Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi is reportedly back in President Robert Mugabe’s succession race as the group coalesced around First Lady Grace hunts for a heavyweight candidate to challenge Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely seen as the leading contender.
Informed Zanu PF insiders say Grace and her allies, branded as the Generation 40 (G40) group, are pulling out all the stops to block Mnangagwa and have roped in Sekeramayi, a big-hitter with liberation war credentials, experience in government and links to the state security apparatus, critical in the matrix of power.
In private briefings this week, senior Zanu PF officials said Sekeremayi has bounced back after a realisation by G40 Grace lacks history, experience and gravitas necessary to win the cutthroat Zanu PF power struggle.
“So many shifts and changes — re-alignments — have happened since the (Zanu PF) congress in December 2014,” a senior Zanu PF official said. “Mnangagwa has so far failed to consolidate for the whole year and this has allowed the G40 fronted by the First Lady to steal a march on him. But the problem is that the G40 has no clear leader. These are personality-based factions, not ideological or policy-based groups, and you need a rallying point which Grace is, but not a leader.
“After a hard search, Sekeramayi has emerged as the preferred candidate.”
Sekeramayi, a staunch ally of former Vice-President Joice Mujuru who was ruthlessly expelled from Zanu PF early this year with many of her supporters in an unprecedented party purge, is reportedly being rehabilitated for his new role.
Mujuru lost the Zanu PF vice-presidency at the party’s December 2014 congress before being fired from government alongside other party bigwigs such as former secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, and spokesman Rugare Gumbo.
Sekeramayi survived the purges by the skin of his teeth, but Grace’s backers says he remains weak and vulnerable, thus would readily accept a new lease of life in an elevated role, although he traditionally prefers to operate in the shadows.
Sekeramayi, looking comfortable and content, appeared alongside Grace at a rally in Murehwa in his home province of Mashonaland East last Saturday, something new in the post-congress period. Mugabe and Grace have said the person who might come in may not be one many people are thinking of.
Another senior Zanu PF official said in coming up with Sekeramayi as the new possible candidate to take over from Mugabe, the G40, showing versatility and determination to engage Mnangagwa, considered leadership qualities as well as strengths and weaknesses of different aspirants.
“The First Lady is the boss of the Women’s League and not the substantive leader of the G40. What has been happening is that she has only been a rallying point and in the process a stalking horse, but not the real candidate. She will of course be given a role in leadership in the post-Mugabe era if her group wins,” the official said. “Sekeremayi is their succession candidate.”
Although Grace has of late been publicly saying she has no presidential ambitions, she has been leading the charge to shipwreck Mnangagwa’s presidential bid. She has been capitalising on her proximity to the throne, but the group’s strategists say Mugabe’s legacy issues – including economic ruin and human rights abuses – as well as her own foibles render her a hard sell.
“There is no precedent in Africa where a leader who such a long and controversial reign like the president has been succeeded by his wife. There have been cases in countries like Togo, Gabon and Democratic Republic of Congo where presidents have been succeeded by their sons, but not their wives,” the Zanu PF official said. “People in a patriarchal society like Zimbabwe won’t support such a process.”
The G40 also considered Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko who has strong liberation war credentials and experience. He was however was discounted on the grounds that he has no political following, having lived outside the country for a long time. His own personal approach to politics was also seen as unhelpful, the official said.
“Besides, it’s unfortunate in Zimbabwe one’s region of origin and ethnicity still play a major role in politics. So Mphoko, being Ndebele, was considered a risky candidate, which is sad, although it’s also more of his inaptness than his ethnicity which matters,” the official added. “The same applies to Jonathan Moyo, who is a brilliant political thinker and strategist, but a polarising personality to be a leader.”
Zanu PF’s fault lines are along regional and ethnic dimensions; hence the G40 is mainly Zezurus and Ndebeles, while Mnangagwa is backed by his fellow Karanga tribesmen. Although other main tribal blocs are also divided, Manyikas are said to be more split between the two factions.
Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere was also in the frame, but his young age, lack of liberation war credentials and experience ruled him out.
“After a critical examination of the qualities of each of the key people in the group, they then looked at who else was available, and Sekeramayi was suggested,” another official also said.
Sekeramayi, alongside Mugabe and Mnangagwa, are the only three survivors of the 1977 Zanu post-congress leadership currently in the party. Mugabe assumed the leadership of Zanu at the Chimoio congress. Sekeramayi has also served as a cabinet minister since 1980.
Besides personalities and secret manoeuvres, the Zanu PF and state constitutions will be critical in determining who succeeds Mugabe. Efforts to get comment from Sekeramayi were fruitless.