By Prince Tongogara
The Zanu PF succession battles have always been a hot potato with members who dared discuss it publicly frequently found themselves closed out of the party and cut off from the national feeding trough or worse still meeting their political waterloo.
President Robert Mugabe since his ascension to the party throne via an internal putsch in 1975, Zanu PF has never experienced any health, robust debates or contests for the presidency. The development by default started creating the impression that Mugabe was a godly ordained life-president of the party and by extension Zimbabwe.
To challenging Mugabe, be it in Zanu PF or national elections was considered treasonous. Zanu PF since then slowly and progressively started building a personality cult, rewriting the party history and the national political narrative.
The wily Mugabe used the newly established personality cult to entrench his leadership within the party and ultimately the nation. His word became the law. His cronies could ascend the political ladder wantonly except if they started showing appetite for their benefactor’s position.
By 1989 Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu was subdued through state sponsored violence that left an estimated 20 000 civilians dead in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces according to Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP). The atrocities were carried out by North Korean specially-trained brigade that was only answerable to Mugabe and was outside the national military structure that was under the command of then civilian President Canaan Banana.
At the end of the campaign, Gukurahundi, which Mugabe later described as a “moment of madness” was ready to consolidate his power through constitutional means. First, in 1987 he pushed for the amendment that created an imperial presidency – head of state, government and commander in chief of the defence forces. And secondly, he toyed with the idea of creating a one party-state despite inheriting multi-party democracy at independence in 1980.
Then Zanu PF Secretary General Edgar Tekere was man enough to stop the diabolic act by boldly challenging Mugabe and split from the party to form his own Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM).
Tekere lived to tell the tale but till his death he became a living example of what happens to a liberation struggle icon if one dared challenge Mugabe.
In the late 1990’s Masvingo legislator and now minister of Energy Dzikamai Mavhaire during a debate on the need to have a new constitution made the now infamous “Mugabe must go” statement. Mavhaire paid the price as he too was sent into political Siberia.
The death of Vice President Simon Muzenda in 2003 opened the succession race within Zanu PF as whoever was going to replace him was a possible shoe-in to take-over from Mugabe when the opportunity arose. Mnangangwa faction was first off the block and held the ill-fated Tsholotsho Declaration that was meant to sweep Emmerson Mnangagwa into power. However, The Mujuru camp with the connivance of Mugabe made an eleventh hour constitution amendment that said the position should be filled by a woman in line with gender equality in the party.
The Mujuru camp after securing Joice Mujuru’s ascendancy quickly started strengthening their hand far from the prying eyes as they had their gaze fixed on the top prize – the presidency. For the second time in Zanu’s history Mujuru had become the silent kingmaker after manipulating Mugabe ascendancy in 1975.
However Mugabe’s nadir was just round the corner, 2006 Goromonzi People’s Conference. The Mujuru faction stood up to Mugabe when he tried to extend his tenure in office without subjecting himself to an election. Mugabe wanted to have harmonised elections in 2010 a good two years after his term expired.
Retired General Solomon Mujuru played a critical role in forcing Mugabe to abandon his plan. Mujuru then forced Mugabe to subject himself to 2008 poll and to give an indication about when he would retire from active politics.
The other players in the Mujuru camp where Ray Kaukonde then and now Zanu PF Mashonaland East provincial chairperson and Harare province under Amos Midzi.
Mugabe then said 2008 was going to be his last election and the party should start openly debating the succession issue. However, with hindsight one can see Mugabe was not genuine but also that the Mujuru camp did not abandon their ambition to succeed him.
Mujuru camp since then has consolidated its position and along the way gained new supporters in wanting leadership renewal. Even the state-controlled Sunday Mail recently grudgingly acknowledged Joice Mujuru as a centre of power that rivals Mugabe in Zanu PF. It remains a fact that the camp had its fingers in the formation of Mavambo with Simba Makoni used as the bait according to a senior intelligence officer.
Mujuru despite strong cajoling refused to come out in the open to support the Mavambo initiative a move that gave Mugabe reprieve by default.
Fast forward to 2014: Enter Grace Mugabe who has done a countrywide tour publicly chastising Mujuru for being ambitious and wanting to take-over from the ageing leader at the December congress. Grace’s scathing attacks seem to have the tacit approval of Mugabe himself and implicit support from the rival Emmerson Mnangagwa faction.
Grace’s lamentation should be read in the context of Mujuru’s growing influence in Zanu PF as exhibited by control of all important organs of the party. The Mujuru faction has the majority of politburo members, central committee members and the current lot of provincial chairpersons making it a foregone conclusion that they can make a serious and fatal challenge to Mugabe’s reign.
Grace is running scared and has become the symbol of the fear in the other camp as seen in the reckless statements she has uttered in public despite coming into the political arena as a unifier.
With Mugabe just shy of becoming 91, the succession issue cannot be postponed any further. His ailing health as seen through frequent visits in the last year to the Far East for medical attention has heightened and magnified the need for a successor to be anointed.
Political analysts concur that it is not going to be easy to sideline or ‘baby dump’ Mujuru as called for by Mujuru without causing a mortal split in Zanu PF.
Mugabe’s waterloo is nigh. He cannot stop an idea whose hour has come and for once he has to play his card. His options are limited as the Mnangagwa faction despite having a few heavyweights it has neither the control of party structures nor popular appeal across the country.
The spirit of Goromonzi 2006 has resurrected and more powerful than ever. The personalities behind it may be vilified in the media and at rallies but the idea of renewal cannot be wished away. The sooner Grace and her cabal realize this the better and the greater will be the prospects of a smooth transition. Or, will Mugabe once again play the factions and steal the throne for his wife sealing the dynastic rule?