Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mugabe Allies Squash Succession Rumours

Party dismisses suggestions of leadership change at upcoming annual conference, as succession battle heats up.
By Jabu Shoko
ZANU-PF has sought to weaken a party faction opposed to President Robert Mugabe and his heir apparent in the run up to its annual conference.



But ruling party officials have told IWPR that the succession issue will not be on the agenda of next week’s event.



In six of the country’s ten provinces, the party leadership has been completely overhauled, with those opposed to 84-year-old Mugabe’s continued rule or the faction headed by his chosen successor facing expulsion or being sidelined.



Emmerson Mnangagwagwa, minister of housing and amenities as well as the party’s secretary for legal affairs, is touted as Mugabe’s heir apparent in the event that the ageing Zimbabwean leader decides to call it quits.



The conference is an “annual talk shop that will be characterised by wining and dining while the rest of the country is facing a severe humanitarian crisis coupled by the cholera epidemic”, said Useni Sibanda, coordinator of the Christian Alliance of Zimbabwe.



“We don’t expect much except the usual praise singing in which leaders declare their loyalty to Mugabe so that he rules them forever until amen.”



The conference, from December 10 to 13, will be held in Bindura, a district in which a number of opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, supporters were killed in the run-up to the controversial March presidential election and presidential run-off in June.



Ernest Mudzengi, a Harare-based political analyst, described the event as a yearly ZANU-PF routine for party fanatics to endorse the continued misrule of the country and party by geriatrics. “I don’t expect anyone to stand up and say Mugabe must go. They are happy to continue the misery of the country. It will be the usual gigantic feast that has come to be associated with ZANU-PF,” said Mudzengi.



ZANU-PF is not known to spare costs in feeding its party faithful, he added.



Several million US dollars has allegedly been budgeted for the conference, while recipients of farms doled out by Mugabe under his controversial land reform programme have donated livestock, grain and cash to feed about 10,000 people drawn from the country’s 10 provinces. About 200 cattle are set for slaughter.



Previous ZANU-PF gatherings have in the past been dogged by allegations of delegates stealing food. Relief agencies estimate that more than 5.1 million Zimbabweans out of a population of 12 million people are in urgent need of food handouts.



The situation has been compounded by a cholera epidemic which independent health officials say has killed at least 3, 000. There are also fears of a grim harvest next year due to the country’s ill preparedness for the 2008/09 planting season, owing to shortages of fertiliser, seeds and farming inputs.



Party insiders said the leadership was not worried about the humanitarian crisis as it had its eyes firmly on the conference. They said the restructuring of the party’s provincial leadership in elections prior to the conference was critical.



There has been an ongoing fight for political turf in ZANU-PF as the Mnangagwa faction and those backing retired army general Solomon Mujuru, husband of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, battle to succeed Mugabe.



For instance, in Masvingo provincial elections held last week, office bearers suspected to be linked to the Mujuru camp were routed in what insiders claim was a bid to strategically position politicians with connections to Mnangagwa.



Mnangagwa is credited with master-minding Mugabe’s violent re-election in June this year in a one-man presidential run-off after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai opted out, citing the horrendous violence which killed more than 100 MDC supporters.



ZANU-PF has also completed restructuring in the Midlands, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Manicaland provinces, where pro-Mnangagwa people have been elevated to powerful and influential positions.



However, in Mashonaland East, Ray Kaukonde, a wealthy ZANU-PF politician perceived to be aligned to the Mujuru camp and suspected to be behind moves to oust Mugabe, has retained his party chairmanship, despite spirited efforts by the Mnangagwa camp to oust him.



In Manicaland, Mike Madiro has made a dramatic comeback after nearly four years in the political wilderness, clinching the chairmanship in the province, which was won by the MDC in the March 2008 elections.



Madiro was suspended in 2004 over what has come to be known as the Tsholotsho Debacle, when politicians, including Madiro and then-information minister (now independent member of parliament) Jonathan Moyo called a meeting to change the party’s rules, by having provincial chairpersons elect the party leader who would become the country’s president.



In Mashonaland Central, former government minister Chen Chimutengwende, seen as pro-Mujuru, has made way for politician Dick Mafios, believed to be pro-Mnangagwa, as provincial chairperson.



Elections in the faction-riddled Bulawayo province have been complicated by an attempt by most of the provincial executive to revive PF ZAPU, a liberation movement swallowed by ZANU-PF in the 1980s. Current chairperson McCloud Tshawe will not be seeking re-election. Politicians in Bulawayo heavily linked to war veteran leader Jabulani Sibanda, who is also thought to be close to Mngangwa, are expected to sweep to victory.



In Matabeleland South, elections are expected at the weekend after being cancelled last week because of the deadly cholera outbreak sweeping the country.



There is wild speculation of a change of leadership at the conference in Bindura, but Ephraim Masawi, the ZANU-PF deputy secretary for information, who confirmed the agenda for the annual gathering has been set, dismissed the reports, alleging mere media speculation.



Masawi said the election of new leaders was the preserve of the party’s National People’s Congress, which is only held every five years; the next one is due in 2010.



“The ZANU-PF annual national conference is not going to tackle a change of leadership in the party. The issue of the succession is not on the agenda,” he said. The conference will run under the theme “Let us stand united in defence of the party and our revolution”.



Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.