7 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Understanding the Zanu-PF Succession - Mugabe's Choice Likely to Be Decisive

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Third, this understanding also assumes that succession is exclusively predicated on electoral success. This logic badly misreads ZANU-PF succession politics.

In ZANU-PF, popularity does not add up to real political gains - there are other more important forces that shape the leadership contest. Some of Mujuru's allies seem to understand this and have tempered their initial euphoria accordingly.

The assumption of party leadership, and ultimately presidency of the country, will be predicated on highly complex and carefully calibrated manoeuvres that include enlisting the endorsement of the securocrats, and most importantly, securing the blessing of Mugabe.

Securocrats

Why is it that Mnangagwa's faction does not appear to be rattled despite 'the moderates" seemingly unbreakable majority in the provincial elections? The answer lies in the unspoken centrality of the security sector, that ancient sinful fulcrum of ZANU-PF party politics.

Historically, ZANU-PF's relationship with the security sector has been seen as symbiotic, but sometime after 2000 power started to shift gradually from the party to the securocrats.

Today, the securocrats are seen as controlling much of the political system in Mugabe's party making the ascent to power incomplete without the military's endorsement. The securocrats might not have a vote, but it appears they have a candidate.

Why Mnangagwa?

The securocrats are likely to choose a leader who will protect or enhance their narrow interests. In this case, Mnangagwa who has cultivated a much 'healthier' relationship with the intelligence community and the military through his leadership of the ministris of defence and state security has the upper hand.

These institutions are likely to have little obvious interest in aiding Mujuru's rise, whose power base (popular support within the party) might conflict with their interests.

Without the securocrats by her side, Mujuru might struggle to aggressively advance against Mnangagwa's group.

Mugabe's choice

These party struggles are also taking place under the watchful eye of its patriarch Robert Mugabe who continues to dominate ZANU-PF.

Every aspect of the party's functioning is affected by his views and decisions. The party almost always bends to his will, and ultimately his preferences and predilections will have preponderance on who will succeed him.

Indeed, tracing the course of ZANU-PF's history, three distinct and important successions to party leadership - Simon Vengai Muzenda, Joseph Musika and John Nkomo - show that the ascendancy of these men to the top of ZANU-PF hierarchy was either at the instigation of Mugabe or after his endorsement.

In other words, examining Mugabe's intentions is like to provide a good understanding of who will succeed him.

Who is Mugabe's choice?

Mugabe's choice will be a leader who can unite the party. His manoeuvrings will be motivated by concerns for his legacy and efforts to preserve his political power - he is likely to continue playing a huge part in party politics from behind the scenes.

The person who seems to fit the bill on all counts is Mnangagwa.

Not only does Mugabe retain a close bond with Mnangagwa, who has long been considered his blue eyed boy, but Mnangagwa has correspondingly always been an absolutely loyal follower of Mugabe.

Their relationship was cemented when Mnangagwa as Minister of State Security quelled the rebellion in Matabeleland and Midlands regions that resulted in the deaths of thousands in the 1980s.

That Mnangagwa is a great favourite is also clearly established in other several ways. When Mugabe held a press conference on the eve of the July election he was flanked by his press secretary and Mnangagwa. Mugabe was forced to deny that he was announcing to the world that the then defence minister was likely to be his successor.

Also, Mugabe has always assigned important government ministries to Mnangagwa and these have included state security, home affairs, defence and justice.

Finally, Mnangagwa is reportedly one of the few ZANU-PF officials allowed to maintain direct and close ties to Zimbabwe's security community, a privilege not yet granted to Mujuru.

What about Mujuru?

Mugabe considers Mujuru a light weight who will struggle to contain the opposition, foreign and factional interests within the country. ZANU-PF's image as a fearless revolutionary party would appear to be under threat should Mujuru win the leadership.

Mugabe's ties to Mujuru have been opportunistic, only maintaining close links with her because of her powerful late husband who masterminded her meteoric rise within the ZANU-PF hierarchy. Mugabe's determined silence despite Mujuru's recent 'wins' in the provincial elections is indeed telling.

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