Tension is rising in Zanu PF as the party counts down to its annual conference, with the imminent return of ailing Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga from China where he has been receiving medical treatment.
Chiwenga is expected to arrive in the country soon. He will attend the conference scheduled for Goromonzi from December 11 to 16.
The former millitary commander's impending arrival from the Asian country, where he has spent four months since he was airlifted from South Africa in July, comes after President Emmerson Mnangagwa reshuffled cabinet this month in a move meant to consolidate his grip on power while whittling down the influence of his ambitious deputy.
The build-up to the conference, which comes at a time the ruling party is fighting a losing battle to contain an intractable economic crisis, has been punctuated by behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by Zanu PF bigwigs to topple Chiwenga from his influential position on grounds of incapacitation.
As reported by this newspaper on October 24, the clique plotting to topple Chiwenga was scheming to use Section 97 of the constitution which provides for the removal from office of a vice-president on the grounds of incapacitation.
Sources close to Chiwenga's faction say the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, who has been receiving periodic intelligence updates from his trusted lieutenants during his time in China, was fully aware of the plan to push him out on grounds of his ailment.
Attending the conference, the sources said, would present Chiwenga an opportunity to re-assert his influence in the party, while enabling him to re-assure his loyalists that the former army commander still has the gravitas to revive his floundering political ambitions.
"The conference will be the ideal stage for Chiwenga to uplift his loyalists in the party, and show that his faction can still mount a significant challenge in the broader context of his political ambitions. This would be important for him to do because there were real fears among his sympathisers that due to ill-health, he may not be able to push ahead with his agenda.
"So, in a big way, the conference will be an opportunity for him, if he makes it, to re-assert his influence within the party and the military," a Zanu PF official told the Zimbabwe Independent this week.
The plots and counter-plots by factions fighting for the heart and soul of Zanu PF also come at a time the ruling party's plan to revive its district co-ordinating committees (DCCs) has gone off the rails after the process was marred by violence, forcing the politburo to abort the move.
The DCCs were disbanded in 2012 after they became hotbeds for internecine Zanu PF factional wars.
At the time, Mnangagwa -- still then just a legal secretary -- was tussling with the then vice-president Joice Mujuru in the quest to succeed the late former president Robert Mugabe.