Cape Town – The issue of succession remains one of the
biggest problems currently facing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ruling
Zanu-PF party. This comes amid what has been described in the media as “chaos”
and “fissures” within the party, as different factions position themselves for
the eventual succession of the veteran leader.
According to media reports, there are two main camps dividing the Zanu-PF party. One faction is linked to Vice President Joice Mujuru and another is reportedly led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe, who turns 90 next month, has been in power since the country’s independence in 1980 and as it appears, he is set to be Zanu-PF’s candidate in the next election in 2018. This means that if Mugabe is still alive and wins the election, he will rule the country for five more years until 2023.
Many have asked why the succession issue has remained a “sensitive” matter as Zimbabwean leaders are not keen to discuss it openly.
News24 interviewed Zimbabwean political analyst Professor Eldred Masunungure.
News 24: The issue of succession continues to make headlines with the media highlighting what has come to be described as “chaos” within the ruling Zanu-PF party. Many hoped President Robert Mugabe was going to address the issue during the party’s annual conference in December but he didn’t. Why does the party dread to discuss the issue? Why does it seem a sensitive issue to talk about?
Masunungure: I don’t think anyone is privileged to know exactly what reservations there are inside Zanu-PF except those who are probably in the inner circle of that party and most likely the president himself. He must know what the dangers are for allowing the succession issue to take its course.
There is clearly a reluctance on his part and probably those around him to throw the succession issue open for debate even inside the Zanu-PF party. So I think the conjecture is that the president of the party, who is also the first secretary of the party, is fearful. He is fully aware that opening the succession issue to public debate is going to spell the demise of the party, given the rampant factionalism in the party.
Presently, he is the only glue that holds the party together. It seems the factions are not seeing eye-to-eye and exit Robert Mugabe, the party may ride in a way that would spell doom for its future.
News24: So what exactly does this mean? Are you saying there could be no Zanu-PF without Mugabe?
Masunungure: I think it’s a matter of what happens if Mugabe is out of the equation in the party and of course what happens in Zanu-PF has implications at what happens at the national level and what happens at regional level. So he [Mugabe] may want to stick to his position in the interest of the future of the party in the absence of a candidate that can play the same role of being the glue that binds the various factions together.
News24: You mention a very interesting issue that we know exists within the party, the issue of factionalism. What could be causing these feuds and divisions within a party that was once thought to be one of the strongest and one that upheld unity?
Masunungure: Well, factions are not a new thing. In many organisations we do have factions. It’s a natural order of organisational life but it depends on how those factions are handled and how they are managed. I think now both the main factions that we read about are aware that sooner or later the president will no longer be available, he will not be around forever.
So these factions are trying to strategically position themselves to take over when the opportunity arises, which can be anytime. The president’s age is such that he is of fragile verve and at that age they may think anything can happen suddenly. So they would like to prepare themselves to ensure that they are strategically located when the opportunity arises.
News24: In your opinion, just how keen are these factions in their endeavour to take over from President Mugabe?
Masunungure: Of course 2014 will escalate the factionalism because there is an elective congress in December and it’s not only the presidium that is out for grabs but we also have elections for the central committee. So whichever faction is dominant numerically will be most strategically positioned to pounce when there is a vacancy. So I think that is what is fuelling the factionalism and it will not go away unless the succession problem is resolved and I don’t see it being resolved in the foreseeable future.
News24: Do you think the party has a plan in place detailing who would be next in line on the throne in the event that Mugabe ceases to be president?
Masunungure: Well, no, I don’t think so. Well, there are several names. Obviously when a faction has a leader, it would like its leader to take over. So yes, there are prospective candidates, some that are well known and others that are more or less like back horses as they are not talked about. But I think even when the succession issue is resolved, it may produce big surprises in having the back horse emerging in the front.
News24: So what would be your prediction in terms of who emerges victorious, especially taking into consideration the key factions that we normally read about – the Vice President Joyce Mujuru faction and the one led by the Minister of Justice Emmerson Mnangagwa?
Masunungure: One defining feature of politics is its unpredictability... and so going forward up to December 2014, anything can happen even though presently the Mujuru faction seems to hold most cards.
News24: So are you saying the Mujuru faction would most likely take over?
Masunungure: The fact is that if a selection process was to be done today or anytime soon, the Mujuru faction would triumph. But I’m saying that if the congress is not until December, lots of things can happen.... and we may see not only the change of fortunes for the Mnangagwa faction but the emergence of a third force or even a fourth force – even that back horse that I’ve been talking about.
My sixth sense tells me that none of the known key faction leaders is likely to go to state house. I would rather think in terms of a dark horse emerging from the shadows and taking over the party and the country.
I don’t have any systematic evidence but I think that sooner or later, the party may say well, the two faction leaders and those who are destroying the party would rather settle for a neutral, kind of moderate candidate who can attract the confidence of both factions.
News24: The question asked by many is: Why is Mugabe not retiring? Does the party not feel it’s time to allow him to rest so he stops active participation in the day-to-day running of the country and the party?
Masunungure: It’s for the same reason that chiefs don’t retire. At least African chiefs don’t retire. Once they are in office, they die in office. I think that’s logic. It may not be publicised, they may not say it despicably but I think that is the driving force, the cultural dimension that once you are crowned the chief, you cannot be dethroned. There is no transfer of power from one living chief to another. That doesn’t happen in an African context. So although it may not be something that the party or the inner circle of the party says publicly, I suspect that is the unstated motive behind Mugabe wanting to stay in office indefinitely. Mutasa (Didymus Mutasa - Zanu PF national secretary for administration who is also Presidential Affairs Minister) has already hinted that the president will be the candidate again in 2018. And if he is blessed with another five years after 2018, it means he will rule until 2023. It is a hint to say he will be life president. I see elements or pointers to that although it’s not publicly stated.
News24: But wouldn’t you say it’s also linked to fears of being prosecuted for what many say are the atrocities perpetrated by his supporters the past years, including the massacres during the Gukurahundi in the late 80s?
Masunungure: Frankly, I don’t think anyone, even the most extreme anti Mugabes would like to prosecute the president at his age. It’s unAfrican, totally unfriendly. I don’t think anyone would go for his head or insist that he appears at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. I don’t see that happening.
So his future as a person, his security is guaranteed by the very factor of his advanced age. And of course who questions the major contribution that he played in the liberation of this country and even in the development of the country in the earlier decades? No one questions that, no one dismisses that. Otherwise even if Tsvangirai [Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change] were to come into office, he would at the death of Mugabe confer a heroes’ status without compromise. So I don’t think it’s about fear. It’s talked about, but frankly, maybe for his family but for him personally I can’t see any bona fide Zimbabwean really agitating for Mugabe to be persecuted either domestically or at the international courts.
News24: But can Zanu-PF and Zimbabwe cope without Mugabe?
Masunungure: Yes, yes, why not? There are 13 million Zimbabweans, half of whom are adults. I don’t want to be too dismissive of the question but I always question this nonsense about who will take over from Mugabe, who will take over from Tsvangirai in the MDC or who will take over from Welshman Ncube in the other MDC. Those are irrelevant questions, they are self-serving questions. Any member from MDC can take over, any member of Zanu-PF can take over and so on.
So in organisations, we tend to create a cult of leadership that that person becomes non-substitutable, becomes a permanent feature of the organisation. There are many potential candidates in Zanu-PF, there are many potential leaders in Zimbabwe and I think it’s a question of the opportunity, the window being provided for such leadership to emerge and to play its role in leading the country. So I think Zimbabwe can do without Mugabe just like America has done without many of the founding fathers of the United States..... In South Africa at one point we were told we will not do without Mandela. Now Mandela is gone, South Africa will remain. We have the Zumas, we have the Malemas and so on. So the country is bigger than individual leaders no matter how gifted those leaders are.
Follow Betha Madhomu on Twitter