US view on the ZANU-PF succession battle


With the decline of the Movement for Democratic Change since the March 2005 elections the United States embassy seemed to be focussing on the succession battles within the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

And the focus appeared to be more on what was likely to happen when President Robert Mugabe, who was 81 at the time, was gone.

“Although his energy and attention span appear to be flagging, his word still goes,” a cable dispatched by the embassy on 28 September 2005 said, “and he is allowing the Mujuru/Zezuru clique to continue to consolidate control of the party.”

“If Mugabe goes out on top, his word will likely control the immediate succession, bequeathing factional and ethnic tensions to the next generation. However, if he were to die or suddenly become enfeebled all bets are off.”


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2005-09-28 15:12

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 06 HARARE 001345







E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/28/2015





Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell for reasons 1.5 b/d



Summary and Introduction



1. (C) By many measures, the Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF

party is as firmly in control of Zimbabwe as ever. Its

tainted but overwhelming parliamentary election “victory”

in March left it in firm control of the legislature and

executive, and simultaneously demoralized Zimbabwe’s

political opposition and civil society. Emigration

continues to bleed much of the best human resources for

democratic forces; destitution or prospective destitution

hobbles many of the rest. “Operation Restore Order” has

politically and economically disrupted the urban masses

viewed by many as critical to any effective domestic

opposition; that hundreds of thousands of victims submitted

without resistance testifies not only to the passive nature

of the populous, but also to the effectiveness of the GOZ’s

heavy hand.


2. (C) Below the surface, however, ZANU-PF remains a party

on the edge. Deep resentment and concern over Restore

Order is palpable outside and inside the party. The

magnitude of the party’s economic failures complicate

relations with the outside world and fuel discontent within

the country and within the party. Compounding all of this

is Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule and refusal to

countenance meaningful debate over serious challenges

facing the party – especially succession. However, party

discipline is still strong, particularly at the top, in

part because of a patronage system that, while under

stress, remains the only game in town.


3. (C) This report examines divisions within the ruling

party, especially as they relate to prospective leadership

succession. The party is beset by cross-cutting rifts:

personal, ethnic, and generational. Nonetheless, there are

substantial forces that hold this bunch together:

interwoven family and business connections; a sense that

“we hang together or hang separately” in the face of

growing political pressures; the bonds of shared historical

experience; and, perhaps most importantly, an undisputed

leader and his pervasive patronage system. How compelling

these centripetal forces will be in Mugabe’s absence is a

pivotal issue. For now, Mugabe chosen standard-bearer,

Vice President Joyce Mujuru, and the dominant Zezuru clique

retain the inside track, but long-term succession remains

an open question that will hinge largely on the

circumstances and timing of Mugabe’s departure from the




Mujuru vs. Mnangagwa



4. (C) Purges associated with the last year’s ZANU-PF Party

Congress, the sholotsho conspiracy”, and the ruling

party’s parliamentary primaries have put to bed open

discussion of leadership succession within the ruling

party. On paper, President Robert Mugabe is in charge and

Vice President Joyce Mujuru is his standard bearer. If

Mugabe were suddenly to be incapacitated or step down, few

doubt that under current circumstances Joyce Mujuru would

be the ZANU-PF candidate in a presidential election that

the constitution requires within 90 days.


5. (C) Nonetheless, the rivalry between the factions of

Solomon Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa remains an important

factor in Zimbabwean politics, albeit largely outside the

public view. That Mnangagwa’s “Young Turk” faction

garnered seven of the ten provincial presidium votes before

Mugabe squelched its bid for power testifies to that

faction’s continued broad support. The six pro-Mnangagwa

provincial chairpersons suspended after the Tsholotsho

meetings and other demoted Mnangagwa supporters retain

influence among rank and file. While accepted publicly,

last December’s establishment of Joyce Mujuru as Mugabe’s

heir apparent deeply rankled Mnangagwa’s forces and many

view her election as a temporary setback, not the end of

the contest.



Enduring Ethnic Resentments



6. (C) Historically, the Mnangagwa-Mujuru factional

conflict is associated with a struggle for intra-Shona

tribe dominance between Mugabe-Mujuru’s Zezuru clan, which

accounts for nearly 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s population,

and Mnangagwa’s more numerous Karanga clan, which accounts

for more than 30 percent of the population. The Zezuru are

centered largely around Mashonaland while the Karanga

dominate Masvingo and much of the Midlands. Many Karanga

have long felt that it would be their “turn” to rule after

Mugabe. Mugabe’s replacement of long time Karanga Vice

President Muzenda with fellow Zezuru Mujuru deeply

disappointed the Karanga, who viewed the position as

“theirs” and a springboard to national leadership in the

party’s succession exercise.


7. (C) Mugabe’s “siding” with the Mujuru clique represented

a watershed of sorts after carefully balancing ethnic

groups for a generation. However, ethnic rivalries and

maneuvering have been a hallmark of ruling party politics

for years. The Manyika, a third Shona sub-group accounting

for just under 20 percent of the population, have

traditionally supplied a disproportionate number of

prominent political figures and also feel they deserve a

shot at leadership. Nonetheless, the

independent-mindedness of the Manyika, who voted for the

opposition more than any other Shona group and whose number

include opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and ex-Finance

Minister Simba Makoni, make them a group to be controlled

in the eyes of many party leaders.


8. (C) The minority Ndebele (roughly 15 percent of the

population), who were ruthlessly suppressed during the

mid-80s, are at most a swing group in the leadership and a

box to check in cabinet-making exercises. Indeed, the

Ndebele leaders within the party are largely despised by

the Ndebele people and have proven utterly incapable of

delivering their constituency in national elections.



Conflicting Generational Perspectives



9. (C) Cutting across ethnic divides are conflicting

generational perspectives. The Old Guard in Mugabe’s

generation tend to frame the party’s legitimacy in

nationalist terms, equating liberation credentials with

entitlement to leadership. That chafes the party’s younger

generation, which attaches higher priority to economic

progress and a more open political process – inside if not

outside the party. Much of Mnangagwa’s appeal is in

playing to younger generation frustrations that transcend

ethnic allegiance.


10. (C) Importantly, though, most recognize that there is

little genuine ideology behind the Old Guard’s frequently

truculent, anti-western, anti-democratic fulminations.

Mugabe himself may be the country’s last true ideologue,

and many expect that all factions will quickly reorient

themselves – rhetorically at least – to the West and more

conventional development strategies once he has gone. In

the meantime, liberation rhetoric and confrontationist

posturing at the top will prevail, reflecting Mugabe’s

dominance and the regime’s inability to explain its gross

policy failures in any other terms.


11. (C) For its part, the younger generation’s allegiances

are shallow and prone to shift. While many have been

aligned with Mnangagwa, they are represented in both

camps. Many privately profess commitment to

democratization and economic reform; however, their actions

(or more often inaction) – largely in lockstep with

leadership dictates elie their words. Their posturing

must be taken in the context of their overarching

objectives of personal security, advancement and

enrichment. Most may be identified with one faction or

another but in fact quietly hedge political allegiances

with a view to maintaining access to dwindling perks of

patronage in an uncertain environment. Aside from Simba

Makoni, the “dissident” Politburo member historically

aligned with the Mujuru camp, and independent Jonathan

Moyo, who still professes to carry his party membership

card, no ruling party young turks stand out as potential

national figures in the foreseeable future.


12. (C) Traditional deference to authority in Zimbabwe will

continue to be an important political factor, at least as

long as the liberation generation survives. The party

exploits this in its relentless propaganda themes and

commitment of resources to co-opt the allegiance of

traditional chiefs and headmen. Within the party, it

favors the Zezuru faction, as reflected in the Tsholotsho

outcome: the Mujuru faction, with the Old Guard arrayed

behind it, prevailed over Mnangagwa’s group, which may have

had the numbers but not the gravitas. It helps explain why

“reformers” like Simba Makoni and Eddie Zvobgo, Jr., keep

their wagons hitched to the Mujuru wagon despite affinity

for the “moderate” posturing of the Mnangagwa camp.



The Primacy of Patronage



13. (C) Central to the contest for party leadership is the

once pervasive national patronage system. At the top end,

party favor means potentially lucrative sweetheart deals,

access to scarce resources – and impunity. At the

grassroots, it means community access to food, modest

infrastructure development, and some agricultural inputs.

It is essentially a mafia arrangement, in which potentially

everything is at risk no matter where one is

socioeconomically. Control of patronage is the key stake

in the game, and its effective manipulation will be a key

to winning, or at least surviving.


14. (C) Years of precipitous economic decline have eroded

the party and government resource base and cut into the

party’s ability to buy loyalty. At the same time, however,

the declining size of the economic pie has only sharpened

the stakes in the succession struggle, making it even more

of a winner-take-all scenario in which the loser will not

only be frozen out of political power but will likely lose

economically as well.


15. (C) The withering of patronage will likely push the

regime to rely further on repression as its key tool for

retaining its grip on power, fueling unpopularity at home

and opprobrium abroad, but enabling the party to retain its

hold on the country. A full collapse of the patronage

system would likely spell the end of the party. For now,

however, economic desperation appears to have contributed

to party discipline as there remains no alternative to

party patronage for most. Moreover, the circle that the

leadership really has to satisfy to retain power in this

historically submissive, hierarchical society may be quite

small, possibly assuring the primacy of patronage for some




Security Forces a Factor



16. (C) ZANU-PF’s deep-seated public unpopularity magnifies

the critical importance of security forces’ loyalties in

intra-party conflict. As the patronage system continues to

erode, repression becomes a more important tool for

maintaining control. Both Mnangagwa, a former head of the

intelligence apparatus, and Solomon Mujuru, former head of

the defense forces, retain strong personal ties within the

“securotocracy”. However, appointments in the military and

the CIO since last December, particularly at the

mid-levels, appear to have advanced Zezuru influence at the

expense of Mnangagwa supporters.

17. (C) The military and CIO continue to execute GOZ

directives faithfully and as institutions seem likely to

remain loyal to whoever wins the succession struggle (as

long as that is a ZANU-PF figure). In that regard, the

chances of a military coup in support of one or the other

contender seems remote. The military and the CIO have

traditionally avoided overt involvement in factional




Mujuru Faction Consolidating Control



18. (C) The Mujuru faction’s moves to fortify its position

in the security apparatus have been mirrored in other areas

as well. Confident in the President’s backing, it has

successfully supplanted most of Mnangagwa’s people at the

top of the party’s provincial structures, a key to assuring

control of the presidium under the party constitution.

Moreover, GOZ anti-corruption efforts have been directed

principally against key Mnangagwa partners, and regulatory

authorities have frequently thwarted the expansion of his

partners’ business interests.


19. (C) At the same time, Vice President Mujuru is being

aggressively groomed for potential higher office. Rarely a

day passes without her face or words being featured

prominently in the state media – usually pounding populist

themes such as corruption and economic efficiency. Her war

record and nickname Teurai Ropa (Comrade Spill-blood)

afford her liberation credentials that still play well in

the countryside and are a prerequisite to leadership under

the current regime. Visibly active in church and Salvation

Army activities throughout her career, she has grassroots

appeal as a self-made woman who projects compassion.

Indeed, she had a much higher profile than Mugabe in the

last national parliamentary campaign, reflecting her

faction’s recognition that it must re-orient itself to

retain loyalties and market itself more effectively.


20. (C) In this vein, the Mujuru faction is also grooming

its own stable of young turks, who quietly stand on a more

reformist platform. They do not hold sway today but may be

more influential with the passage of time, especially after

Mugabe’s departure from the scene. Indeed, figures like

Simba Makoni, Eddie Zvobgo, Jr., and Walter Mzembi will

likely be given higher profile as fixing the party’s

fractured domestic and international image becomes a higher




Mnangagwa Lying Low



21. (C) Against this backdrop, Mnangagwa has maintained a

low profile. His ministry – Rural Housing and Social

Amenities – is a new one that essentially is without

funding or responsibility. He is relatively absent in

media coverage although he does attend public events. He

reportedly has spoken up in cabinet meetings but has

elicited little open backing from colleagues – underscoring

the cautious nature of players in this environment.

Mnangagwa historically has preferred to operate largely

behind the scenes, and the extent and nature of his efforts

to protect or advance his interests at this juncture remain

unclear. His health – he reputedly is HIV-positive –

remains a wild card and it is unclear who would assume his

factional leadership mantle were he absent.


22. (C) In any event, the abject failure of ZANU-PF’s

policies and the party’s associated growing unpopularity

under the Mujuru/Zezuru leadership may provide Mnangagwa

tools with which to chip away at their continued

dominance. We are already seeing pushback by ZANU-PF’s

backbenchers against GOZ (read: Zezuru Old Guard)

policy-making – notably on energy policy, the education

bill, and certain features of the constitutional amendments

so far. Like many discarded in the past year’s purges, new

MPs and provincial officials are closer than the leadership

to their constituencies. On personal and political levels,

they identify with the real world plight of constituents

much more than the insulated leadership. Many MPs won

their seats in part by subtly distancing themselves from

party policy, and Restore Order has only deepened their

discomfort with party leadership.


23. (C) The resignation of Mnangagwa ally and relative

Pearson Mbalekwa appeared to be an effort to provoke a

reaction by party faithful against the leadership – a

preview perhaps of additional efforts to exploit emotional

policy differences to isolate the Zezuru clique. Mbalekwa

is also a prime mover behind the idea of a hird force,

which has waxed and waned over the past six months. Most

of its advocates are associated with Mnangagwa and it is

therefore widely viewed as a stalking horse for his

faction’s aspirations, especially if they fail to secure

the succession. To that end, Mnangagwa has personally kept

his distance from the “third force,” despite its ties to

his faction.



Third Force Factor?



24. (C) The third force may also take on a life of its

own. Some of its adherents appear impatient with

Mnangagwa’s cautious, non-confrontational approach and

could be open to alternative leadership, such as the

mercurial, amoral, but talented Jonathan Moyo. Moyo was

also closely linked to the Mnangagwa faction, but could

very well have ambitions of his own for the presidency.

The third force so far has failed to emerge as promised by

some of its principal exponents, though. Indeed, it has

little ideological territory to stake out for itself and

seems likely to be used as a foil by others with designs on

power. In any event, its rise would likely draw more from

the MDC than from ZANU-PF, thus ultimately benefiting

whichever faction controls the ruling party.






25. (C) With the MDC’s decline since the March elections,

the Mujuru-Mnangagwa contest is the central one in

Zimbabwean politics today. Will it remain so and, if so,

how will it play out? The key variables for now remain

Mugabe’s own timetable and intentions and the quickening

collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. Although his energy

and attention span appear to be flagging, his word still

goes, and he is allowing the Mujuru/Zezuru clique to

continue to consolidate control of the party. If Mugabe

goes out on top, his word will likely control the immediate

succession, bequeathing factional and ethnic tensions to

the next generation. However, if he were to die or

suddenly become enfeebled all bets are off. The continued

failure and growing unpopularity of the leadership’s

policies (assuming they stay the course) will fuel support

within the party for change. This will induce both

factions, indeed all aspiring ruling party politicians, to

project themselves as the most credible agent of change,

even as they try to exploit a crumbling patronage system

that remains a key to success. Ironically, the party

unpopularity may

even force its leadership and their

respective supporters to rally around whoever emerges on

top since their hold on power would be more tenuous should

cracks appear in the fagade of unity. At the same time the

countervailing pressures – a shrinking economy and

patronage pie, ethnic and personal rivalries, and the

generational gulf opening up – all suggest that ZANU-PF is

a party under stress and the cracks are beginning to show.

In the long term this as much as anything else may shape

Zimbabwe’s politics.



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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