“Nocturnal meetings, wheeler dealings – real fun and games. It’s a very unstable land,” one senior political insider told me.Of course this sort of death-bed conjecture is probably as pointless as it is morbid. Depending on whom you ask, Mr Mugabe is either in perfect health, “declining steadily,” or “unlikely to bounce back.”
The only diagnoses that almost everyone agrees on are that the president takes fastidious care of himself, and that he will cling to power until his last breath. And yet the plotting appears to be real. The lack of a clear successor to Mr Mugabe is a major headache for Zanu-PF.
The man to beat is Emmerson Mnangagwa – a hardliner with plenty of clout. Vice-President Joyce Mujuru is also well placed. Then there are maybe half a dozen others, including Saviour Kasukuwere – “the second scariest man in Zimbabwe”, according to one of his most prominent rivals.
Intriguingly, although some western diplomats worry that the rules of succession may be murky enough to fuel instability or at least give plotters some extra wiggle-room. It looks as though the former opposition MDC may actually end up playing kingmaker in a parliamentary electoral college charged with finding a Zanu-PF replacement to complete Mr Mugabe’s term.
In that case, a senior MDC source tells me, Joyce Mujuru would probably end up with the presidency on the basis that she is “the better of the devils.”
Not that the MDC is relishing the idea of President Mugabe’s abrupt exit. There are real fears that it could trigger a new clampdown by Zanu-PF hardliners, forcing the party’s leadership to bolt to neighbouring Botswana “like lightning” – at least in the short-term.
And there are other – probably more pressing – reasons for the MDC to be worried. The movement’s secretary general, Tendai Biti has issued a warning on the elections.So was the former opposition party right to cut a power-sharing deal with Zanu-PF back in 2008 in the first place?
The optimists point to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, and to the possibility that free and fair elections can still be held.The realists argue that at least the MDC has had a chance to catch its breath, lick its wounds, and get some hands-on experience of government.
But the pessimists – and in Zimbabwe that’s a big group – fear that Zanu-PF is many years away from even countenancing the possibility of relinquishing power, with or without Mr Mugabe at the helm.
They worry about the MDC’s ability to withstand another onslaught from the security forces, especially given that Prime Minister Tsvangirai appears, according to some, to be dwindling into little more than a golf-playing figurehead for the movement.
So after a surprisingly long lull, it looks like this may be a busy, dangerous year for Zimbabwe. Could these reports about a new phase of property seizures be an early sign of things to come?- Andrew Harding, BBC,s Africa Correspondent.