THE death of Vice-President John Nkomo, coupled with a clause in the proposed new constitution empowering the sitting president's party to choose a successor in the event of the incumbent being incapacitated or dying in office, has complicated Zanu PF's succession battles amid revelations bigwigs were positioning themselves for the party chairmanship.
Although presently the contest looks set for the chairperson's post, with incumbent Simon Khaya Moyo a favourite to assume the vice-presidency, the dynamics for the chairmanship battle have taken a serious tribal twist in what looks like a dress rehearsal for the final battle to replace ageing President Robert Mugabe.
The principals' decision last week to shelve the running-mates clause for 10 years, and their proposal for the sitting president's party to choose a successor, has energised Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who was sure to lose out had the clause been adopted, largely because of his current position in the party.
Mnangagwa and Vice-President Joice Mujuru are believed to be leading factions battling to control the party, and the running-mates clause was seen as favouring Mujuru who is Mugabe's deputy.
Mujuru had appeared a shoe-in as Mugabe's first running-mate in the election and therefore an automatic successor if the clause had been adopted. In contrast Mnangagwa is the Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs, the 11th most powerful position in the party.
Sources said with the running-mates clause being shelved, succeeding Mugabe would boil down to the most popular candidate in the provinces, thereby giving Mnangagwa a lifeline after seemingly being elbowed out by the clause.
"That's why the issue of the national chairman has become so important," said a senior Zanu PF official. "Don't be surprised if Mnangagwa himself goes for the position which would put him in good stead ahead of the bigger fight for the presidency. There is also Didymus Mutasa, who is eyeing that position, and remember he is a key member of the Mujuru faction, so there will be a serious battle there," the official said.
The faction that would land the critical national chairmanship would have the advantage of a person presiding over the powerful national people's congress in its corner, as well as the extraordinary session of the congress, the national people's conference and the extraordinary session, the National Consultative Assembly, national conference of the women's league, national conference of the youth league and the national disciplinary committee. The national people's congress is the supreme policy-making body of Zanu PF. It is responsible for electing the president, the two vice-presidents and members of the central committee.
"But there is also the Matabeleland element and people from the region believe that position is theirs as a result of a 'silent' clause in the 1987 Unity Accord," added the source.
"The likes of (Mines minister) Obert Mpofu and (Home Affairs co-minister) Kembo Mohadi have constantly won elections in Matabeleland and are also tipped for the post while names of people like (Matabeleland South governor) Angeline Masuku have also been mentioned," added the source.
"There is also a clique which is questioning the wisdom of giving both the vice- presidency and the chairmanship to Matabeleland. The Manyikas, for example, are complaining they have been left in the cold for too long as they have never held the vice-presidency despite playing a pivotal role in the war of liberation."