throw his weight behind Grace’s call.
He was quoted saying: “The first lady is right. The president should be part of the solution to problems going on in the country with regards to who will succeed him. He should do it well and quietly through the structures. He knows how to do it. He is mature and will do it well.”
Members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) were the first to go public with their call for Mugabe to anoint his successor, with Welfare Services for War Veterans minister Tshinga Dube making the same call last month.
There are growing concerns that the infighting in Zanu PF over Mugabe’s succession could plunge the country into bloodletting violence, which could worsen its socio-economic prospects.
International human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Watch, issued a chilling statement yesterday, warning that the eagerly-anticipated elections could be bloody.
“Zimbabwe also faces serious threats to its ability to hold credible elections, including the involvement of security forces in political affairs and the ruling Zanu PF party’s endorsement of 93-year-old . . . Mugabe as its presidential candidate amid rumours about his health,” the statement reads in part.
“The involvement of security forces in Zimbabwe’s political and electoral affairs could, as in the past, severely undermine the credibility of the elections and raise the risk of political violence within political parties and across the country.”
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said the push to have Mugabe name a successor represented a big shift by the G40 and the first lady.
“This development reflects a distinct shift and sense of urgency in the political calculations of (Mrs Grace) Mugabe and her inner circle regarding her husband’s ability to play a functional political role and their desire to hold off . . . Mnangagwa’s march on State House.”
Pigou said any attempt to let Grace succeed Mugabe would be deeply detrimental to Zimbabwe.
“Such a move, if seriously considered, would be very damaging to Zanu PF’s longer term prospects and contrary to its revolutionary principles,” he warned.
He said nothing was clear at the moment in the ever-shifting Zanu PF succession dynamics.
“The rule book is a moveable feast. Mugabe would have removed Mnangagwa if he felt it was both necessary and most importantly, secure in doing so.
“Neither position is clear, although his protection of those hurling provocations at VP Mnangagwa strongly suggests his failure to move against the VP is because of concerns that doing so would ultimately weaken his own position. He may well have checkmated himself in this process,” said Pigou.
Mugabe has been adamant that he would allow the people to choose his successor in line with the Zanu PF constitution.
Article 5 Section 26 (2) of the ruling party’s constitution states that: “An extraordinary session of congress may be convened in the event of a vacancy occurring in the office of the national president requiring the party to nominate a successor, at the instance of the secretary for administration.”
For Mugabe to choose a successor, he has to amend the Zanu PF constitution. First, he has to write to the central committee, which is the party’s supreme organ between congresses, to study the proposals.
In the wake of calls from the Zanu PF women’s league to elevate a woman to be one of the party’s two vice presidents, Mugabe suggested that they consider amending the constitution to increase the number of his deputies to three.
Yesterday, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo told the Daily News there were no proposals as yet to amend the party’s charter.
“I have no idea at all that there will be an extraordinary congress. What I know is that the constitution is very clear and I cannot change what is in the constitution so we will go by what the constitution says, and if there are any developments we will let you know,” said Khaya Moyo.
War veterans warned Mugabe yesterday that he was not a super human and were ready to work against his re-election bid ahead of the 2018 polls.
ZNLWVA chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa said the liberation war fighters would be going around their structures informing their members not to vote for G40 associates.