Vice-President Joice Mujuru is now isolated in the fight to succeed President Robert Mugabe as her late husband's former allies have switched their allegiance to her rivals, top Zanu PF officials have said.
The officials said although Mujuru is one of the strongest contenders to succeed President Mugabe, she faces a stumbling block in the form of securocrats whose allegiance lies with her rivals, Defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa and State Security minister, Sydney Sekeramayi.
They said despite attempts to block debate on Mugabe's succession, the two main factions in Zanu PF; one led by Mujuru and the other loyal to Mnangagwa, were positioning themselves to succeed the 88-year-old leader through the current restructuring of district coordinating committee (DCCs).
They said most of the generals who used to be loyal to the VP's late husband, Retired General Solomon Mujuru, had shifted their allegiance to Mnangagwa, while others including Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, Constantine Chiwenga were now pushing for Sekeramayi.
"The generals have made it clear that they want to ensure a Zanu PF victory in the next elections," said a source close to the generals "Some of them are loyal to Mnangagwa, who they believe can protect their interests, but others led by Chiwenga are now lobbying for Sekeramayi."
Chiwenga was himself, until recently, harbouring presidential ambitions, but after a lot of soul-searching, the party sources said, he decided to back Sekeramayi, a former close confidant of the late Mujuru.
Some sources said the securocrats have little respect for Mujuru because she was a nonentity during the 1970s liberation war.
Another Zanu PF source said party national commissar, Webster Shamu had failed to stem factionalism, even in Mugabe's backyard in Mashonaland West province because the stakes are too high.
Mnangagwa has made inroads in Mujuru's strongholds of Mashonaland East and West, while the VP has on the other hand lost ground in her own Mashonaland Central province.
Her candidates were thumped by those of a faction led by Transport, Communication and Infrastructure Development minister Nicholas Goche and Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, which claims to be loyal to Mugabe.
Mujuru recently accused Goche and Kasukuwere of undermining her, questioning where they were during the liberation struggle.
"The question behind people's minds, including the generals, is that, if Mujuru can lose in her own backyard, what are her chances against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai?," said the source.
But Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, while admitting that Shamu was struggling to deal with factionalism, said the current restructuring was normal. "There is nothing untoward with what we are doing. The restructuring has nothing to do with elections or the succession issue, but simply to ensure that the party is more organised," he said.
Party Secretary for Administration, Didymus Mutasa and Gumbo recently said Mujuru was better positioned than Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe because of hierarchy.
The country's constitution stipulates that in the event that Mugabe dies in office or is incapacitated, Mujuru as the first vice-president, assumes power for 90 days before elections are held.
But political analyst, Alois Masepe, said the restructuring presented Mnangagwa with an opportunity to control the party structures considering that his faction and securocrats delivered "the throne back to Mugabe" after presiding over the June 2008 presidential election re-run.
He said through the DCC elections, Zanu PF found itself, consciously or sub-consciously, preparing for political life without Mugabe as "all and sundry can see that he is on his last legs politically and is inexorably moving towards his end".
"The squeals, accusations and counter-accusations coming from the provinces clearly show that the succession battle is in full swing and it's not taking prisoners," said Masepe.
"The situation is fluid and the water is muddied and the position of the next leader is not there for Mujuru's taking, notwithstanding the pronouncements of Mutasa and Gumbo. There is a lot of fighting to be done and the cup may come or pass."
He said the direct involvement of the securocrats in the equation introduced a new but not unexpected dimension.
But University of Zimbabwe Political Science lecturer, John Makumbe, insisted Mujuru had a better chance of succeeding Mugabe.
"The party normally follows its hierarchy, but we cannot rule out the possibility that she can be upstaged by others who might be stronger," he said.
Makumbe said securocrats would find it difficult to put spanners on the way of Mujuru if she was to get support of congress.
"Mujuru is generally a likeable character and has a better chance of uniting Zimbabweans, unlike Mnangagwa who is largely a hardliner," he said. "I can see Mujuru literary begging Tsvangirai to say let's work together for the sake of peace and our people."
Makumbe however said Mujuru would need a lot of "hand holding" in order to manage the country's foreign affairs.