With presidential elections less than 15 months away, the ZANU-PF annual conference scheduled for next month at Goromonzi High School in Mashonaland East should focus on who will succeed Mugabe.
While there will be another conference before the elections, a decision has to be made now because campaigning has to start early next year if the ruling party is to beat the opposition Movement for Democratic Change which gave it a good run in both the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections.
Though the MDC did not fare well in the 2005 elections, this was largely because ZANU-PF had infiltrated the party and knew how it operated. But the ruling party cannot bank on this in 2008 because the electorate is facing increasing hardships.
Inflation stands at 1070 percent, the highest in the world. Unemployment is about 80 percent. Industry is only operating at 30 percent of capacity. The breadbasket for an average family if six- father, mother and four children, is now $142 000 while the minimum wage is $37 500.
The average Zimbabwean cannot stomach it anymore. A study by Adrian White of the University of Leicester, released in October, rated Zimbabweans as the unhappiest people on earth with only Burundians worse off out of 178 countries surveyed.
The situation is so bad that human trafficking has become big business as Zimbabweans flock to South Africa. A domestic worker in South Africa is better off than a manager in Zimbabwe.
With the opposition in array, though there have been reports that the two factions of the MDC one led by founder Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by rocket scientist Arthur Mutambara, are talking, salvation for Zimbabweans now rests on who will succeed Mugabe.
But the big question remains. Will he step down in 2008 as he has promised? Or will he hang on until 2010 as has been suggested by those who argue that Mugabe has to stay on so that presidential and parliamentary elections can be held simultaneously.
Some believe that Mugabe has become so autocratic that he will seek any excuse to stay in power. But one economic analyst argued that Mugabe may be old but he is not a fool.
He is clearly reading the signs. He knows he is no longer welcome. He will therefore step down. If he does so, he will remain a hero though he has brought the country down to its knees.
The odds are against his continued stay. The economy shows no signs of recovering after seven consecutive years of decline. Though Zimbabwe’s constitution does not limit the president’s term of office, which technically means that Mugabe can legally seek re-election, popular sentiment in the region is that his time is up.
The old guard in the Southern African Development Community, including Thabo Mbeki, will soon be gone. The younger SADC leaders will descend on him if he hangs onto power because they fear he will drag them down with him. Right now, their excuse is that he should serve his full term because he was constitutionally elected as president.
This has therefore pushed up the stakes for the succession issue. But though two key names keep cropping up, that of former army commander Solomon Mujuru and former intelligence boss, Emmerson Mnangagwa, once regarded as Mugabe’s preferred successor, political observers say the race is wide open.
The observers say there are really two major points of differences. One group thinks that the country cannot continue its confrontational approach towards the West. It needs Britain and the United States for the economy to recover. The other group feels it needs another Mugabe to implement the second phase of the land reform programme and thus consolidate the gains made by Mugabe in terms of black empowerment.
Joyce Mujuru, who was catapulted to power in 2004 leading most people to think she was now Mugabe’s preferred successor is still in contention, though she stands very little chance. For one, she has lost the support of her powerful husband, Solomon, who party insiders say has been calling the shots, through a closed “inner cabinet” known as the Committee of 26.
Former ZANU-PF strongman, Enos Nkala, who was number four before his unceremonious departure following the Willowvale Motor scandal in which senior government officials were reported to have abused a car facility at the government –owned plant to obtain vehicles and resale them at hefty profits, last month said though established soon after independence the Committee of 26 was still at work and was running the show.
Joyce Mujuru can only count on support from her home province Mashonaland Central. Though it has powerful people like Elliot Manyika, the party’s secretary for the commissariat; Nicholas Goche, secretary for national security and Labour Minister; Ephraim Masawi, the provincial governor and deputy secretary for information and publicity; and Saviour Kasukuwere, deputy secretary for youth. It only has 20 members of the central committee out of 230.
She should not expect a single vote from Matabeleland’s three provinces because of the way she humiliated former vice-President Joshua Nkomo just before he died. Nkomo will forever remain a hero in Matabeleland and its people have never forgiven Mujuru for this.
But observers say Joyce Mujuru is being backed by some moderates who believe it will be easier for her to change course and accommodate the West while at the same time protecting them so that they do not lose the properties and business they looted after 2000.Though the top three from Matabeleland, Dumiso Dabengwa, John Nkomo and Joseph Msika backed her in 2004, party insiders say this was merely to thwart Mnangagwa.
Her husband, Solomon, however, is reported to be totally against her now because he believes she could send him to the gutters if she becomes president. Solomon Mujuru is therefore reported to be head-hunting for someone junior but acceptable to the West who will be able to protect him as well as get the West to resuscitate the economy. He had handpicked Simba Makoni, an academic and former SADC secretary.
Observers believe Makoni is too soft and too junior but he could do the trick for Mujuru. But he might be too independent for Mujuru’s liking. Insiders said, Mujuru, was therefore still hunting. But he had vowed that he would never allow Mnangagwa to take over. Part of their grudge steps from the fact that Mnangagwa stopped Mujuru from taking over the former Union Carbide operations in Kwekwe when the company decided to disinvest.
Mujuru is now one of the richest people in Zimbabwe and owns close to 20 companies. He therefore wants someone who will protect his business empire. His wife cannot be counted on because the two are now married only in name. They have been living separately for years.
On paper, Mujuru has the support of senior army officers especially those he has helped get promoted. He has also been instrumental in getting retired officers into senior posts in the public and private sectors. Some are now permanent secretaries and others head key parastatals such as the Grain Marketing Board, the National Railways of Zimbabwe, and National Parks, for example.
Solomon Mujuru can count on support from his home province, Mashonaland East, which has key people like Finance Minister Hebert Murerwa, health Minister David Parirenyatwa, Defence Minister Sydney Sekeremayi, Youth Minister Ambrose Mutinhiri, Mashonaland East governor Ray Kaukonde, Harare governor David Karimanzira and Technology Minister Olivia Muchena. The province has 26 members in the central committee.
He can also garner support from Harare province which has 25 members in the central committee. But loyalties in this metropolitan province can be divided because Mujuru is also using the Zezuru card in his fight. Some of the key people in Harare such as Joseph Chinotimba for example, a war veteran who has played a key role in ensuring Mugabe stays in power, are Karanga and would be considered outsiders. Harare has no powerful figures of its own and is an opposition stronghold.
Loyalties in Mashonaland West could also be divided because the key player there is Information and publicity secretary Nathan Shamuyarira. Shamuyarira could back Mujuru on the ethnic card but is considered more moderate. The province has 26 seats in the central committee. These include Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and provincial governor Nelson Samkange.
Mujuru is likely to get little support from Manicaland, Masvingo, the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces because the provinces argue that power should not shift from the Zezuru who have ruled the country since independence. His ploy to bring in Makoni, who is from Manicaland could backfire because he has left the heavyweights from the province: Didymus Mutasa, the powerful secretary for administration and Minister of Security and Lands; Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister who any successor will need for his legal drafting skills; the mercurial Kumbirai Kangai; Water Minister Munacho Mutezo; Agriculture Minister Joseph Made; provincial governor Mike Nyambuya; Transport Minister Chris Mushowe; and Women’s league leader Oppah Muchinguri. The province has 29 members in the central committee.
Mnangagwa can count on support from his home province of Midlands, which has 22 members in the central committee. He can count on support from people like secretary for economic affairs Richard Hove, provincial governor Cephas Msipa, Tourism Minister Francis Nhema but should expect strong opposition from Rugare Gumbo, Economic Development Minister who most people say was brought in to thwart Mnangagwa.
He can also bank on Masvingo because of his close relations with Vitalis Zvinavashe, the most powerful person in the province at the moment. Zvinavashe has an axe to grind with both Mugabe and Mujuru because they forced him into retirement as defence forces chief but did not deliver the post of vice-President they had dangled. Masvingo has 26 members in the central committee and they include Education Minister Stan Mudenge and traditional leader Chief Fortune Charumbira.
His biggest stumbling block is the Matabeleland provinces where Dumiso Dabengwa rules supreme. Though based in Bulawayo province, Dabengwa reportedly calls the shots in both Matabeleland North and South. He is junior to party chairman John Nkomo and vice-President Joseph Msika, but insiders say what Dabengwa says, goes.
Dabengwa, they say, is still harbouring the notion that the next president should come from the former ZAPU. This is next to impossible because ZAPU has now narrowed itself to the Matabeleland provinces and Ndebele-speaking part of the Midlands. It can therefore only garner 20 percent of the electorate, not enough to win a presidential poll.
Though he has the backing of Nkomo and Msika, Dabengwa’s biggest problem is that he is heading a very divided region which does not even like his tactics. For one, his only weapon against Mnangagwa is the civil strife of the 1980s, popularly known as Gukurahundi. He claims Mnangagwa as head of the Central Intelligence Organisation and Minister of State Security at the time was responsible for the atrocities that left more than 20 000 civilians dead.
Though Bulawayo boasts of powerful people like secretary for education Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Matabeleland South governor Angelina Masuku and Small and Medium Enterprises Minister Sithembiso Nyoni, it is deeply divided. It does not have a functional party structure at the moment.
The powerful war veterans association, which controls the other faction is against Dabengwa. They even say he was not a member of ZIPRA the liberation arm of ZAPU but was head of intelligence. He has therefore bulldozed his way up the ladder, sidelining powerful people like former governor Welshman Mabhena, and deputy President of the Senate Naison Ndlovu, who should be the most senior man in ZAPU.
But they dislike him most because he is pushing a tribal line that is not likely to benefit the region. They argue that people should forget about ZAPU and ZANU because as long as they continue to think along those lines, the president can never come from Matabeleland because the people of the region will always be a minority. People should therefore start looking at politics from a national perspective rather than from where someone originally came from.
These war veterans back Mnangagwa because they believe he can continue from where Mugabe left and thus consolidate the gains made in land reform and empowerment. Though Matabeleland South is under Naison Ndlovu, observers say, it backs Dabengwa because of the Gukurahundi issue but deep down people like Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi and former deputy Minister Abednico Nyathi, support Mnangagwa.
The same applies to Matabeleland North. There are no powerful persons there except for provincial governor Thokozile Mathuthu. It has only 13 seats in the central committee against Bulawayo’s 21 and Matabeleland South’s 18.
Those who support Mnangagwa even argue that he still has Mugabe’s blessing. They claim that his appointment as Minister of Rural Housing was no demotion. They argue that ZANU-PF won its two-thirds majority without the urban vote. Mnangagwa had therefore been given an opportunity to build his base in the party stronghold including in rural Matabeleland where he is considered an enemy. And most of his housing projects have started in Matabeleland.
They also argue that Mnangagwa has the backing of Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made. This further widens his area of influence into the resettled areas and the peri-urban centres.
But all these theories presume Mugabe will be gone. The succession debate has been going on for more than a decade now and some Zimbabweans have given up. In a debate organised by African Crisis, one Zimbabwean argued that the succession debate should not be taken seriously. Mugabe was not going anywhere. He would die in office. He was only allowing debate on the issue to gauge the reaction of those against him and then purge them secretly.
Those more optimistic say the longer he hangs on the better the chance for Mnangagwa to spread his influence.
The biggest danger though is that there will be chaos if Mugabe dies in office because the constitution is vague about succession. It says elections have to be held within 90 days of his death or leaving office. Who will be in charge during those 90 days?