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Party Congress to Determine Mugabe's Fate

President will either step down as ZANU-PF chief or face an unprecedented leadership challenge.
By Thomas Dzvetero
ZANU-PF’s extraordinary congress in December ahead of the 2008 elections should answer the question on everyone’s lips: will President Robert Mugabe lead the party in elections next year?

The ruling party is split on whom should take the party into the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections, which will also be held with local elections.

Mugabe will either announce his retirement at the December 10 congress or face the humiliation of being challenged for the top post for the first time in his almost three-decade leadership of the party. If he is challenged, he is likely to lose the subsequent poll, say observers, because many party members are said to be opposed to his candidature.

To ascertain which direction the party is likely to take in the two months before the congress and what is likely to happen at the congress, IWPR spoke to top ZANU-PF officials from the different factions in the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the ZANU-PF constitution, it is only at a congress that new leadership can be elected. The party’s constitution stipulates that an extraordinary congress can meet to discuss one item on the agenda - in this case who will lead ZANU-PF into the elections?

Top ZANU-PF sources say the only agenda at the forthcoming congress will be to either endorse Mugabe as the party’s candidate or hold elections to choose a successor to the man who has ruled the country for 27 years.

The party has only called for extraordinary congresses twice since independence in 1980. The first was to discuss the Unity Accord with the late Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU-PF party and the second was to appoint politburo members in 2000.

Whether Mugabe will accept being challenged at the congress and allow elections or resign to avoid a showdown is the subject of intense debate.

Members in retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru’s camp have vowed to contest his nomination but up until now no-one has ever dared challenge Mugabe in public.

Mujuru’s faction, which is pushing for the nomination of the retired general’s wife, Vice President Joice Mujuru’s, believes that Mugabe will not countenance a showdown if there is a chance he will lose.

A top official in the Mujuru camp said Mugabe was most likely to announce his resignation at the congress to pave the way for Mujuru’s ascendancy. He said that eight of the 10 party provinces so far were vying for Mujuru and would vote against Mugabe if he agreed to leadership elections. Only the Midlands and Manicaland provinces are split over the issue but could be swayed to vote for Mujuru, says the official.

He believes that Mugabe is going to first seek support from all politburo members to ensure that he emerges as the sole presidential candidate for the elections. But he will fail in this bid, predicts the official, because most politburo members want him to resign in December.

“Mugabe is not as foolish as to wish to be humiliated at the congress. He will not allow a situation where he is contested. He will have to resign because he is not going to get the support from within the party. I think what he is doing at the moment is testing the waters to see if he still has the support of the party.

“I strongly believe that Mugabe wants to retire but wants to do so on a high note, after he is sure that the party is still strong and that his security is assured. I also believe all these people [in the ZANU-PF Youth and Women’s League and the war veterans] campaigning for him are just overzealous and don’t understand what the man wants.”

But those in Mugabe’s camp say that he is not likely to resign at the congress and will be endorsed by the party.

A senior army official who has no doubts about Mugabe’s nomination as the party candidate for 2008 elections said, “If you understand how ZANU-PF works, then you will know that all that is being written by the media… is nothing but fiction.

“In ZANU-PF, President Mugabe is our candidate and he has the support of the people - I am talking about ordinary ZANU-PF supporters. When the day comes, one person will stand up and nominate him and I can swear on my mother’s grave, there will be no other nominations.

“Who will be that daring to stand up and tell the congress that he or she no longer wants Mugabe as the party leader? As long as he does not announce his retirement or resignation, Mugabe is going to emerge as the sole party candidate.”

The officer said whoever wanted to oppose Mugabe needed to be reminded of the downfall of others such as Dzikamai Mavhaire, who was fired from the party in 1997 for calling for Mugabe to be ousted. Only years later was he allowed to return.

However, the Mujuru faction says even the country’s Central Intelligence Organisation is split over the issue and it will not be that easy this time round to stop members from choosing their candidate. “If he insists and forces his candidature, the party is likely to split at the congress,” said the Mujuru supporter.

But the army officer points out that such a split would be unlikely because it would herald the end of the political careers of those who broke away.

The question in most people’s minds is where rural housing minister and presidential aspirant Emmerson Mnangagwa now fits in the succession debate.

He almost won the vice presidency in 2004 after having secured the support of six of the ten voting provinces. But Mugabe instead backed Mujuru and fired the six provincial chairpersons who supported Mnangagwa, accusing them of plotting a palace coup.

But Mugabe and Mujuru’s alliance has since become strained after her camp showed some impatience by pushing for his retirement.

Most thought Mnangagwa was down after he was demoted from the number five position of party secretary for administration to secretary for legal affairs, position number 11 according to the party hierarchy. However, a new alliance has since been forged with Mugabe.

Mugabe seems to be favouring Mnanagwa and has openly pledged his support at government and party meetings. A key member in the Mnangagwa faction says the former speaker and security boss is on the rise.

“It seems Mnangagwa is the one rising and will emerge as Mugabe’s successor. I also believe that the constitutional amendment was made for a reason. Mugabe will stand and retire and I believe Mnangagwa will be the person who is chosen by parliament.

“Mnangagwa knows that with the president’s endorsement, he will get the support from the party.”

The official in Mujuru’s camp said there was no way that Mugabe, whom he describes as a tribalist, will hand over power to a Karanga, like Mnangagwa, or a Manyika, such as his powerful security minister, Didymus Mutasa. Zimbabwe has two main tribal groupings: the Shona make up 80 per cent of the population and the Ndebele the remainder. But the Shona are divided into three subgroups: the Zezuru (to which Mugabe belongs), the Karanga and the Manyika.

“What people don’t know is that Mugabe will not hand over power to a Karanga. He is a tribalist. I believe Mnangagwa is being used by Mugabe. How does Mnangagwa jump from number 11 in the party to number one? It is not possible. I also think he is making a mistake aligning himself with Mugabe,” he said.

The official said Mujuru, a Zezuru herself, would be elected and her deputies were likely to be Speaker of Parliament John Nkomo, an Ndebele, and maybe Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, another Zezuru.

Mutasa was a likely candidate to be one of the vice presidents, but he tarnished his image when he consulted a witchdoctor about his presidential prospects. He would have represented the Manyika group, which has been agitating for the top ZANU-PF post.

Thomas Dzvetero is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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