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Mugabe's Rule to be Extended

Senior ZANU PF officials angry at plan to allow him to stay in power until at least 2010.
By Hativagone Mushonga
Robert Mugabe is to be permitted to extend his reign as head of state to thirty years when Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU PF party holds its annual conference this week.

Already, according to reports in President Mugabe's mouthpiece, the government-owned Herald, the country's only daily newspaper, three out of nine provincial delegations have agreed to propose that the next presidential election in 2008 be harmonised with a general election due in 2010. The remaining six are likely to endorse the proposal at the conference, December 14-17, in Goromonzi, 35 kilometres east of Harare.

Nevertheless, resentment at Mugabe's prolonged stay in power is mounting among senior ZANU PF officials. Key factions vying to succeed to the highest office in the land are beginning to speak out clandestinely about the 82-year-old president's love of power.

According to senior ZANU PF officials, the party chairman John Nkomo and party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira, have already prepared an agenda which includes the proposal to synchronise the presidential election with the next five-yearly parliamentary ballot.

Mugabe's intention to stay in power until at least 2010, when he will be nearly 87-years-old, was confirmed by the president's personal spokesman George Charamba, writing in his weekend column in The Herald.

Charamba said this would thwart the efforts of aspirants jockeying for presidential power who, alleged Charamba, are already cutting deals with Mugabe's most hated enemy - the British. "That way (referring to hopeful successors allegedly dealing with the British), the British have also prolonged the presidency of the man they do not like at all, a man they hate to see in office," said Charamba.

"The insecurity these deals create simply confirms Mugabe's inimitable principled leadership, which is why Goromonzi will unanimously restate loyalty to him, well beyond 2008, much to the chagrin of the British and their tools here."

And Didymus Mutasa, the powerful national security minister and ZANU PF's secretary for administration, said in early December that Mugabe had done "so many wonderful things" for Zimbabwe that it was likely that delegates to the conference would appoint him for life.

"There is a realistic chance that someone among the delegates or one of the provinces could come up with a proposal that he remains the party's presidential candidate until Amen," said Mutasa. "He has done so many wonderful things for this country and its majority population and he is not showing any signs of tiredness. So if it is raised, as I am sure it will be, why not?"

The moves to extend Mugabe's term of office have, however, angered the two main rival factions for the succession led by former intelligence chief Emmerson Mnangagwa and former army commander General Solomon Mujuru. Both feel that the proposal is being pushed by Mugabe himself and does not represent the mood at the grassroots, where many people want Mugabe to bow out in 2008.

A top official in Mujuru's camp said that allowing Mugabe to continue until 2010 as president would deepen further the country's multiple problems and undermine any efforts to woo the electorate into voting for a ZANU PF successor.

"The problem is that Mugabe does not take responsibility for the deepening economic crisis," the official told IWPR. "The man has destroyed the country. Up to now he points fingers at everyone else except himself for the crisis. He blames the United States and the United Kingdom and never himself. His continued stay in power would further ruin this country."

The official said there is a strong fear in the Mujuru camp that ZANU PF will not survive to 2010 with Mugabe in power. "I am telling you that if Mugabe stays in power till 2010, we would be ruined," he said. "ZANU PF would never rise again. We would have lost for ever. Mugabe's excuses for the crisis don't work anymore. People want policies that will get them out of this impoverishment, but it will not happen as long as Mugabe remains as head of state and government."

The visibly angry official went on, "He must just let go for the sake of the country. He has to see that he is ruining the country."

The official said Mugabe's relatives, led by his nephew, member of parliament Leo Mugabe, met the president recently and begged him not to retire. They told him that some of the aspiring candidates were already cutting deals with the rabidly anti-western president's favourite hate targets - the British, the United States, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - to develop post-Mugabe strategies.

Charamba's Herald column suggests that Mugabe took his relatives' pleas seriously. "Many we thought would lead us have begun to repudiate the land revolution, in the process cutting or promising deals with whites," wrote Charamba. "Of late, a handful of white farmers who left this land defeated and despondent at the height of land reforms have started trickling back, many carrying promises they have been told will hatch in 2008.

"Many are planning to come back in similar fashion, and hope that soon we shall regain our dubious status as southern Africa's second largest white settlement, after South Africa. The British have a big hand in this, just as they have been telling their

corporates wishing to invest or disinvest to wait until 2008."

Another official aligned with Mujuru protested that bringing the issue of the extension of Mugabe's reign to the conference without prior discussion in the party central committee made a free debate almost impossible. No one, he said, will dare to stand up and register his or her opposition for fear of reprisal - as happened in 1998 to Dzikamai Mavhaire, a feisty politician from the southern Zimbabwe town of Masvingo, who moved a motion in parliament calling for a review of the constitution and advocated limited presidential terms. Mavhaire was subsequently suspended from the party, and thereafter other ruling party deputies have been too frightened to discuss anything to do with the constitution lest the Presidential axe fall on them.

Mavhaire's confidant, the late Edson Zvobgo, was dropped by Mugabe from government and party office in 2000 for his criticisms of the head of state's ruling style and for suggesting he retired. Zvobgo, who never hid his own presidential ambitions, died in 2004 at the age of 68. He was a founder member of ZANU PF and had served in several government posts, including that of minister of justice.

Another official close to Mujuru said Mugabe had over the years perfected divide-and-rule tactics that fuel underground factionalism in the party. He said Mugabe had been switching support among the presidential contenders, who include Mnangagwa, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, John Nkomo and Vice President Joice Mujuru, wife of the powerful General Mujuru.

The official said Mugabe would undoubtedly use the confusion he is creating over the succession to convince his supporters of the need for him to continue to 2010 to ensure a smooth handover of power. "It's Mugabe pulling the strings," said the official. "He is the one bringing all these people just to cause confusion when the issue could have been resolved with the nomination of Mai [Joice] Mujuru.

"Mugabe has always been able to divide the people and he forced them to concentrate on provincial politics. He created provincial leaders, making himself the only national leader and over the years he has made sure that he was the only national leader and therefore the only one qualified to be head of the party."

General Mujuru, now a rich and formidable businessman, who thought he had won the fight to raise his wife to the highest post in the land, now knows his camp will have to scrap even more ruthlessly to fight not only Mnangagwa's strong challenge but also to counter Mugabe's ploy to hold on to power.

Although Mugabe has permitted limited debate on the succession, he has at the same time moved swiftly to destroy politically anyone who has declared a personal ambition to succeed him. He recently castigated his cabinet colleagues for consulting n'angas (traditional medicine men) in an effort to gain favour.

He is also well known for saying one thing and doing the opposite. Mugabe has previously hinted he will quit by 2008, but, as is emerging now, he is in no hurry to go. "Even before the term of the president has expired, they want the seat," he complained in a speech on October 27 at Harare's Catholic University, which opened in 1999 but currently has fewer than 2000 students. "I haven't completed my term, but you are already waiting by the door like a witch."

General Mujuru and Mnangagwa are probably the only two people in Zimbabwe strong enough to risk standing up publicly to challenge Mugabe. Politicians, journalists and analysts are waiting with bated breath to see whether the two men dare to take the many risks involved and stand up at the party conference and tell Mugabe to honour his earlier promise to retire in 2008.

Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

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