Nkomo oft-cited to take over from Mugabe?

Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front chairman John Nkomo returned his post as national chairman at the highly contested 2004 party congress which saw Joice Mujuru being elevated to vice-president.

A cable released by Wikileaks said Nkomo, “oft-cited as a candidate to succeed Mugabe”, was rumoured to have had the inside track on the Msika slot if Vice-President Joseph Msika stepped down.

Nkomo defeated Patrick Chinamasa for the chairman’s post in a contest in which Chinamasa is said to have been from the Emmerson Mnangagwa camp.

Mnangagwa was beaten by Mujuru for the vice-President’s post though Chinamasa’s wife later said Mnangagwa had beaten Mujuru but Mugabe had rejected the result.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2004-11-23 14:48

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001914







E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/08/2009




Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.5 b/d


1. (C) SUMMARY: The ruling ZANU-PF party has probably

temporarily deferred succession tensions within its ranks by

tapping Minister of Water Resources and Infrastructural

Development Joyce Mujuru as its second Vice-President at

party provincial meetings on November 21. Provincial

executives left the party’s remaining leadership intact,

signalling little change in leadership chemistry or in Robert

Mugabe’s unrivalled supremacy as the party heads into its

upcoming Party Congress in early December. The party’s

selection processes appeared to function quite

democratically, with no apparent intervention by Mugabe to

direct a particular outcome. END SUMMARY.


Mujuru In, Presidium Otherwise Intact



2. (U) Ruling party provincial executives on November 21

nominated Joyce Mujuru, the wife of retired General Solomon

Mujuru, to assume ZANU-PF’s Vice-Presidential slot vacated on

the death of Simon Muzenda last year. Provincial executives

also nominated three incumbents to round out the ruling

party’s presidium: President and First Secretary Robert

Mugabe, Vice-President and Second Secretary Joseph Msika, and

Chairman John Nkomo. The four candidates are expected to be

approved when the Fifth Party Congress convenes December 1-5

in Harare. Mujuru would then in all likelihood join Msika as

one of the Government’s two Vice-Presidents. The Constition

provides that the President can appoint up to two

Vice-Presidents, which historically have always been the

ZANU-PF Vice-Presidents.


3. (U) While Mugabe’s position was unchallenged, the three

other senior positions in ZANU-PF were hotly contested.

Mujuru was the choice of six of ten provincial councils,

edging out Speaker of the Parliament and Party Secretary for

Administration Emmerson Mnangagwa. The octegenarian Msika,

who was long reported to be under pressure to step down, was

tipped by seven councils over the party’s Women League boss

Thenjiwe Lesabe, who was the preference of three. John Nkomo

beat Minister of Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs

Patrick Chinamasa, six provinces to four.


Women’s Wing Asserts Itself



4. (SBU) Mujuru’s star has risen rapidly since September,

when the party’s Women’s League resolved to submit a woman

candidate for the vice-presidency and the popular press

continued to push the issue. Advocates cited a 1999 party

resolution and SADC-related undertakings on gender diversity

in leadership representation to bolster their case. Under

pressure from the Women’s League, the politburo on November

18 reportedly resolved that one of the four presidium

positions should be held by a woman. Foremost candidates

were Mujuru and Thenjiwe Lesabe, the party’s senior woman who

hails from the ZAPU wing of ZANU-PF and whose chances would

have been enhanced had Msika stepped down. In a November 20

interview publicized in the state media, President Mugabe

publicly endorsed the notion of having a woman



Mugabe on Top With No Succession Line



5. (C) As an exercise to tip the balance in the party’s sub

rosa succession struggle, the selection process was

inconclusive but will probably shelve the issue temporarily.

Under the Constitution, Mugabe can designate either VP to

assume the duties of the presidency if Mugabe is unable to

perform them. If Mugabe were to die or become permanently

incapacitated, the designated VP would serve as President

only until a new presidential election were held within

ninety days. Neither Msika nor Mujuru command a wide or

secure enough standing in the party to be the likely ruling

party candidate in such an election, thus setting the stage

for a short-fused and uncertain succession battle should

Mugabe suddenly depart the stage. (The Muzenda/Mujuru VP

slot, ascribed to the ZANU party wing would generally be

considered to be ahead of the ZAPU-descended Msika slot.) In

the meantime, however, Mugabe’s position atop the party seems

as unchallenged as ever. Indeed, his unwillingness to anoint

a successor throughout the process contributed to the

eventual selection of an unthreatening figure — one who

emerged after other more powerful candidates had been cut

down by enemies and rivals with no apparent effort on

Mugabe’s part.


Mnangagwa’s Waterloo?



6. (C) The process’ big loser was Mnangagwa, long assumed by

many to be Mugabe’s preferred successor. The Speaker had

withstood repeated investigations of financial scandal,

sometimes reportedly with the President’s intervention on his

behalf. Despite both having positioned many of his

supporters in the party’s provincial restructuring over the

past year and knowing where everybody’s skeletons were,

Mnangagwa’s troops failed to back him decisively at this

critical moment. Whether they did not trust him or thought

him too “unelectable” to head the party (or both), key

supporters defected once Mugabe endorsed the party’s gender

resolution. Mnangagwa no doubt was hurt by the unprecedented

assertiveness of the party’s women’s wing, but may have been

done in even more by machinations of rivals. Reputed

“kingmaker” Solomon Mujuru (Joyce’s spouse, although the two

reportedly do not live together), for example, reportedly

told Mnangagwa in front of other party leaders that Mnangagwa

would never be the party’s leader as long as he was alive.

Having previously staged comebacks with Mugabe’s help from

defeats in his race for Party Chairman (against John Nkomo)

in 2000 and in his parliamentary race against the MDC the

same year, Mnangagwa’s star may have been eclipsed for the

last time.


Other Losers



7. (C) No provinces backed announced VP candidate Didymus

Mutasa, the mercurial ethnic Manyika and Party Secretary for

External Affairs, or Vitalis Zvinavashe, the retired General

who had had held himself out as a candidate for unspecified

national office. The unsuccessful Lesabe may have been

pushed by Mnanagagwa forces to meet the gender resolution’s

requirement at Msika’s expense (in the ZAPU-wing slot)

instead of Mnangagwa’s.   Chinamasa’s stealth run for the

Party chairmanship (it was unreported in the popular press)

is interesting. Often viewed as a hard-liner technocrat with

little constituency and totally reliant on the Mugabe’s

favor, he managed to take four provinces. He and Lesabe may

have been on some kind of ticket with Mnangagwa; the three of

them took three provinces (Matabeleland South, Masvingo, and

Midlands), with Chinamasa also picking up his home province

of Manicaland and Mnangagwa surprisingly taking Bulawayo.

(Curiously, Bulawayo alone defied the party’s gender

resolution by not choosing a woman for any slot.) Party

Chairman John Nkomo, oft-cited as a candidate to succeed

Mugabe, was rumored to have had the inside track on the Msika

slot had Msika stepped down.


Some Disgruntled, Likely Quiet



8. (C) Some party constituencies are likely left grumbling

by the Veepstakes’ resolution.  Many in the country’s

Karanga ethnic group – Zimbabwe’s most numerous – had long

argued that it was “their turn,” and that one of their ranks

should be the next in line to run the country after Mugabe, a

Zezuru. The elevation of Mujuru, also a Zezuru, leaves the

party’s two highest ranking ZANU-wing figures both from the

same clan. (Msika is an ethnic Manyika from the ZAPU wing of

the party.) Also disappointed will be some of the party’s

young Turks, who hoped the naming of the Vice-President would

more decisively signal the party’s succession course. Their

frustrations will likely simmer along quietly for now but may

heat up as the end of Mugabe’s term approaches in 2008.


Party Processes Functioning



9. (C) The party showed itself capable of following its

processes in an orderly (and yes, even somewhat democratic)

manner in conducting what was a fractious contest for an

important position. Different factions and figures all

participated in a remarkably inclusive process. We are

unaware of evidence that President Mugabe stepped in to exert

decisive influence; quite the contrary, several insider

reports indicated that Msika resisted Mugabe’s (and others’)

efforts to get him to relinquish his VP seat and that Mugabe

otherwise kept above the fray. Alas, the party still seems

unprepared to show as much equanimity in its inter-party

relations as it has in its intra-party processes. Indeed,

the dichotomy between relative democracy within ZANU-PF and

the party’s/government’s repressive practices nationally only

underscores Mugabe’s continuing vision of “democratic”

one-party state. Finally, it remains to be seen whether,

with succession tensions subdued somewhat for now, a

healthier policy-making dynamic can take shape among the

inward-looking leadership.





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