August 17, 2011

General's death may prompt power struggle / SADC talks yield little progress

A raging house fire has killed one of Zimbabwe's main political brokers, raising questions about the battle within longtime President Robert Mugabe's party over who will succeed the ailing 87-year-old leader. General Solomon Mujuru, the 62-year-old former military chief and guerrilla leader, died in an overnight fire at one of his homes. Mujuru headed Zimbabwe's military for more than a decade after independence in 1980, and his widow is vice-president. Joice Mujuru and her supporters are vying for supremacy within their party should Mugabe die or retire.

Mugabe's Zanu-PF has been plagued by disputes over who will succeed him. Mujuru's wife leads a powerful faction in Mugabe's party, but she counted on the support of her husband, who still commanded loyalty in the military for his role in helping sweep Mugabe into power at independence in 1980. His power base was seen as the foundation of her political fortunes. After his retirement, Mujuru acquired an empire of farms, properties, mines and other interests that made him one of wealthiest and most influential figures in the top echelons of Mugabe's party and its policymaking politburo. "His death leaves the party in a shambles. He was holding it together and we will now see more infighting," said John Makumbe, a political scientist at Zimbabwe's main university.

Mujuru was known to have had sharp disagreements with political colleagues over Mugabe's possible retirement to make way for younger leaders he favoured, earning him rebukes from Mugabe hardliners, Makumbe said. According to Makumbe, Mujuru was characteristically "a man of few words who was respected" among the younger political and military hierarchy. In the past, Mugabe has favoured Joice Mujuru (56) to succeed him, making her his first vice-president above his veteran colleague, second Vice-President John Nkomo (77).

Speaking at the burial of Mujuru, President Mugabe appealed for tolerance and peace between Zimbabwe's leading political parties. He also urged Zimbabweans to accept the death as an unfortunate and painful tragedy. Mugabe praised Mujuru, popularly known by his guerrilla name Rex Nhongo, as a great soldier and freedom fighter whose legacy would be defended by his comrades and a strong security service. "We don't want any violence. Please, no violence, no violence. Let's organise ourselves and campaign in our different parties peacefully," he said, adding they should build on a lull in violence between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC led by Mugabe's rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says war veterans and ZANU-PF's youth brigades are behind the violence. ZANU-PF denies the charges. The veteran leader told thousands of people at the funeral, including members of both parties, that the MDC and ZANU-PF must co-exist, but made no reference to media reports that his party is increasingly divided over who will eventually succeed him.

In the meantime, southern African leaders ended two-day talks with no major progress announced in resolving leadership battles in Zimbabwe and Madagascar that have topped the regional agenda in recent years. The closing statement of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Angola's capital echoed a June meeting with calls for further mediation efforts to resolve the crises in the two countries. The bloc “reaffirmed its decision of the (June) extraordinary summit,” urging faster reforms in Zimbabwe but presented no new plan to end a deadlock between rivals Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai on new elections. “(The) summit urged the parties to (the power-sharing deal) to remain committed to the implementation of the agreement and finalise the road map for resolving outstanding issues,” the leaders said. “(The) summit shall review progress on the implementation of the (agreement) and take appropriate action.” SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao said the framework for new elections in Zimbabwe was close to being finalised. “We almost have an agreement on the road map,” he said.
Five SADC countries also signed an agreement to create a large conservation area half the size of France in the Okavango and Zambezi river basins, a bid to protect the region's rich biodiversity and give root to an ecotourism industry. (Sapa/The Zimbabwean)

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