Stormy times ahead of Zanu PF conference

via Stormy times ahead of Zanu PF conference – NewZimbabwe 07/12/2015

THE marquees have been set up, the roads resurfaced and the WiFi is ready – but proceedings at President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party conference this week could be far from peaceful.

Officially, the Zanu PF conference at a top Victoria Falls resort will simply confirm Mugabe, 91, as party leader and sole candidate for elections in 2018.

He’ll be 94 then, but his wife Grace has promised she’ll push the long-time leader to the polls “in a wheelchair” if necessary.

But in a country where it is still illegal to make any reference that could be deemed “insulting” to the president, many wonder privately if Mugabe really will make it to election day.

This year he has stumbled humiliatingly twice on the red carpet.

He has also read the wrong speech in parliament, without apparently realising he was doing so.

Former typist Grace, 50, has emerged as the iron lady behind her now faltering husband, reaffirming his fitness to rule in public with such vehemence that her own ambitions in that direction are increasingly hard to ignore.

After all, she was the one who fronted the campaign to get popular vice president Joice Mujuru ousted at the same conference this time last year.

First lady ‘tsunami’
Significantly, Grace Mugabe claimed this week that the man who replaced Mujuru, Emmerson Mnangagwa was “junior” to her.

Zimbabweans call the tough businesswoman and mother-of-four a “tsunami”, though her husband calls her Amai (Mother).

Whatever nickname you prefer, there’s little doubt her triumphant entry onto Zimbabwe’s political scene a little less than a year and a half ago has changed the dynamics of the succession battle – and intensified the internal jostling for power. The state media has insisted this week’s conference on the golf course of the Elephant Hills resort will not be “a platform to discuss divisive succession politics”.

Instead, it will be “a process of taking stock of what the party has done [this year], where the party is and what is the way forward,” Zanu PF secretary for information Simon Khaya Moyo told the state-run newspaper.

But the private press speculates there will be pressure on Mugabe to “reconstitute” his Soviet-style politburo, with some stalwarts resenting the growing influence of Grace Mugabe and her backers, an up-and-coming coterie of younger Zanu PF officials referred to by some as the G-40 or Generation 40.

War veterans

The privately-owned Standard said on Sunday that war veterans in Bulawayo were pushing for the post of national commissar to be taken away from Saviour Kasukuwere, a key G-40 member.

The war veterans will no doubt be in conflict with members of the Zanu PF women’s league, who apparently want to see their leader Grace’s political future assured. Newsday reported last month that the powerful league was angling for the conference to reintroduce the requirement for one of the Zanu PF’s “top three” to be a woman. That woman would almost certainly be the first lady.

With just a few days to go before the conference opens, the state media is playing down the antagonisms. As Zimbabwe slips further into economic crisis, the cost of the conference is estimated to be at least US$3m. A chunk of that has already been raised through fundraising dinners.

The official ZBC broadcaster reported on Sunday that Mnangagwa and the second vice president Phelekezela Mphoko had been to Victoria Falls to inspect the venue, which they were “satisfied” with.

Water supplies have reportedly been guaranteed, clinics set up for delegates and crucially “the catering team has left no stone unturned to ensure there is enough food for the delegates,” ZBC reported.

Around 6 000 delegates are expected to attend.