Zimbabwe’s ruling party ZANU PF on Saturday endorsed the veteran leader, 90-year-old Robert Mugabe, as the party leader and candidate for 2018 presidential polls.
The party, through its sixth congress, also endorsed Mugabe’s wife Grace Mugabe as secretary of ZANU PF’s women’s league, a position in the ruling party’s powerful decision-making Politburo.
The endorsements drew lasting cheers from about 12,000 delegates to the congress, held at the southern suburbs of the national capital Harare.
All the party’s 10 provinces endorsed the election of Mugabe to the post unopposed.
“I want to say thank you. I know I am not greater than people. As a leader, I am your servant,” the veteran leader said in his acceptance speech. “We must treasure and take care of Zimbabwe. Together, we have to protect this land so that it does not become a colony again.”
In Grace Mugabe’s acceptance speech, she said “thank you Comrade President for the opportunity you have given me to lead the Zanu-PF Women’s League. The appointment is a demonstration of the measure of confidence and trust you have in my ability to shoulder and discharge the responsibilities that come with the post.”
Mugabe, who turns 91 in February 2015, is Africa’s oldest leader and Zimbabwe’s founding father. He defeated his long-time rival opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai by a wide margin in 2013 presidential polls. But as the veteran president advances in his age, the issue of succession has rocked the ruling party.
Just before the crunch congress to decide the party’s new ruling elite, Mugabe criticized Vice President Joice Mujuru, long- time considered a strong Mugabe heir candidate, for allegations of political assassination and graft.
According to Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also ZANU PF secretary for Legal Affairs, the new ZANU PF central committee will have 300 members, including a Politburo and a Presidium composed of one president, two vice presidents and a national chairman, which are to be appointed by Mugabe, rather than by voting.
The new Politburo will be announced next week.
Mnangagwa, a cabinet minister since 1980 and Mujuru’s rival in succeeding Mugabe, also said the congress has adopted a resolution that party members who get a vote of no confidence will be suspended or expelled, signaling that Mujuru and her supporters might lose their party memberships.
Cabinet ministers who lost their ruling party central committee seats with Mujuru include Presidential Affairs Minister Didymus Mutasa, Transport Minister Nicholas Goche, Energy and Power Development Dzikamai Mavhaire, among other half a dozen. But Mugabe used his power to appoint ten people directly into the central committee to save Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi and Foreign Affairs Minister SImbarashe Mumbengegwi from being booted out. The president and the first lady on Saturday continued their tirade against Mujuru, who rose to prominence a decade ago at the fourth ZANU PF congress as the party’s first female vice president. She later assumed the post of Zimbabwe’s vice president and has been holding on to that post for ten years.
“Mujuru became too hungry for power. She became too close to erstwhile enemies who colonized us,” Mugabe said. “Mujuru was free to come for the congress. We never blocked her. She is at her home as we speak. Let us be peaceful people.”
Mujuru did not show up at the congress as her candidacy to run for the central committee was rejected on the grounds that she was implicated in the plot to assassinate the president.
ZANU PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, a party stalwart and Mujuru supporter, was expelled from the party ahead of the congress.
But Mugabe seemed to have saved Mujuru from party expulsion as he concluded the congress by saying “those who are not here have said good bye to us. I don’t see us having them back in the central committee. We are not sending them away. No, except for those we have expelled.”