Gift Phiri 21 February 2017
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s recent declaration that he won’t groom
a successor is yet further indication that he wants to be Zimbabwe’s
leader for life, analysts said.
They said the nonagenarian – who turned 93 today – must groom a successor
because “presidency is not chieftaincy” whereby the heir takes over only
after the incumbent’s death.
Speaking during his traditional annual birthday interview Mugabe said his
successor must be chosen by the people, a warning to feuding members of
his Zanu PF party that he is still in charge after 36 years in power.
This comes after his wife, Grace, on Friday said that if he dies, his
“corpse” will stand in next year’s presidential election.
“If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse,”
she told supporters at a rally in Buhera, eastern Zimbabwe.
Mugabe also scoffed at a mooted coalition of opposition parties seeking to
gang-up against him in the forthcoming election.
In the wide ranging interview with State broadcaster ZBC, he said: “A
successor is groomed by the people. Those around you can get the
confidence of the people as they operate around you and gain the
confidence of the people, you see. When the people see that they trust
their leaders, beyond corruption, their leaders are knowledgeable, sure
However, analysts said the comments from the continent’s oldest leader
escalate fears that the country could be riven by instability, if he dies
without resolving the succession issue.
“Party presidency is not chieftaincy that should wait for incumbent’s
demise for succession processes to start,” senior Africa researcher at New
York-based Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said.
“Sound democratic practice the world over is that the party Constitution
must clearly lay out succession procedures, preferably with term limits at
the helm,” he said.
Professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies
at the University of London, Stephen Chan, added: “I don’t think Mugabe
will ever name a successor until the last possible moment. He was actually
quite witty in his birthday interview, showing there is still some
vivacity left in him.
“The succession speculation will continue. It’s become Harare’s favourite
guessing game, and I think the president enjoys encouraging the game,” he
It is a “political tragedy” that “this partially-incapacitated president
does not find it fit to groom a successor,” analyst Maxwell Saungweme
“His speech makes one even fear more the prospect of Zanu PF-induced civil
strife once Mugabe is gone as strong men and women in Zanu PF fight to
succeed him,” he said.
Joy Mabenge, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator, said
it was disingenuous of Mugabe to suggest that he has no hand at all in
grooming his successor.
“People can only groom a leader if the leader is given the space to prove
themselves. But more importantly, the message in Mugabe’s statement is
that he is the only person who can lead his party and the country, unless
the undoable, that of the people grooming a successor, is done in his
lifetime,” he said.
International Crisis Group senior consultant, Piers Pigou, said: “Mugabe’s
statement may be interpreted by some as a push-back against Vice President
Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential ambitions and that Mugabe has again
hitched his wagon to the G40 agenda; namely, to extend his term in office
as long as possible, and to stand in the next election in 2018, apparently
from his wheelchair or even from his coffin, if Grace Mugabe’s recent
utterances are to be taken seriously.
“Some may see this as a declaration of intent to die in office, although
this option could generate significant unpredictability.
“His declaration shifts the onus onto Zanu PF’s factionalised machinery to
distill some kind of succession process, either through an extraordinary
congress or more unlikely, the next elective congress which will only be
held in 2019, when he will be 95, almost 96 years old.
“But as with Zanu PF’s own Constitution, Mugabe’s statement is
sufficiently ambiguous to enable more than one interpretation.”
This comes as fighting over leadership of a post-Mugabe Zanu PF has
Mugabe was chosen in 2014 to lead his party for another five years,
automatically becoming the Zanu PF presidential candidate for Zimbabwe’s
2018 presidential vote.
He will be 99 if he wins and completes that term, his last under a new
Mugabe told ZBC TV that he will resoundingly win the forthcoming poll.
“Zanu PF is ever-ready for elections . . . We have been in this game for a
long time,” he said.
“We are not vanaZimFirst (Zimbabwe People First which is also known as
ZPF). They are born in the morning, before sunset, it has become something
else,” he said, referring the stunning public fall-out a fortnight ago of
his former deputy Joice Mujuru’s opposition ZPF party, which saw her
expelling erstwhile allies Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa, together with
five other party heavyweights – on account of them being alleged Zanu PF
agents and working to topple her from her interim position.
Mugabe said Mujuru’s party was doomed to fail.
“There is no opposition at all,” he said.
Mujuru has been working behind the scenes with opposition leader Morgan
Tsvangirai and other smaller parties towards the formation of the planned
grand opposition coalition, and remains confident of participating in the
2018 national polls.
The move anticipates another potential face-off between Mugabe and
Tsvangirai, expected to be the main opposition challenger as he was in the
presidential votes of 2013 and 2008.
But Mugabe said he was “not scared” of the alliance.
“My Grade One teacher used to say zero plus zero plus zero is zero. We are
not afraid at all. Are there any prospects that the alliance will ever
take off?” he asked rhetorically.
“If they want a coalition, if they believe that a coalition can save them;
so why the dilly-dallying about it?
“But now . . . Mujuru apparently divorced, left in that situation which
appears to be without anyone who matters, politically, Tsvangirai will say
ahh, you are now only an individual. Ini ndine party kaini. (I have a
party). And yes, he has a party. My party cannot have a coalition with an
individual. You must join us as a junior partner.”
But MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mugabe was wrong.
“He (Mugabe) is having sleepless nights and the CIO counter-intelligence
desk has been specifically-tasked to do everything it takes to scuttle the
formation of an opposition alliance,” he claimed.
“However, this time . . . vanyangira yaona (They are preying on the
alert). We are on top of the game and whether or not Mugabe likes it or
not, a formidable opposition coalition is definitely on the cards,” Gutu
Mavhinga further said: “If an opposition coalition was a non-issue, why
talk about it?
“Opposition forces should know that two things will be key for 2018
elections: a united front, and a strong push for electoral reforms to make
the electoral field level to allow for genuinely free and fair elections
in which Zimbabweans, including the Diaspora, can freely express their
will about whom they want to govern them.”
Chan said Mugabe is comfortable about the lack of a genuine coalition.
“Mujuru brings no actual party to the coalition, only herself. But
Tsvangirai would be wrong not to showcase her in some way,” he said.
Pigou said “most analysts agree the opposition only has a realistic chance
of tackling Zanu PF in the current environment at the 2018 polls if they
pull together. The ZPF break up suggests, this may have never been more
than a mirage in the first place.
“Yet, the MDC-T and Tsvangirai emerge from this as the centrifugal force
of opposition politics, so it is necessary for Mugabe to resuscitate a
narrative of treachery and sellout against him and for anyone considering
a political association with him. It is classic Mugabe; denigrate and