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Mugabe Succession Battle Rumbles On

Simba Makoni emerges as the latest favourite in tough race to succeed Mugabe.
By IWPR Srdan
There’s been a new development in the struggle to succeed Robert Mugabe, with reports that powerful retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru has ditched his wife, Vice President Joice Mujuru, as his ideal successor and is now opting for former finance minister Simba Makoni.



The cancellation of events arranged to promote Joice Mujuru's bid for the presidency confirmed that the vice president is no longer the choice of the Solomon Mujuru faction to succeed 82-year-old Mugabe when he finally steps down as head of state.



The programmes designed to lift his wife to the pinnacle of power were awaiting approval of the general, the tough kingmaker - or queen-maker - behind his wife's rise to the vice presidency.



General Mujuru, although he retired as head of the army ten years after independence in 1980, has remained one of the most feared and powerful men in Zimbabwe. Under the war name of Rex Nhongo, he led Mugabe's guerrilla army during the 1970s war of independence against what was then white-ruled Rhodesia. Mujuru became a rich and ruthless businessman and is rumoured to own anywhere between six and sixteen former white-owned farms.



Joice Mujuru - who earned the nickname Teurai Ropa, or Spill Blood, after becoming involved in the war for independence from white rule at the age of 18 - has held various ministerial posts under Mugabe, who appointed her as his vice president in December 2004.



Makoni, who has managed to remain outside the hurly-burly of the day-to-day battles for the top post, has always been “Plan B” for the Mujuru faction and also for the bitter rival group led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the once powerful parliamentary speaker and secretary of Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party.



Eventful months loom ahead as the inner ZANU PF contest intensifies to replace Mugabe, who has ruled non-stop for more than 26 years since independence. Sources in Mujuru's camp confirmed to IWPR that the general has now opted for Plan B and that discussions with Makoni, a highly educated technocrat, are underway.



However, in the complex world of Zimbabwe's tribal politics, a source close to Mnangagwa's camp, said Makoni was likely to reject the wooing of the Mujurus, fellow members of Mugabe's Zezuru sub-clan of the larger Shona tribal nation: instead, Makoni is likely to align himself with the small Manyika sub-clan, most of whose important officials - including Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made - are supporting Emmerson Mnangagwa's bid for the presidency.



There are also reports that Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, another Manyika, is supporting Mnangagwa, who is currently minister of rural housing.



Mnangagwa comes from a sub-clan called the Karanga. Tensions between the Karanga and the Zezurus of Mugabe and the Mujurus trace back to the war of independence, when the Karanga provided the bulk of fighters and military leaders for the ZANU movement. Since power fell into the hands of Mugabe - a ruthless Zezuru intellectual who led the ZANU movement but did no fighting himself - many Karangas feel he has ignored their contribution, sidelined their leaders and promoted members of his own clan.



Indeed, since ZANU PF's last electoral congress, in December 2004, none of the top five party posts have been occupied by Karangas, despite the fact that members of the clan make up some 35 per cent of Zimbabwe’s 11.5 million citizens. The Zezuru account for around 25 per cent of the population. The cabinet formed by Mugabe following a general election last year is also dominated by Zezurus, at the expense of many influential Karangas.



Now is not the first time that Makoni's name has been mentioned as a potential successor to Mugabe. But he has failed to make any headway because, although he is a financial and economics expert, he is considered a political lightweight within the brutal world of ZANU PF politics: his potential ascendancy has always depended on the backing and manipulation of more powerful party barons.



A source close to General Mujuru's faction said the strong backing its members had given to Joice Mujuru was more a means of blocking Mnangagwa for the deputy post that fell vacant with the death of former vice president Simon Muzenda than anything else.



"It was not that General Mujuru wanted his wife to be the next president when he pushed for her nomination as vice president but that he wanted to make sure that Mnangagwa does not get into that top position," the source confided to IWPR. "The game would have been over if Mnangagwa had managed, as he nearly did, to get into the presidium and become vice president."



The cold-blooded succession battle pits the camp led by Mnangagwa, regarded as a tough man worthy of the nickname "Ngwenya" (Crocodile) within ZANU PF's inner circles, against the other led by kingmaker Solomon Mujuru, who is not interested in becoming president but who wants to be the power behind the throne, controlling its incumbent.



As indicated, the two main camps mirror the political divide between Mugabe's Zezuru sub-group, which occupies the Mashonaland Central, East and West provinces in north and northeastern Zimbabwe and the most populous Shona group, the Karanga, which mainly occupies Masvingo and Midlands provinces in the south.



For many in the Zezuru faction, the Karanga group represents a threatening “third force”. The Zezuru fear relates particularly to Emmerson Mnangagwa, because of his track record as a once fearsome security minister and because of the high esteem in which Mugabe holds him. Paradoxically, Mugabe has always had a soft spot for Mnangagwa, despite his membership of a rival clan.



When Mnangagwa lost his Kwekwe seat, in central Zimbabwe, to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, in parliamentary elections in 2002, Mugabe cushioned Mnangagwa's disappointment by decreeing that he be given the parliamentary speaker post. Again in 2005, when Mujuru's camp thought it had finally killed Mnangagwa's political career, after his second narrow electoral defeat to the MDC, Mugabe appointed him rural housing minister, an influential ministry from where he could rebuild his political fortunes.



Like Mugabe and other senior party officials, the source told IWPR, General Mujuru knows that if his wife is lucky enough to be elected party leader at the next ZANU PF congress, she will not have the ability, charisma or intellect to follow through and mount a serious challenge to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a general election.



General Mujuru also realises, said the source, that he might not be able to outmanoeuvre Mnangagwa again at the next party congress in 2007. With Mugabe now hinting that he has dropped support for Joice Mujuru in preference for Mnangagwa because he doubts his vice president's ability to lead the nation and ensure that ZANU PF remains in power, General Mujuru now wants to find a candidate who he can sell easily not just to ZANU PF but also to the nation and whom also he can control.



Makoni is seen as just that person, said the source. A chemist and financial adviser by profession, Makoni is perhaps the most widely liked figure in a deeply unpopular and corrupt party. Friends and critics alike agree that Makoni is extremely clever and has a reputation for integrity, unusual in the murky world of ZANU PF politics. He is so far untainted by scandals, looting of state assets and the ruling party's human rights violations of the last two decades.



Makoni is widely seen as the most presentable choice available for those concerned to end Zimbabwe's international isolation. "A lot has been happening in ZANU PF," the source from Solomon Mujuru's faction told IWPR. "When people say a day is a long time in politics that is so true. The problem is that [Mrs] Mujuru has been exposing herself [to public scrutiny] and it is clear now that she will not be able to win, in ZANU PF and let alone in a general election.



"The general knows that and what he wants is a winner. He wants someone whom he knows can give Mnangagwa a serious challenge, a person who, with their [the Mujuru faction's] help, can get the presidency and, more importantly, a person who can beat Tsvangirai or any other opposition leader.



"There won't be any point in winning in ZANU PF without ensuring that that person is accepted also by the ordinary Zimbabweans."





By choosing and anointing Makoni, said another source in Mujuru's camp, the general would be resolving several tricky dilemmas he is wrestling with. These problems include the Ndebele, Zimbabwe's large minority tribe that occupies the west of the country and is descended from the Zulus of South Africa, who are highly resistant to the idea of a female state president.



In the internal struggle between the Zezuru and Karanga sub-clans of the Shona nation, support of the Manyikas, from the Eastern Highlands and who constitute about 15 per cent of the Shona population, is crucial: the Manyikas can tip the balance in the power stakes and drive a hard bargain for themselves. By backing Makoni, Mujuru hopes to appease the Manyika people over the mysterious 1975 assassination in exile of former ZANU leader and liberation war hero Herbert Chitepo. The death of Chitepo, who was succeeded by Mugabe, continues to incite conflict and controversy in Zimbabwe's national politics.



"Mujuru desperately needs the support of the Manyika people," said IWPR's second source. "As it stands, he does not have their support because they feel they were robbed of a brilliant leader in Chitepo. After Chitepo's assassination on March 18, 1975 by a car bomb [in Lusaka, Zambia], Mugabe, who was in exile in Mozambique at that time, unilaterally assumed control of ZANU. It was General Mujuru [then operating as Rex Nhongo] who implored guerrillas, most of whom had never met Mugabe, to accept him as their leader.



"Rumours at that time said Joice Mujuru was personally involved in the whole assassination; hence the Manyika do not support her as a successor to Mugabe."



Standford Mukasa, one of Zimbabwe's leading independent political commentators, recently wrote that Makoni would be used as cover to put a human face on ZANU PF. But John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe and an anti-corruption activist, said Joice Mujuru had been so inept in her duties as vice president that it had become obvious she was unsuited to lead either the party or the country.



"General Mujuru is now opting for Makoni because the former minister has remained clean and has the support of the business community, which believes that Makoni is better suited to save them from continuing disaster than Joice," said Makumbe. "Mujuru is also doing this to protect his businesses; he is not doing this for ZANU PF, the nation or charity. The economy, which has been destroyed by Mugabe's disastrous policies, is also ruining the general's businesses and the businesses of indigenous people and he feels Makoni can rescue the nation."



Asked why General Mujuru feels it is easy to dump his own wife, Makumbe said, "Mujuru himself has not been living with his wife for many years. All he has been doing is putting up a show for the public.



"Mugabe's recent talk of wanting a clean person to succeed him could also have prompted Mujuru to go for Makoni because you would really have to use a magnifying glass to find anything on him."



Makumbe, however, said Makoni would lose to Tsvangirai in a presidential election because of the declining reputation of the party he would be representing.



Compared with most of the senior ZANU PF candidates, Makoni, at 56, is a youngster. While the old guard were fighting the liberation war in the 1970s, Makoni was studying chemical engineering in Britain, gaining a Bachelor of Science degree and a PhD. He also represented the exiled ZANU in Europe where he made a good impression.



In the post-independence government, Makoni was appointed deputy agriculture minister. He was just 30 years old. He subsequently served as minister of energy and as minister of youth before becoming minister of finance. He was forced out of government in 2002 by the ZANU PF old guard who saw him as a threat to their interests. He is currently an investment consultant working widely throughout Africa.



Nothando Bhebhe is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.