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New Twist in Mugabe Succession Saga

The struggle over who’ll take over the reins of power intensifies and becomes more confused.
By IWPR Srdan
The complex saga of the succession to President Robert Mugabe has taken a new twist, with ruling ZANU PF insiders now saying he is beginning to favour Emmerson Mnangagwa, the once powerful party secretary and parliamentary speaker, as his political heir.

Indications that the succession battle had truly begun came two days before Mugabe's 82nd birthday on February 21 when the head of state told the nation in a television interview that the ZANU PF party should decide who will take his place if and when he steps down in 2008 at the next scheduled presidential election.

For many months since then Mugabe had been pushing hard for his vice president, Joice Mujuru, a member of Mugabe's Zezuru clan, to succeed him. But sources in a committee the president chairs on economic development say Mugabe admitted at a recent meeting that his decision to promote Mujuru's candidacy was over-hasty and based on his anger about reports of an alleged coup plot designed to make Mnangagwa president.

The sources told IWPR that Mugabe now believes he was misinformed about the so-called Tsholotsho Plot - a named deriving from the western Zimbabwe village where the alleged plot was hatched in November 2004 - and that he is extremely angry with the people who reported it to him. The sources said Mugabe chastised his informants for ruining his relationship with Mnangagwa.

Mugabe has always had a soft spot for Mnangagwa, from a rival clan, the Karanga, in the wider ethnic Shona grouping of which Mugabe's Zezuru are part. 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 powerful parliamentary speaker post. Again in 2005, when Mujuru's camp thought they 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.

Retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, the tough kingmaker - or queenmaker - behind his wife's rise to the vice presidency and, as hoped, to the presidency, then knew that the succession struggle was far from over. It was taking on the same kind of complexities and ruthlessness as the succession battle in Mao Tse-tung's China, where all ZANU PF's top military veterans trained as guerrilla fighters.

Mujuru, although he retired as head of the army after ten years following independence in 1980, remains one of the most feared and powerful men in Zimbabwe. Under the warname of Rex Nhongo, he led Mugabe's guerrilla army during the 1970s war of independence against what was then white-ruled Rhodesia. Mujuru is rumoured to own anywhere between six and sixteen former white-owned farms and he is a bitter and long-standing enemy of Mnangagwa.

General Mujuru, 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 harder to outflank Mnangagwa, renowned for his political cunning and big but questionable business deals.

On thing is certain: the battle for supremacy will be fierce.

ZANU PF insiders told IWPR that Mugabe now strongly believes Joice Mujuru has neither the intellect nor the capacity to lead the country. Perhaps, more crucially, they also believe Mujuru would be incapable of defeating MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in an election.

Other factors militating against Joice Mujuru are well-documented allegations against her husband of widespread corruption since he gave up his army command to go into business in 1990.

In another meeting Mugabe held with the so-called presidency, comprising him, the two vice-presidents, Joseph Msika and Joice Mujuru, and his party's national chairman, John Nkomo, IWPR sources said he asked Mujuru if she thought she could beat Tsvangirai in an election. Msika asserted in that meeting that Mujuru lacked the grassroots support and the national stature to beat the MDC leader.

Mnangagwa has survived several attempts to pull him down and each time he has emerged stronger and more threatening to Solomon Mujuru/Rex Nhongo's plans to control the ruling party.

There are already rumoured efforts by Mujuru's allies within government to frustrate Mnangagwa's ministry by denying it funds for his projects, which centre on building modern houses for the rural poor. Before last year's parliamentary elections, a senior source in the Mujuru faction told IWPR, "We want Mnangagwa out, totally out. We are hoping and crossing our fingers that he loses his Kwekwe seat [which he did, for the second time]. If he does, that will be the end of him. He is not going to be lucky this time."

One top ZANU PF official admitted to IWPR that he had failed to understand Mugabe's enduring strong ties to Mnangagwa, which once again have become evident as Mugabe tries to push his old friend's presidency claims.

"I believe Mnangagwa is back in the succession debate and he has been brought into it by the president," said the official. "No matter what we want to believe, Mugabe seems to have a weakness for Mnangagwa and I just don't understand why, but it's there for all to see.

"We all thought the succession issue was concluded with the handpicking of Joice Mujuru, but now we are all confused. It seems Mugabe might now prefer Mnangagwa to Mujuru. I tell you, a lot of my colleagues are sitting on the fence right now and playing it safe. You just don't want to be caught up on the wrong side."

A government official even asked IWPR if it was privy to information on what exactly was going on in the succession battle, as he was confused and just did not know what or who to believe. "I tell you I am so confused at the moment and my boss [a Cabinet minister] does not even know what is going on and who is likely to succeed Mugabe," he said. "All we know is that Mnangagwa is back in the fight. Personally, I think the president might be regretting his rushed decision when he was told about the alleged coup plot supposedly hatched in Tsholotsho.

"Maybe he is now seeing that Mai [Mrs] Mujuru is not the person to lead the country. I think she has been exposing herself as a liability at the rallies and meetings she has been holding countrywide to market herself as Mugabe's successor."

Outspoken University of Zimbabwe political scientist John Makumbe said, "I believe that Mugabe has changed his mind and he now realises that Mujuru doesn't have what it takes. He has now switched back to Mnangagwa. Mujuru has exposed herself as shallow and not intelligent enough for the top post.

"The other reason for switching support again to Mnangagwa is because Mugabe knows that he will protect him from prosecution [for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity] because he has the stamina and he exudes power, while it is not so clear with Mujuru, who might not be able to stand her ground if her colleagues decide [to indict Mugabe once he steps down from power]."

Makumbe said confusion is also being caused by one of Mugabe's current ploys to extend his presidency for another two years to 2010 - beyond the next scheduled 2008 presidential election.

The MDC's secretary general Tendai Biti agrees with Makumbe that Mugabe wants to be the transitional president until 2010. Biti said Mugabe will undoubtedly use the confusion he is creating over the succession to extend his term of office. "We know that Mnangagwa is back in the race and that Mugabe is pulling the strings," he said.

Already, it seems, Mugabe has clashed with the Mujuru camp over the timetable of the president's departure. Solomon Mujuru ideally wants Mugabe to quit now and allow Joice Mujuru to move into State House, but the president is angry at the increasingly transparent efforts to stampede him out of office.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a Mugabe ally, is preparing to table an 18th amendment to the constitution to postpone the scheduled presidential election from 2008

to 2010.

One of Mnangagwa's confidants told IWPR that Mujuru was unlikely to be Mugabe's successor. "She is not going anywhere, that I can tell you with confidence," he said.

Mnangagwa himself is maintaining a low profile, refusing to discuss the succession issue publicly and insisting only on speaking about his ministry. He said all the stories flying around Harare about the succession were "media


Mujuru should perhaps have learned from Mnangagwa's own experiences that Mugabe has many Machiavellian traits and that his loyalties can be only temporary and expedient. After all, it was as short a time ago as November 18, 2004 that the president

amended the ZANU PF constitution to insert a clause stating that one of the vice-presidents should be a woman in order to block Mnangagwa, now back in favour, from outmanoeuvring Mujuru.

The country now waits to see which camp will emerge victorious. However, as Zimbabwe's economic and social crises deepen by the day, there are many voices who say that the country's next leader will not be decided by Mugabe but by the people.

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

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