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

ZANU PF Torn by Rivalries

Mugabe is struggling to deal with profound divisions within his ruling party.
By Augustine Mutandwa

With an announcement of the date in March for Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections imminent, President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party has just completed internal elections to choose its own candidates, exposing major weaknesses in the organisation that has ruled the country uninterrupted since independence in 1980.


“ZANU PF’s own primaries have shown that the party is in shambles, and that may have an adverse effect on Mugabe’s exit plan,” a University of Zimbabwe political scientist told IWPR on condition of anonymity. Mugabe has until recently said he would not stand for re-election in 2008 when his present term expires.


The academic said the March elections were important to Mugabe because he wished to leave ZANU PF united and firmly in power. But the profound divisions that emerged in the primaries point to a split in the party that might scuttle his dearest wish.


Mugabe’s departure strategy is to change the constitution after the March elections – which his party is expected to win by a combination of fair and foul means – so as to create a new position of prime minister, which will acquire many of the powers currently enjoyed by the president.


The post of premier would most likely be filled in by Joyce Mujuru, a former guerrilla fighter, who was manoeuvred by Mugabe into the position of national vice-president, the first woman to hold the post, during the ZANU PF congress held in December.


The appointment of Mujuru, who during the 1970s liberation struggle was known by her nom de guerre of Spillblood, was intended to quell intense infighting that left the party severely divided – but all her selection did was fuel the turmoil.


The planned constitutional change, said the university academic, would also see the re-introduction of the ceremonial head of state, abolished in 1987, which Mugabe himself would occupy until his eventual full retirement.


Mujuru, a fellow member with Mugabe of the Zezuru, a sub-clan of the larger Shona tribal grouping, is seen as a loyal supporter of Mugabe who would cause him few problems in his retirement.


“Mujuru was sworn in as vice-president…..to stop the infighting that was threatening to tear [Mugabe’s] party asunder,” the academic said. “But the primaries showed the infighting had intensified.


“Despite it, ZANU PF will still win the March elections. The playing field is not even, so there is no chance of the opposition wresting the election away from ZANU PF, which will win by hook or by crook.”


There is much speculation that Mujuru, after a spell as prime minister, will ease Mugabe into peaceful retirement by herself becoming the ceremonial state president in 2008. It is believed to be a major plank in the Mugabe game plan.


“If what has happened elsewhere in the southern African region recently is anything to go by, she could easily win the 2008 presidential election,” said another analyst, who works for a non-governmental organisation dealing with governance issues. “Except for Botswana where the incumbent president was standing for office, candidates in Malawi, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique hand-picked by the outgoing presidents have gone on to win presidential elections.”


Mugabe arm-twisted ZANU PF delegates from all the country’s ten provinces to nominate Mujuru for the post of national vice-president. Members who dissented were banned from the party.


The question is whether Zimbabwean politics really is similar to that of its regional neighbours. Can Mugabe hand-pick and impose a successor and hope to win an election?


According to ZANU PF political commissar Elliot Manyika, the party is more than powerful enough to contain dissent. But several analysts believe ZANU PF could go the way of the former Kenyan ruling party, the Kenya African National Union, KANU.


“Zimbabweans should look further afield to Kenya for what might happen in Zimbabwe,” said a senior member of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, ZESN, an NGO that teaches electoral issues to mostly rural people. “On his way out, Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi hand-picked Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, to succeed him and in that single stroke dug his party’s grave. Senior members of the ruling KANU rebelled and joined hands with members of the opposition parties and formed the Rainbow Alliance which routed KANU in both the parliamentary and presidential elections that followed.


“Six out of 10 ZANU PF provinces did not nominate Mujuru for her post. There is evidence that Mugabe used his power to influence the choice of Mujuru as vice-president. Like in Kenya, where Moi divided KANU by appointing Uhuru Kenyatta, Mugabe divided ZANU PF by arm-twisting some provinces into nominating Mujuru.”


Some people nominated by their provinces as parliamentary candidates were dropped in favour of Mugabe cronies who had no popular support. “The whole process of nomination and selection employed at the ZANU PF congress showed how undemocratic the party is even when dealing with its own people,” the ZESN official said.


The primary elections divided the party in other ways, according to ZANU PF politburo member Dr Olivia Muchena. Reflecting that the primaries were riddled with factionalism, Dr Muchena said, “It is my observation that ZANU PF still commands overwhelming support. But the problem is with parliamentary aspirants who fan factionalism. All that these aspirants preach is hatred to win elections at all cost.”


These divisions, which have surfaced very publicly, are unlikely to affect ZANU PF before the March elections unless some of the dissidents stand as independent candidates, in which case they will be automatically fired from the party.


However, in such circumstances, ZANU PF dissidents might allow the MDC to do its best in adverse circumstances in the March ballot before forming a Rainbow Alliance with it and other groups as the country moves towards 2008. “All that is needed to trigger the formation of [this coalition] is just one dissident with sufficient courage to galvanise the support of all those disgruntled by Mugabe’s increasingly dictatorial tendency in dealing with younger members of his party,” said one of the analysts who spoke to IWPR.


Augustine Mutandwa is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.