18 July 2002

ZIMBABWE: Leaders vie for Mugabe’s post

A fierce power struggle is raging in the ruling Zanu PF ahead of the party’s annual conference in December where senior party officials are expecting President Robert Mugabe to disclose plans to step down before the conclusion of his controversial six-year term. Mugabe, whose re-election in the March presidential poll is being challenged in court by chief political foe Morgan Tsvangirai, is under immense local and international pressure to stage a fresh poll. Zanu PF officials said this week they expected Mugabe to use Zanu PF’s annual conference, likely to be held in his hometown of Mashonaland West province, to spell out his retirement plans after completing his land reforms next month. The government says its land reforms, under which it has seized nearly all white-owned commercial farms since February 2000, are now being wound up. Mugabe has said he will consider retirement after the successful conclusion of the reforms which have resettled thousands of landless blacks. Zanu PF sources say the annual conference might be transformed into a special congress in which the issue of the future leadership of the party could be top of the agenda. "Everyone in the party is expecting President Mugabe to make firm indications about his future: that is his retirement at this year’s annual conference," one Zanu PF central committee member from the Midlands Province told the Financial Gazette. A member of the party’s powerful Politburo organ from Masvingo confirmed this week that two distinct camps competing for power had emerged within the party. These were positioning their own choice of candidates to take over from the 78-year-old Zanu PF strongman, the sole ruler of Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. Under Zimbabwe’s Constitution, should Mugabe choose to step down before the end of his term, a fresh presidential election has to be conducted.

Party insiders say two prominent camps have emerged behind retired army general Solomon Mujuru and Parliamentary Speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa and both are already engaged in behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to prop up and position potential candidates to replace Mugabe. While Mnangagwa has been heavily tipped to replace Mugabe and is known to be the President’s favoured successor, the powerful Mujuru is said to be backing Finance Minister Simba Makoni to take over as head of state and leader of Zanu PF. Mujuru, a known kingmaker within the party who is equalled in clout only by Mnangagwa, has the support of many senior Politburo members and top politicians from its 10 provinces, including Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, former Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa and top Masvingo strategist Eddison Zvobgo. Mujuru and Zvobgo, the Masvingo South legislator, are said to have masterminded the election of Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo to the influential position of party national chairman ahead of Mnangagwa and Thenjiwe Lesabe. Mugabe, who personally wanted Mnangagwa to chair the party, then steamrolled his appointment as Speaker of Parliament and the party’s secretary for administration. Mujuru had successfully lobbied within the Politburo for former speaker Cyril Ndebele to be retained before that result was nullified after Mugabe’s passionate intervention on behalf of Mnangagwa. Other sources say personalities from the two camps, apart from differing on the choice of Mugabe’s successor, had on numerous occasions clashed over each other’s business interests. They said calls for Makoni to be booted out from his ministry for ostensibly failing to manage the economy were part of the grand scheme to elbow him out of the succession race that has spilled into the open.

While Mujuru has been secretly lobbying for Makoni, Mnangagwa has been busy consolidating his power base and grip on party structures by ensuring that many of the provincial chairmen back him and his long-term political ambitions. Mnangagwa’s proteges include Manicaland provincial chairman Mark Madiro, a director of finance when Mnangagwa was the party’s secretary for finance; and Ray Kaukonde, the provincial chairman for Mashonaland East who worked under Mnangagwa when he was the State Security Minister. Midlands chairman July Moyo is related to Mnangagwa while Mashonaland West provincial chairman Philip Chiyangwa and Samuel Mumbengegwi from Masvingo are also closely linked to the Speaker. Frederick Shava, Zanu PF’s head of administration and a close ally of Mnangagwa, has taken over the party’s daily administrative work at its headquarters in Harare. It was not possible this week to get comment from either Mnangagwa or Mujuru on the hotting up succession manoeuvres. (Financial Gazette)

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