Zanu PF's Leadership Renewal Nightmare


When the December 2011 Zanu PF annual conference resolved to put forward its octogenarian leader Mugabe as presidential candidate for future elections it was perhaps the clearest indication that the party that has dominated Zimbabwe politics for the last three decades has dismally failed to tackle succession and leadership renewal. Current pushes for rushed, ill-planned elections under an uneven political field are directly linked to the succession battle in Zanu PF.

For a moment it appeared the succession issue would be carefully managed to allow Mugabe to hand-pick a successor, but recent outbursts from senior Zanu PF officials on the subject point to an ugly fight for succession which threatens to plunge, not only the party, but country, into chaos as people jostle to occupy the highest office in the country.

The media is partly to blame for failing to properly investigate and report on the succession issue, and sometimes for acting as marketing strategists for particular individuals with aspirations to succeed Mugabe. For instance, the potrayal of Defence Minister and touted front-runner in the succession race, Emmerson Mnangagwa as a fierce strategist commanding support among the securocrats and Mugabe's right hand man maybe far from the reality on the ground.

It must be remembered that it was only in 2006 when Mnangagwa escaped expulsion from Zanu PF by a whisker following the so-called Tstholotsho Declaration where several Zanu PF leaders tried to defy Mugabe's choice of Joyce Mujuru as vice-president of the party and the country. Mnangagwa has repeatedly lost dismally in parliamentary elections in the midlands city of Kwekwe, putting in serious doubt his credentials as a national leader. And yet the media protrays him as the 'great crocodile' an astute and fearsome political actor set to take over from Mugabe.

In terms of party hierarchy, Mnangagwa is outside the top ten, making claims that he is set to take over hard to believe. In fact, the number five in Zanu PF leadership, secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa recently dismissed Mnangagwa's presidential ambitions citing issue of seniority in the party. However, Mutasa compounded the confusion but tacitly declaring his own presidential ambitions.

The other main contender for Mugabe's post is the vice president Joyce Mujuru whom many perceive to have been severely weakened following the mysterious death of her husband, General Solomon Mujuru, in a fire last August. Last week Mrs Mujuru played down her presidential ambitions by declaring in Mugabe's presence that, 'while he lives, she would not clamour for his post.' It is significant that she said 'while he lives.'

From the security sector side credible reports indicate that the commander of the defence forces, Constantine Chiwenga has a definate interest in being president of the country after Mugabe as evidenced by his postgraduate studies in politics and international relations and in his close working relations with Zanu PF backroom strategist professor Jonathan Moyo.

Clearly, president Mugabe and Zanu PF lack a leadership renewal plan, perhaps largely because Zanu PF over-invested in the person of Robert Mugabe as its main asset, and also because Mugabe left the succession issue until too late. Like all assets invested in, the law of diminishing returns will at some point, as it has now done in Zanu PF, kick in. This scenario raises two present dangers for Zanu PF: (1) The party will perish together with its main asset - without Mugabe Zanu PF will not survive because it is not equipped to survive beyond Mugabe, and (2) If Zanu PF succession is not managed now, with Mugabe around, there will be utter chaos.

There is need for immediate steps to be taken to prevent a things-fall-apart scenario triggered by an all out war of succession. Various Zanu PF factions must unite together to resolve the succession issue through rallying around a candidate acceptable within Zanu PF, within the country and within the international community. Such a candidate is not Chiwenga, or Mnangagwa; rather it is Joyce Mujuru. It has been said that the vice president is pragmatic and would find it easy both to renounce violence and to work with the MDC going forward. Business is comfortable with her.

But president Mugabe stays mum on the subject. Last year he simply said dealing with succession now would be premature and could trigger a break-up of his party, so he is bidding his time. He hinted that his solution will be a surprise. Who knows, perhaps, after two years of tea every Monday with prime Minister Tsvangirai, he may have grown comfortable with his arch-rival to the point of effectively handing over the reigns to the MDC leader. Recently a Zanu PF strategist wondered loudly what it is that Mugabe and Tsvangirai will be discussing alone in those Monday meetings. This is not a far-fetched scenario, only last week prime-minister Tsvangirai married the daughter of a senior Zanu PF official, and on a number of occasions Mugabe has publicly defended Tsvangirai.

The way Mugabe would effectively hand over power to Tsvangirai would be through allowing a smooth passage of electoral reforms including a new constitution, and having elections at the right time in the context of peace and non-violence as he indicated in his Independence day message last week. Mugabe himself has said, and we all agree, that in Zanu PF there is no leader who can emerge to defeat Tsvangirai in free and fair elections.

In the mean time, as part of salvaging his tattered legacy, Mugabe would also prepare Zanu PF for a long, peaceful life as political opposition. Of course the securocrats, who themselves want the whole cake to themselves, may already be aware of this possibility, and are sure to do everything in their power to thwart the plan. Whichever way one looks at the issue, leadership renewal is a nightmare for Zanu PF, and is potentially devastating for the country.

Dewa Mavhinga, Regional Coordinator, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

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