The recent death of Zambian President Michael Sata, a circumstance that has catapulted Guy Scott to the Zambian Presidency, has once again drawn speculative questions among Zimbabweans as to what would happen should a similar circumstance happen in Zimbabwe. We have previously dealt with this matter (http://newzimbabweconstitution.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/succession-under-the-constitution-of-zimbabwe/ ) but, in light of the current battles for succession in Zanu PF, and the enquiries we have received, we thought it might be worthwhile to capture it once more in simple terms.
If the Sata-scenario, as we shall call it, were to happen in Zimbabwe, the situation could be very messy, particularly in light of the on-going brutal succession wars in Zanu PF.
Succession is currently regulated by section 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the new Constitution. It provides that if the President dies, the Vice President will act as President until a successor is selected. This is just a temporary role – a place-holder, so to speak. However, a ‘permanent’ successor must be selected within 90 days of the occurrence of the vacancy. This ‘permanent’ successor is a nominee of the political party which the President represented at the election. This means, in our case, that Zanu PF will have the exclusive power to nominate a successor.
But when is this nominee selected? Section 14(5) simply states that the party must notify the Speaker of Parliament of the nominee’s name within 90 days after the vacancy arose. This means the party can actually nominate a successor on the day or within a few days after the death of the President.
In the context of the current politics, it would be highly unlikely that opponents of Joice Mujuru would want her to assume the Presidency in an acting capacity for a long time while the party selects a successor. This would give her an opportunity to consolidate her position. The likelihood, therefore, is that they could move very swiftly after the death of the President to submit a name to the Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of Parliament. Section 14(5) states that this nominated person must take the oath within 48 hours after the Speaker is notified of the name. Thus a swift plan of action could be already in place to ensure that Joice Mujuru never gets much of an opportunity to assume the temporary Presidency should a ‘Sata-scenario’ happen.
But we have already seen that when the Zanu PF politiburo meets, there are always two different and often conflicting versions of what would have been agreed in the meeting. For example, it is still not clear whether Temba Mliswa was dismissed from the chairmanship of Mashonaland West. The party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo says he was not fired but Ignatius Chombo says he was sacked. It is therefore, not improbable that two factions of Zanu PF can submit two different names to Mudenda, the Speaker, claiming that to be the decision of the party. This would put Mudenda in a tight spot.
We saw when the MDC-T split earlier this year that the Speaker was faced with two different communications from the two factions, and he chose to refer the parties to the courts of law to resolve the issue of who had the right to recall MPs. This means the matter of the Presidency could well end up in the courts of law. The judiciary has previously been accused of institutional bias toward Zanu PF. What is not yet known is the Zanu PF faction that the judiciary prefers. But we had a bizarre situation a few weeks ago where the Chief Justice’s and senior judges’ offices were burgled and then Justice Minister Mnangagwa’s office was also allegedly burgled. It could be sheer coincidence but one could also read a deliberately designed pattern.
It would all have been very easy had section 101 of the Constitution been allowed to operate from the outset. Under section 101, when the President dies, the Vice President takes over until the expiry of the former President’s term. This would have placed VP Mujuru in the driving seat, making her the obvious successor. But with an eye on the succession sub-plot, negotiators, who included Mnangagwa and Chinamasa on the Zanu PF side, suspended section 101 for 10 years and instead, decided to replace it with section 14 of the Sixth Schedule, which allows the ruling party to choose a successor. One could read this as one of the planks that was used to remove an advantage that would otherwise have placed Joice Mujuru in good stead.
It is the desire to ensure that their candidate has the best foot forward that explains the current jousting in Zanu PF. Whoever commands the majority in Zanu PF stands a stronger chance in the succession race should the ‘Sata scenario’ happen during the current term. Realising that Mujuru might still be able to command support to upset these plans, the efforts have now turned to outright removal. Once she is taken out from the equation, it leaves the way for Mnangwagwa more open and easier to succeed Mugabe. And by unfolding events, it appears they are going for the kill.