via Explosive Politburo on cards | The Financial Gazette Maggie Mzumara 21 Nov 2013
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe faces possibly the sternest test ever since the manifestation of factions in ZANU-PF as it is becoming clear that his party could implode unless he decisively deals with the root cause of the problem – his succession.
Despite it being the genesis of the widening rifts in his party, President Mugabe has stayed clear of tackling the succession conundrum, saying it was up to the people of Zimbabwe to decide who should succeed him.
While he grudgingly tolerated and indeed encouraged open debate on the subject in the early 2000s, he was forced to disband a succession committee that had been established to identify his possible heir apparent a few months later after the debate worsened the infighting.
Over the years, the push to succeed him has intensified, dividing ZANU-PF into two distinct camps and thereby creating conditions that are ripe for an implosion.
Amid the intense infighting, President Mugabe’s patience has been stretched to the limits although he also finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, with little room to manoeuvre.
While it has been argued before that the divisions had the effect of eliminating the potentiality for an internal threat to President Mugabe’s continued rule, whether intended or unintended, they have now worsened to a point where allowing them to subsist would threaten both his legacy and ZANU-PF’s future.
In trying to put his lieutenants to order, President Mugabe is facing tricky options.
On Saturday, he needs to be on top of his game to deal with the fissures rattling his party without giving away his preferences between the two factions.
The party will be meeting in Harare on Saturday for a potentially explosive special Politburo meeting to discuss provincial elections held recently in Mashonaland Central, which happens to be Vice President Joice Mujuru’s home province.
While the agenda of the meeting has been narrowed to the provincial polls held in Mashonaland Central, ZANU-PF insiders are not ruling out surprises.
At the core of the wrangling is an intense struggle for power between the two factions in anticipation of a post-Mugabe era. None of the factions believe their interests would be safeguarded by the other in the absence of President Mugabe who has combined tribal balancing, the politics of patronage and political mastery to keep ZANU-PF from imploding.
In the seven provinces where the provincial polls had been slated for this Saturday, the elections have since been postponed indefinitely.
Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst, noted this week that ZANU-PF’s succession was razing down government’s capacity to provide and rebuild the economy.
“Will there ever be opportunities to eliminate the embedment of government’s capture from the grip of incessant factional fighting in ZANU-PF? Will ZANU-PF factionalism take government down with it? So many questions, but what is clear is that ZANU-PF succession battles are now being fought on the premises of a ‘captured government’,” he reasons.
The infighting first exploded in the public glare in 2004 when six provincial chairmen were suspended from the party for plotting a root-and-branch shake-up of the ZANU-PF presidium, in what became known as the Tsholotsho Declaration.
It then took an ugly turn when reformists within the party adopted what they termed “Bhora musango” strategy in the 2008 national elections — a protest vote against the ZANU-PF leadership.
In that poll, President Mugabe lost the first round of the election to Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai but controversially won the run-off that followed after the former trade unionist pulled out.
The contestation for power that followed the “sham” and bloody poll, gave way to the formation of an inclusive government, which ended with the conduct of the July 31, 2013 plebiscite.
Last year, the rivalry was re-ignited by the District Coordinating Committee (DCC) elections, which had to be stopped to restore order in the party.
The party’s Soviet-style Politburo went further to disband the cancerous DCCs, that had become a life threatening disease to ZANU-PF which was desperate at the time to regain the ground it had lost to Tsvangirai’s party.
While President Mugabe successfully commanded his charges to battle, trouncing the MDC formations at the July 31 polls, the succession question has remained unanswered.
This time around, the infighting over his succession is being fuelled by President Mugabe’s advanced age and concerns around his health.
Indications from both sides of the political divide are that President Mugabe, who led the country to independence and has been at the helm of his party and government for the past 33 years, could give way to a fresh pair of hands to lead ZANU-PF at the 2014 congress while he continues to be the leader of government.
President Mugabe has promised to see out his current term but has not disclosed his plans thereafter.
Somehow this has been interpreted to mean that the current term could be his last as he will be turning 94 in 2018.
In preparation for his anticipated retirement, the gloves are off in ZANU-PF between the warring factions.
After suffering a major setback in Manicaland and the Midland province, where candidates perceived to be loyal to the Vice President triumphed albeit under controversial circumstances, the other faction drumming up support for the party’s secretary for legal affairs, Emmerson Mnangagwa is pulling all the stops to reverse the result.
In Mashonaland Central, Luke Mushore — a war veteran seen as a Mujuru loyalist — was declared winner of the provincial chairmanship, dethroning Dickson Mafios, brother to Saviour Kasukuwere, the party’s secretary for indigenisation and economic empowerment.
But all hell has broken loose, with the opposing faction demanding a re-run of the poll citing irregularities during voting.
At Saturday’s Politburo meeting, the lobby for a re-run might extend to other provinces — Manicaland and the Midlands —where John Mvundura and Jason Machaya were declared winners.
Both factions, fiercely loyal to President Mugabe, are looking up to the incumbent to rule in their favour.
Those perceived as loyal to Mujuru would want the result to stand while their rivals want a re-run, which they want extended to Manicaland and the Midlands.
But herein lies the problem for President Mugabe.
ZANU-PF insiders said the ZANU-PF leader has limited options at his disposal. The few options he has got leave little room for him to continue playing his cards close to his chest as he had done before with regards the choice of his successor.
If he so decides to go with those perceived as loyal to Mujuru on Saturday he would have pre-emptied his game plan when he still needs both factions to support him unreservedly in his mission. The reverse is also true.
The only way out, according to ZANU-PF insiders, would be for President Mugabe to declare, as he has done in the past, that there is no vacancy at the top, now and in the future.
But that as well has its own shortcomings.
Insiders confided in the Financial Gazette that the majority of ZANU-PF cadres had fought hard to campaign for President Mugabe and the party with the hope that the revolutionary party would resolve its internal challenges once and for all once victory has been achieved.
The fear in ZANU-PF is that failure by the party to deal with its internal challenges could cause the party to disintegrate and throw a lifeline to the MDC-T, currently at crossroads.
The reformists in ZANU-PF are therefore hoping that the party would be able to renew itself come the next congress in 2014 with all top positions going to new brooms.
But President Mugabe is also concerned that none of his foot soldiers has the national appeal that could eclipse that of his main rival, Tsvangirai, who appears determined to hold onto the MDC-T’s top post despite calls for him to step down.
Analysts point out that although this battle may be a decisive one, it is not the one that holds the ultimate key to succeeding President Mugabe.
Whether one loses or wins the majority of the provincial seats, there would still be time between the provincial elections, whenever they occur, to the time when congress is held for one to either lose what they had gained or win what they have lost.
“Whatever the score on provincial seats, there will still be post election skirmishes which can erase or uphold the gains one would have made,” said political analyst, Alois Masepe. “Whichever faction wins the majority of the seats will have won a decisive battle but not the war. The war will only be fully won at the congress.”
“The issue of the post-Mugabe era is not going to disappear. You can postpone it or delay it a bit but it will always be there staring you in the face, until the issue is resolved,” Masepe said.
“This is nothing but a struggle between the status quo leadership and a new merging leadership order. It is a pro-status quo movement versus an anti status-quo movement,” Masepe.
“The status quo,” he explained, “is that Mai Mujuru is the heir apparent according to existing structure. According to what currently exists she is the next in command such that should the dear leader not be able to complete his term for whatever reason, Mai Mujuru will take over. Now for someone else down the ranks to want to jump the gun and succeed the dear leader is not the natural order of the party’s system and hierarchy.”
Dumiso Dabengwa, leader of ZAPU party, said other parties’ internal struggles were nothing compared to bigger parties (a veiled reference to the ruling party) which is, “… failing to hold a simple provincial election and whose divisions have been in the headlines for years.”