Harare -September 11, 2015-Two contrasting game plans regarding President Robert Mugabe’s succession are emerging with Zanu (PF) insiders revealing the camp led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is pushing for an extraordinary congress in 2017 to pave way for Mnangagwa to take the reins ahead of the 2018 general elections, while First Lady Grace Mugabe and her backers — including the Generation 40 (G40) group — insist on consolidation around the ageing leader.
At the heart of Mugabe’s succesion now is a push for transition by the Mnangagwa faction and a demand for consolidation by the camp loyal to Grace.
The Mnangagwa camp is mulling turning the 2017 annual conference into an extraordinary congress where a new leader would be elected as they believe Mugabe, (91), does not have the capacity to lead the party and the country beyond his current tenure amid increasing signs of his infirmity.
Congress is the party’s supreme policy-making organ, which also elects the president and first secretary of the party, who then appoints his two vice-presidents (also second secretaries) and chairperson. Congress also elects members of the central committee and has the authority to amend the party constitution.
Zanu PF holds its congresses after every five years, with the next scheduled for 2019 following last year’s dramatic congress which swept aside former vice-president Joice Mujuru — until late last year touted as Mugabe’s successor — and her allies.
Mugabe would be 94 in 2018 when the next general elections are due.
According to the Zanu (PF) constitution, an extraordinary congress “may be convened whenever it is deemed necessary” and at the instance of the majority of the members of the central committee; the president and first secretary, at the instance of not less than one-third of members of the central committee or the president, at the instance of at least five provincial executive councils.
Mnangagwa appears to have the upper hand in the succession race after the demise of his longtime nemesis Mujuru and her faction, but is facing resistance from a group coalescing around Grace.
The group was instrumental in Grace’s political rise and countrywide tours last year during which she viciously attacked Mujuru leading to her ouster.
Zanu PF officials said to derail Mnangagwa, Grace and her backers were pushing for Mugabe to stand in 2018, giving themselves more time to organise and destabilise Mnangagwa’s group. A time-out helps Grace’s camp get a leg up.
Grace and her backers believe Mugabe’s extended rule would give them time to build a constituency and penetrate the party’s structures, which they hope to use as a springboard to upstage the Mnangagwa faction. Mugabe’s early departure would however leave Grace seriously exposed as she lacks a power base and gravitas.
There are fears though that Mugabe may not be strong enough to stand as he is increasingly showing signs of weariness, but the group believes he can defy odds like he has continuously done over the years.
“Two bodies of opinion are gaining currency,” said a senior Zanu PF official. “The Mnangagwa camp is pushing for a transition while Grace and her group want consolidation around Mugabe. The Mnangagwa camp wants the 2017 conference to be turned into an extraordinary congress in the hope that Mnangagwa would be catapulted to the leadership position.
“Grace and the G40, which has people like Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere among others, are pushing for consolidation around Mugabe. So it is transition versus consolidation strategy.”
Grace and her allies believe Mnangagwa has been craftily pushing himself into the limelight since being appointed Vice-President to make it clear, without openly saying as much, that he is ready to take the reins from Mugabe.
The group charges the interviews he has been giving of late, including one with China’s national broadcaster CCTV in July — where he acknowledged that Zimbabwe was lagging behind in terms of development — were meant to show he is ready for leadership and to chart the country towards a new course.
In the interview, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe needed to “bite the bullet” by introducing social and economic reforms to attract investment.
“We must know that investment can only go where it makes a return, so we must make sure we create an environment where investors are happy to put their money because there is a return,” Mnangagwa said.
“In fact, capital will go where it finds comfort, so we need to do that, create an ease of doing business environment.
“… You cannot say there are areas of our economy which we are happy with; infrastructure we are behind by 15-16 years, agricultural development the same, manufacturing
“In fact, capacity utilisation in some areas of our industry is down to 20%, so again we have to retool by acquiring new machinery, technology and equipment so that we are competitive.”
Mnangagwa’s rivals also say his recent interview with New Africa magazine, which was also published in the Herald where he, among other things, harped on the role he played in the liberation struggle and how he had worked closely with Mugabe since 1963, was also meant to portray him as a seasoned cadre now ready for the top job.
In the interview, Mnangagwa said that only him, Mugabe and Mujuru served in the national executive council in the 1970s and that the three are the only surviving members of the first politburo of 1984.
Mnangagwa also said that the country’s service chiefs were all junior members of the army during the war of liberation as their commanders had either died or retired.
He also said Mugabe would be irreplaceable and described State House as being “far”, but his competitors believe by talking about Mugabe’s departure and State House, he was deliberately promoting the succession debate and portraying himself as the frontrunner to succeed Mugabe.