PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has effectively banned open discussion around his succession within Zanu PF, insisting the subject risked fuelling bitter factional fights rocking the ruling party.
In an interview to coincide with his 90th birthday broadcast on ZBC-TV Thursday evening Mugabe spoke tough on Zanu PF divisions and berated party stalwarts angling to take over when he goes.
Quizzed by ZBC's Tazzen Mandizvidza on why he appeared to have suppressed the succession debate in his party, Mugabe responded with a chuckle followed by a rather unconvincing denial.
"Why? When it's not true? Is it true? Huh," said the veteran leader, "Well, the leadership still exists that runs the country. In other words, l am still there."
The Zanu PF leader insisted that open debate of his succession would open the party to blatant factionalism which he however, vowed to crush.
"The people can discuss it if they want but the moment they discuss it they go into factions and then you find the party dividing itself. So why discuss it when it's not due.
"When the day comes and l retire and sure the day will come. I don't want to leave my party in tatters. I want to leave it intact."
Although he did not mention names, Mugabe berated party stalwarts who have virtually divided Zanu PF into two rival factions.
"We don't want selfish people. You don't want to come into leadership because you want to serve your own personal interests. You come into leadership because the people would want you to serve their interests," he said.
"This is ... and that's why some of us never campaigned for that leadership or for any position at all. We left it to the party to decide.
"It's terrible even to have your name mentioned as leader of a faction. It's shameful. You must go beyond that and say you belong to the people as a whole."
Current party Vice President Joice Mujuru is believed to be leading a faction fighting to upstage a rival group led by secretary for legal affairs and justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe said those jostling to succeed him have also been fighting to control the party's provincial structures, causing further divisions there.
"... Capacity to govern is not just the fact of your having got a degree or degrees. It's not just the fact of your being a member of the party with a record of having participated in it," he said.
"That record must show that you have not been tribalistic, you have not been regionalistic, you can be relied upon by each and every province to take up their cause, their own geographical interests, that their children would be educated the same way as the children of the people of the province from which you come or where you were born.
"I don't want the fact of factionalism; l just don't like the idea of a leader seeking to be liked by some much more than by others. Never allow yourself to be called a leader of a faction ndopavarikukanganisa chete.
"And you go into government supposing you win because you had this province, this province, this province supporting you."
Mugabe however, admitted that it would be difficult to root out divisions in the party.
"We are having to fight this, apparently, without very much success because people want to be seen first and foremost as regional leaders and not as national leaders," he said.
"All that is nonsensical and rubbish; that's what is destroying the party. Once wada hukuru hweku province ikoko, vamwe vanozvotsvagawo kuda hukuru hwekuma province avo. Its regionalism ... you are a national leader.
"That is what we are fighting against and we are going to fight this one quite blatantly because that is what is destroying the party."
The aging leader also said he was fully briefed about the treacherous actions of previously trusted lieutenants he accused of working with the opposition MDC in 2008 to dislodge him.
"I know all my people and all those who have been close to me very well. I know them all very, very well. What they tell me and what they have hidden from me ndinozviziva. I know how honest or dishonest some of them are," he said.
Mugabe blamed his humiliating presidential election loss to arch rival Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of the 2008 race to sabotage by some of his comrades.
He accused them of deliberately seeking to facilitate a Tsvangirai victory while they fought for a parliamentary majority hoping this would allow conditions for the creation of a coalition with the former Premier.