PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa will storm into next week’s Zanu PF elective congress seeking to tighten his grip on power as his age is likely to trigger a fierce succession debate.
The ruling party holds its watershed congress from Wednesday to Saturday next week with political observers noting various unresolved issues that Mnangagwa needs to handle as he faces Nelson Chamisa and his Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) formation in next year’s harmonised elections.
Mnangagwa, who succeeded late former president Robert Mugabe through a coup in 2017, has been accused of failing to unite the party in the post-Mugabe era.
The current Zanu PF leader vanquished a faction known as the Generation 40 (G40) which was fronted by Mugabe’s wife Grace with support from former cabinet members Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere, Patrick Zhuwawo, Walter Mzembi and several others.
While reports have been awash of a rift between Mnangagwa and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, (66), the two are expected to unite ahead of the elections so that the ruling party consolidates its power.
The two leaders, who have shown unity in public, are, however, reported to be clashing, with indications that Chiwenga is gaining ground as Zanu PF leader ahead of Mnangagwa.
However, political observers have indicated that Chiwenga would rather stand behind Mnangagwa than challenge him.
Mnangagwa has also been on a drive to consolidate his grip on power in Zanu PF following a flurry of organisations registering as Zanu PF affiliates although party national commissar Mike Bimha is on record saying these were not involved in mainstream party activities.
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The affiliates that have mushroomed ahead of the congress and received with glee by Mnangagwa include YoungWomen4ED, YoungFarmers4ED, Teachers4ED and several others.
Chiwenga is, however, believed to have strong backing from the security forces, although these would also wait to see Mnangagwa run his race if he wins the elections next year.
Dynamics defining the expected gamesmanship at the upcoming congress will include whether the party’s second secretary Kembo Mohadi will be reappointed at the congress after resigning as state vice-president last year over allegations of sexual indiscretions.
The issue of the second state vice-president will test Mnangagwa’s statesmanship as he prepares for the elections next year.
Political observers and party sources contacted by the Independent since last week said Mnangagwa would be expected to perform a Houdini act at the congress next week especially when appointing his vice-presidents and politburo members.
“In the scenario that Mnangagwa wins the election next week, he is expected to name a second vice-president to serve under him with Chiwenga but the questions remain on whether he will remain aloof and not appoint anyone like he did when Mohadi was forced to step down.
“Mohadi lost the moral ground to assume the VP’s position after his shenanigans were exposed and we do not expect Mnangagwa to let that post remain vacant. Mnangagwa would also be in a quandary on whether to have Mohadi continue as party vice-president and second secretary while he appoints another person as state vice-president,” a source in the ruling party said.
The appointment of the party and state vice-president has also led to intriguing conspiracies and reports, with many senior Zanu PF leaders touted to be among those who Mnangagwa could catapult to the powerful position.
Names being thrown around in Zanu PF circles include, but are not limited to, party national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri, politburo members Tshinga Dube and Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda while ZDF commander Philip Valerio Sibanda comes in as an outsider.
While Muchinguri, who also holds the powerful Defence and War Veterans Affairs portfolio in cabinet has a good chance of assuming the state VP position, the 1987 Unity Accord could stand in her way.
The December 22 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF-Zapu provides for the appointment of an ex-Zapu member as one of the two VPs. Muchinguri hails from Manicaland and is not an ex-Zapu member.
“Historically, all those who have been Zanu PF national chairpersons after the Unity Accord have reason to be state VP except for the late Simon Khaya Moyo who was a victim of the factions leading to Mugabe’s ouster. Joseph Msika and John Nkomo are good examples especially when we consider the gentlemen’s agreement in the Unity Accord where the VP comes from the former PF-Zapu while the women’s quota system also saw the rise of Joyce Mujuru in her heyday.
“The national chairman’s position and women’s quota in the presidium could work in Muchinguri’s favour. Firstly, Mugabe ditched the chairman’s chances of assuming the VP position when he appointed Phelekezela Mphoko and Mnangagwa to the positions,” another source said.
The observers also noted that appointing Muchinguri to the VP’s position while ditching the former PF-Zapu members could cost Mnangagwa dearly in Matabeleland.
The PF-Zapu factor introduces the debate on who could come from that sphere of influence with Dube, Mudenda and Sibanda fitting into the matrix.
Dube held senior positions in the PF-Zapu and while many other leaders are not playing major roles in Zimbabwe and Zanu PF politics, this could play to his advantage. But according to sources, the former Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) boss may be incapacitated due to alleged health problems.
“Dube is a courageous former soldier but this could be his undoing because he does not pull his punches when speaking for or against the leaders in the party.
“Remember, he once challenged Mugabe to open up on the succession debate and he lost the favour of the then Zanu PF leader. It, however, remains to be seen whether Mnangagwa would throw caution to the wind to appease the people from PF-Zapu,” another source told the Independent.
Mudenda has been a senior Zanu PF leader from Matabeleland with his roots firmly in Binga with observers throwing his name in the hat for a long time.
“He is a level-headed politician who has earned respect even from opposition elements, especially in the National Assembly where he has been at the helm for a long time.
“While his backers could try to use the Matabeleland and PF-Zapu factor, Mudenda lost his influence when he ditched the party in the 1980s to join Zanu PF and that could work against him,” a political observer said.
They also noted the growing influence of the military leadership in Zanu PF since 2017 adding that this brings Sibanda’s name into the picture.
“General PV (Sibanda) is as calm as they come and has never been vocal in political matters, leaving everything to speculation, especially with the growing military influence in the ruling party.
“He has, however, remained quiet and calm but his Zipra roots also play to his favour while the influence of the defence forces is growingly palpable,” the observers added.
While Muchinguri, Dube, Mudenda and Sibanda have not publicly commented on their political ambitions, Zanu PF structures have remained in speculative mode leaving everything in the hands of Mnangagwa.
Meanwhile, as Zimbabwe descended into a military coup, key elements that had coalesced around Mugabe under the G40 faction fled the country, while Zanu PF deferred its elective congress after the party’s central committee endorsed Mnangagwa to take over.
Zanu PF’s 7th congress comes after the party held chaotic central committee elections that were marred by allegations of vote rigging.
An unresolved court application lodged by party activist Sybeth Musengezi challenging Mnangagwa’s position as Zanu PF’s legitimate First Secretary is secretly supported by “senior leaders” within the ranks of the organisation, the Independent understands.
Musengezi’s house was allegedly petrol bombed by unknown assailants on October 2, two days before his court case was heard with the matter being struck off the High Court roll while awaiting a resolution of another case in the Supreme Court.
In an interview with the Independent this week, Musengezi said while it was certain that Mnangagwa’s bid at the congress would be a shoo-in, there was growing discontent within the party amid calls for a change in leadership.
If Musengezi’s court application turned out successful, he said, the resolutions of next week’s congress would be null.
“There are some comrades who are disgruntled with the way Mnangagwa has been violating the constitution. In a normal setup the court application would have had a huge bearing on the outcome of the congress.
“Mnangagwa’s bid will not be opposed at the congress because some comrades who also want to lead are afraid of opposing the unconstitutional endorsements,” Musengezi said adding that he was not worried about the congress but the outcome of his court case.
“If the courts say Mnangagwa ascended illegitimately in 2017 then the upcoming congress would also be null and void…because it would have been presided over by an illegitimate leader.”
A lot of senior leaders,” Musengezi said, “secretly” threw their weight behind his court application, encouraging him to fight on.
“It is obvious that anyone who dares to challenge him will face serious resistance and possible expulsion for obvious reasons.”
He, however, dispelled widespread reports that his court application was sponsored by a faction opposing Mnangagwa’s continued rule.
Considering Mnangagwa’s age, University of London Professor of Politics Stephen Chan, hinted that the topic of succession was likely to dominate the Zanu PF congress.
“There has been a great deal of jostling behind the scenes to do with succession and even the possibility of immediate leadership changes in Zanu PF. Chiwenga is strongly poised to challenge Mnangagwa for leadership.
“The temptation to lodge a challenge would look to Mnangagwa’s age. The congress must, however, discuss succession in the event Mnangagwa obtains a further term. It has to be a younger person who comes after him,” Chan told the Independent this week.
Zanu PF national spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa requested questions in writing but had not responded by the time of going to print.