On 29th September 2014, International Crisis Group released a briefing on Zimbabwe entitled ‘Zimbabwe: Waiting for the Future’. Africa Integrity endorses the group’s call for ZANU-PF to ‘decide conclusively at its December Congress who will replace President Mugabe were he to be incapacitated or to decide not to seek re-election in 2018’, in order to reduce potential for political instability in Zimbabwe. At its Congress in December 2014, ZANU-PF provincial representatives will elect members to the central committee, politburo and presidium, which latter includes the party president, the vice president and the national chairman. The presidium is elected only at Congresses, which are held at five yearly intervals, so the December gathering may well be pivotal in determining the outcome of the battle to succeed Mugabe, who is highly unlikely to stand for national president again.
The succession struggle has produced two main contenders – Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, in recent months Grace Mugabe has also become a significant figure in the race. On 15th August 2014, Grace Mugabe officially entered Zimbabwean politics after being endorsed as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League, which entitles her to sit on the politburo. Furthermore, earlier this month she graduated with a PhD from the University of Zimbabwe, a development which has sparked protests as critics claim she could not have completed a PhD in such a short time frame. This is significant as intellectual qualifications are an important prerequisite for senior positions in Zimbabwean politics. Mugabe himself holds numerous degrees and enjoys a reputation as an accomplished academic. He is also chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, a fact which has added to the controversy surrounding his wife’s degree. It would appear that Grace Mugabe is being positioned to be awarded a senior role at the December Congress, with her supporters pushing for her to become vice president. Evidently, endorsement of her candidature by her husband would almost guarantee her election.
As ZANU-PF has not previously had to confront the challenges of managing a leadership succession, it is hard to predict what will take place at the December Congress. One possibility is that Mugabe will stand down as the party president but remain as Zimbabwe’s president, enabling his successor to become leader of ZANU-PF and president in-waiting. If Grace Mugabe’s recent rise is an indication of her intention to succeed her husband as Zimbabwe’s president, she could well emerge as the new leader of ZANU-PF by the end of this year, confidently anticipating election as national president in 2018 – perhaps only the fourth woman in Africa to achieve such a position.