South African journalist turned academic William Gumede says the choice of second or third generation leaders in liberation movements can be a bruising affair.
This is quite evident in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front as people battle to position themselves to take over from Robert Mugabe who has presided over the party for the past 37 years.
The fight is turning out to be really ugly.
Sadly, no one is paying attention to the bread and butter issues that the ordinary Zimbabwean is interested in despite claims that the people are paramount.
Interestingly the scenarios in South Africa and Zimbabwe are almost the same. In his book: Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the soul of the ANC, Gumede says South Africa’s second President Thabo Mbeki defied all advice, including from the revered Nelson Mandela, not to appoint Jacob Zuma as his deputy. But Mbeki did so because he thought Zuma was a “safe No.2”.
Mugabe did the same thing in 2004, by forcing Joice Mujuru to be his Number 2 despite protests from senior party members. The move almost split the party with six provincial chairmen being suspended for trying to block Mujuru’s rise.
Mugabe’s excuse at the time was that this was a constitutional provision that one of the members of the presidium should be a woman.
When Mbeki’s second term was almost over and he felt that Zuma was not the right person to succeed him, Mbeki was in a quandary. Zuma would not budge despite a barrage of scandals he was allegedly involved in including rape charges.
Instead, Zuma went on to steamroll his way to become leader of the African National Congress, and in less than a year forced Mbeki to step down before his term was over.
Mugabe has not declared whom he wants to succeed him- which should not be the case anyway as this is not a chieftainship- but it is proving a nightmare to sideline Mujuru who is now eyeing the throne and believes that after 10 years as Number 2, it is now time for her to take over.
And like Zuma, Mujuru has played her cards right. She has amassed so much support within the party that it will be difficult to unseat her. Besides, she has also cultivated international support by branding herself as the leader of the reformist element in ZANU-PF that will deliver the best conditions for foreign investment.
Some of her recent outbursts, especially on corruption, have, however, done her some damage. But people easily forget. And they are so fed-up with Mugabe’s continued stay in power that they believe anyone is better than the 90-year-old.
Mugabe is in an even tighter spot. He cannot declare a successor, or even his departure, despite the pressure and can only accept to hold on despite his advanced age.
Gumede aptly summed up Mugabe’s predicament, though he was referring to Mbeki: “To declare his preference too far in advance would place Mbeki’s (read Mugabe) candidate in the invidious position of having to watch his or her back constantly against those who believe the job should be theirs. Perhaps, more importantly, backing anyone as his successor while the bulk of his term has yet to run (four years for Mugabe) would reduce Mbeki (Mugabe) to a lame-duck president, something he wants to avoid at all costs, and possibly open him to accusations of manipulating the process. Taken together, these factors could actually hinder rather than help Mbeki’s anointed heir”.
The question is, can Mujuru bulldoze her way through and force Mugabe to step down before his term is over?