October 2, 2003

Succession Struggle Coming to a Head

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's succession struggle is intensifying ahead of the ruling Zanu (PF)'s annual conference in Masvingo in December. The escalating battle to take over from Mugabe has been fuelled by the recent death of vice president Simon Muzenda, which has left Mugabe exposed to clandestine succession machinations by the ruling party's outspoken youth.

Mugabe's predicament over Muzenda's replacement is that the current party succession policy indicates that Zanu (PF) chairman John Nkomo is the next in line. But in terms of the present Zanu (PF) hierarchy, Nkomo cannot be promoted because the 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu (PF) and PF Zapu dictates that a member from the old Zanu should step in.

The unity agreement was designed to achieve an ethnic balance between the country's main peoples, the Shona and Ndebele. The remaining vice-president, Joseph Msika, is a former Zapu deputy leader to Mugabe's other late vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, and represents Ndebeles. Promoting Nkomo would topple this ethnic order.

At the same time, promoting Zanu (PF) secretary for administration Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is the next in and a Shona by ethnic origin, could also destabilise the ruling party power structure. It will upset the party's delicate pecking order because it means Mnangagwa would forthwith become Nkomo's senior. Nkomo defeated Mnangagwa in the race for the chairmanship during the party's congress in 1999. Mnangagwa was saved from political redundancy by Mugabe after his defeat in the 2000 parliamentary election by an opposition Movement for Democratic Change candidate. He was imposed on parliament as speaker by Mugabe and in his current party position. (Business Day , Johannesburg)

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