President Robert Mugabe has been at the helm of Zanu-PF since 1976 – and this week’s party congress is most likely to further cement his grip on power.
Mugabe is a veteran of manipulation. At the height of Zimbabwe’s armed struggle in 1976, a group of guerilla commanders known as the “vashandi” (workers) rebelled against him, just after he had completed 10 years’ incarceration.
He survived the palace coup with the help of the now late army commander Solomon Mujuru.
Nearly four decades on, Mugabe is grappling with the growing support enjoyed by Mujuru’s widow, vice-president Joice Mujuru.
He managed the problem in the run-up to the congress in perhaps the only way he knows how to: divide and rule.
“Mugabe took advantage of the fact that his deputy [Joice Mujuru] and [Minister of Justice] Emmerson Mnangagwa are competing for his job,” said Zimbabwean political commentator Dinizulu Macaphulana.
“The only way to keep away Joice Mujuru, who had gained a lot of ground, was to set Mnangagwa’s camp on her – and with Mugabe’s backing they succeeded,” said Macaphulana.
Joice Mujuru was axed from the party’s powerful central committee this week – and another woman is waiting in the wings.
Grace Mugabe is seeking election as Zanu-PF’s Women’s League leader at the congress, which runs from Tuesday for a week.
This position would catapult her into the politburo, Zanu-PF’s highest decision-making body, and bring her closer to the presidium, the office of the presidency.
Grace Mugabe has been instrumental in Joice Mujuru’s latest political woes. In her nationwide “meet the people” rallies, she’s publicly attacked her. Last week she called Joice Mujuru “inappropriately dressed” and suggested the vice-president would try to assassinate her.
Mugabe goes to this week’s conference having dealt with his challengers – and he has new powers after amending the party’s constitution.
Thanks to these changes, Mugabe can now pick his own deputies.
In the past, names would be submitted by grass roots structures and votes would be cast.
Now Mugabe will appoint his own party chairman, two secretaries as his deputies in the party and two vice-presidents to work with him in government. He’ll also have the power to fire them as and when he pleases.
Constitutional expert Alex Magaisa told City Press this approach shows just what Zanu-PF is capable of.
“I do not think it matters at all to Zanu-PF whether or not their amendments are constitutional,” said Magaisa.
“This is a political battle in which the legal requirements are subordinated to the politics and are merely seen as inconveniences that can be overridden to meet the desired political end.
“Zanu-PF has shown over the years that for them, the law is not a restraint on power but an instrument for conferring legitimacy to a desirable course. If the law does not fit, they simply bend it to fit the political ends.”
Who will become Zim’s crown prince(ss)?
Mnangagwa is already ahead of the game: all the newly appointed provincial leaders are in his camp. His ultimate goal is to be appointed first vice-president (VP), but if he must settle for second place, the plum post will go to one of his female allies, Edna Madzongwe or Oppah Muchinguri. One of the VP posts is reserved for a woman. Mnangagwa has been a good servant to the president and lost out narrowly as first VP in 2004 – to the now out-of-favour Joice Mujuru.
It’s unlikely she’ll land the vice-presidency again, but Mugabe doesn’t have a history of dumping comrades – he could accommodate her in the presidium on his own terms. In all the noise and fighting, Mujuru has never raised her voice or rebelled against Mugabe. If she does somehow win her old job back, she’ll be without allies in key positions and will in effect be powerless.
Gono, the former Reserve Bank governor, enjoys a close personal relationship with the president. At one point he was touted as Mugabe’s possible successor, but he has no permanent camp. He was rejected by the Mujuru faction and is disliked by the kingmakers in the Mnangagwa camp.
However, with the ear of the first family and Mugabe having new powers to choose his own deputies, the dark horse may surprise.
For most of his political life, Mphoko has been away from home – posted on missions to Botswana, Russia and South Africa. That could be to his advantage. Because he’s been away from the factional fights, Mugabe may view him as a moderate.
The second vice- presidency is reserved for former Zapu (pre-unification Zanu-PF) members. Of that group, Mphoko is the most senior.
Muchinguri made way for Grace Mugabe to rise to the top by gracefully stepping down as Women’s League boss. She has been right alongside Grace Mugabe at her trailblazing rallies and has denigrated Mujuru and her allies.
For this she is probably eyeing a promotion. This could come through replacing Mujuru in the presidium. If she fails to land a senior position within the party or government, then she’s out in the cold. This, then, is make or break time.