Harare — THE military takeover of President Robert Mugabe's government by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) in the early hours of Wednesday morning is the culmination of prolonged intense factional battles triggered by the veteran nonagenarian leader's failure to put in place a proper succession plan.
The army intervened between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, citing the need to avoid the country degenerating into violent conflict. The development comes just over a week after Mugabe fired his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa as a result of fierce factional clashes pitting a faction aligned to the former vice-president and a faction that had coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe.
However, fierce factional tussles in Zanu PF have been commonplace since the early 1980s when then Zanu PF secretary-general Edgar Tekere differed with his erstwhile comrades over the establishment of a one-party state.
Tekere went on to form the Zimbabwe Unity Movement to contest against Zanu PF. This was followed by incidents of state-sponsored violence, such as the shooting of Patrick Kombayi.
Factionalism was to rear its ugly head yet again in 1999 in the battle for the chairmanship when Mnangagwa's faction lost the battle to clinch the party's influential position to the faction led by the late Eddison Zvobgo.
Mnangagwa lost his bid to be chairman to the late John Nkomo.
Mnangagwa's faction was to suffer another setback five years later against the late retired army commander Solomon Mujuru faction. After having secured endorsements from seven provinces, namely Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Mashonaland West for Mnangagwa to replace the late Simon Muzenda as Vice-President, Mugabe then inserted a clause stating that one of the party vice-presidents should be a woman -- a resolution made in connivance with the Mujuru faction in order to block Mnangagwa's rise. The beneficiary of that clause was Mujuru's wife, Joice, who was catapulted to the post with Mugabe even intimating that she should be the one to succeed him.
Nominations for posts in the presidium from the provinces were set for November 21, 2004, but under the cover of a prize-giving ceremony at Dinyane High School in Tsholotsho, the Mnangagwa faction gathered on November 18.
Mnangagwa was invited as guest of honour and "coincidentally" chairpersons of the provinces were present, but he did not attend after the plot was exposed. His allies later regrouped in Bulawayo.
The Tsholotsho meeting was seen as a direct challenge to Mugabe's authority, while members of the Mujuru faction conveniently saw the gathering as a "palace coup plot". The reaction by Mugabe was swift as he suspended six provincial chairpersons among them July Moyo and Mike Madiro while crucially endorsing a woman candidate for the position.
The Mujuru faction would become a thorn in Mugabe's flesh two years later at the 2006 Zanu PF conference in Goromonzi when they rejected his plan to extend his presidential term for another two years from 2008 to 2010 without elections so as to harmonise the polls.
Mugabe's differences with the Mujuru faction are believed to have been a major contributor to his first-round defeat to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the 2008 presidential poll. Mujuru's faction is believed to have campaigned against Mugabe's presidential bid through the bhora musango campaign where party supporters were urged to vote for Zanu PF parliamentary candidates but not for Mugabe. The bitter taste of this defeat, which eventually forced Mugabe to work with Tsvangirai in the inclusive government, was to have severe recrimination for Mujuru six years later.
A year after Zanu PF secured a five-year mandate to rule in the 2013 harmonised elections, Mugabe's wife Grace entered the political fray after being ushered in as the Women's League secretary.
In meetings countrywide, disguised as "meet-the-people" tours, the First Lady savaged Mujuru, whose position had been weakened by the death of her husband in a mysterious fire in August 2011.
Grace went around the country vilifying Mujuru and peddling a number of allegations against her which ranged from corruption to witchcraft.
By the time the party held its elective congress in December 2014, Mujuru's fate was sealed. After the congress, Mugabe fired Mujuru from government along with ministers and party members who were believed to be aligned to her among them Olivia Muchena, Webster Shamu, Dzikamai Mavhaire, Francis Nhema, Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa.
In what was seen as a major victory for the Mnangagwa camp, the party's constitution was amended by repealing clauses stating that one of the VPs should be a woman and vice-presidents are elected at congress.
They were replaced by a clause that allowed Mugabe to choose his deputies. This led to the appointment of Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko as the two vice-presidents.
With the decimation of the Mujuru faction, Mnangagwa seemed shoo-in to succeed Mugabe. But like Mujuru before him, what seemed as a procession to the country's top post was seemingly brought to a grinding halt.
The fight this time came from a grouping that had coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe which had among their ranks Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere, Mugabe's nephew Patrick Zhuwao and Mphoko, among others.
The faction systematically began attacking Mnangagwa at both rallies and through social media with Moyo being the most vocal on micro-blogging site Twitter.
Attacks against Mnangagwa escalated as Mugabe and his wife used the interface meetings with the youth as platforms to hammer Mnangagwa in the nine provinces they were held. The Bulawayo interface meeting on November 4 proved to be Mnangagwa's waterloo. After Grace had been booed during her speech, Mugabe took to the podium to attack his deputy and threatened to fire him.
Two days later Mnangagwa was fired for, among other charges, "disloyalty and little probity in the execution of his duties".
This saw Mnangagwa fleeing the country as he faced charges ranging from treason to murder. The sacking of Mnangagwa and the push to have Grace appointed vice-president resulted in the army issuing a strong statement warning against the purges.
ZDF commander Constantino Chiwenga savaged the party for its purge of members with liberation credentials. Zanu PF reacted by accusing Chiwenga of treasonable conduct. The military reacted by taking over government in a bloodless operation with the arrests of Moyo, Kasukuwere and Zanu PF youth secretary Kudzanai Chipanga.
It remains to be seen what will be the upshot of the confrontation pitting Mugabe against the army as a consequence of the intensified factional fights in the party and his failure to address the succession conundrum.
AllAfrica editor's note: Mugabe resigned on Tuesday November 21.