23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Acid Test for Zanu-PF

ZANU-PF faces another test of strength ahead of the looming elections that will end the four-year-old unity government formed in February 2009.

Although the party has projected an image of oneness by uniting behind its leader, President Robert Mugabe, in power for 33 years, the party has, to all intents and purposes, remained deeply fragmented.

The incumbent may have landed his post uncontested at the last ZANU-PF elective congress, but that was by no means a confirmation that all was well within the party. Underneath, there are succession tremors that continue to trouble President Mugabe.

President Mugabe, who has perfected the art of tribal balancing in order to accommodate the competing interests in the party, has spoken strongly against these succession currencies in the past. He said he would not leave the party at this juncture, as doing so would cause ZANU-PF to implode.

Only last year, the party's grassroots structure, the District Coordinating Committees (DCC) exposed the fissures that run deep in the party after a fierce tussle for positions emerged during DCC polls.

A closer look at what was driving the jostling for positions revealed that senior party members were positioning themselves to succeed the veteran ZANU-PF leader by putting their associates in strategic positions. This led to the dissolution of the DCCs by the Politburo -- alarmed at the extent of the vicious nature of how succession politics had taken its toll on the party.

The Politburo is ZANU-PF's highest decision-making body in between congresses.

With the dissolution of the DCCs, it had appeared as if the persistent succession question dogging ZANU-PF had been dealt with. But no sooner had the DCC problem been crushed, did a new challenge arise that spotlighted the ongoing succession dilemma in ZANU-PF.

Fearing an open challenge to President Mugabe who has declined to nominate his successor, subtle attempts to force the veteran ruler to deal with the succession issue were made through the draft constitution whereby the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee produced a draft charter that proposed the adoption of running mates, based on the United States electoral system.

The proposed running mates clause was seen compelling President Mugabe and his archrival, Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai to handpick candidates to stand with them in the election.

A coterie of ZANU-PF hawks who were instrumental in pushing through the clause in the draft constitution were hoping that this would have forced President Mugabe to resolve the persistent succession question. But a fiery President Mugabe, however, rejected the proposals backed by a pool of ZANU-PF hardliners fearful that the clause would have further divided the party.

President Mugabe has since gained the upper hand and skirted attempts to address ZANU-PF's succession question via the draft constitution. Parties in the inclusive government have now agreed to compromise on several outstanding issues that had stalled the constitution-making process, among them the running mates clause which will now become effective after 10 years.

The MDC-T had no qualms with the clause which would have meant that Thokozani Khupe, the party's deputy president, was to emerge PM Tsvangirai's running mate, according to the MDC-T's hierarchy.

"The issue of running mates was seen to be good, but at the moment causing divisions in ZANU-PF as they were used for factional fights and we agreed to defer its implementation," said Welshman Ncube, the leader of the smaller MDC faction.

"The same was done on other issues that were deferred, considering the fears and concerns of other parties."

Following the death of Vice President John Nkomo this month, observers said the succession question may gain fresh ground once again with intense debate and behind the scenes politicking becoming the order of the day.

"The vacant post is not only an opportunity for several senior ZANU-PF members to move up the ranks, but also for (President) Mugabe to surround himself with loyal individuals," said Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst.

Tipped for the top job is Simon Khaya Moyo, the party's national chairperson who is already in the ZANU-PF Presidium and enjoys the next senior role after the late Nkomo.

Moyo's ascension could also accelerate jostling for his current post as Didymus Mutasa, the party's secretary for administration, Mines Minister Obert Mpofu and Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa may seek to position themselves to play a greater role in the party.

Political observers say President Mugabe may in fact "postpone" making any announcement on the late Nkomo's successor, a strategy aimed at not stoking up divisions and infighting in his party ahead of the elections.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said President Mugabe could go to the extent of ignoring ZANU-PF's succession question again and concern himself with building his legacy.

"He is old, this could be an attempt to rescue his image, because he doesn't want to be remembered for a history of violence. We will see him speak more and more against violence and urge peace, than deal with the succession issue", said Ruhanya.

As the election season sets in, one school of thought is that ZANU-PF's belligerent indigenisation programme could be a last-ditch attempt to hold the party together in the face of growing internal strife.

Saviour Kasukuwere, the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Minister has become the face of ZANU-PF's indigenisation programme and a uniting force in the party.

Political speculation also targets Kasukuwere over whether he harbours any presidential ambitions and could be lining himself up for the higher office.

Only time will tell.

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