In early December 2014 ZANU-PF will hold its party congress to select the party’s presidium; it could prove to be the most important congress in ZANU-PF’s history. Unlike previous congresses, this year’s has the heightened importance of acting as a critical indicator of who will succeed the aged Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s president. Two factions within the partyhave emerged in the run-up to the December congress, one in support of Vice President Joice Mujuru, and another in support of Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, since her appointment as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League in August 2014, Grace Mugabe has also become a key figure in the succession battle.
Since officially entering politics in August 2014 Grace Mugabe has firmlysituated herself in the Mnangagwa faction, becoming an outspoken critic of Mujuru and even calling for her resignation. However, this should not be mistaken as merely support for Mnangagwa and her own political ambitions should not be underestimated. This was illustrated by her highly publicised “Meet the People” tour, which resembled campaign tours of presidential candidates. Moreover, during this tour she declared “They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?”
Mugabe has previously attempted to remain above the succession battle (at least ostensibly) but as the party congress draws nearer and factionalism intensifies it has become clear that he must begin to play a part. It has been reported that the infighting within ZANU-PF has reached such a level that the Zimbabwe National Army has been put on high alert and soldiers on leave have been recalled in light of the upcoming congress. A senior ZANU-PF figure, speaking privately, told Africa Integrity that Mugabe has reacted by bringing the congress forward to 1st December 2014, so as to minimise the damage to the economy caused by factionalism and uncertainty. Moreover, Mugabe has also begun to take a more active role in the succession race. This was illustrated on the 2nd November 2014, when, whilst addressing a crowd of anti-Mujuru protesters outside of the ZANU-PF headquarters, Mugabe reportedly criticised Mujuru loyalists, such as war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, and stated that “when a marriage breaks down, a divorced wife is given time to pack instead of chasing her on the spur of the moment”. This appears to be a reference to Mujuru which suggests that Mugabe has already made his decision, and is merely waiting until the December congress to remove his Vice President. This scenario was lent some weight by the senior ZANU-PF source, who told Africa Integrity that “there will be big scalps at the congress” and said that “this is what politics is all about…after December, it will be business as usual”.
The likelihood of Mujuru being the casualty of the December congress seems to be increasing as her allies in the ZANU-PF continue to be purged. On 9th November ZANU-PF Midlands provincial chairman and ally of Mujuru, Jason Machaya, was forced out of his position through a vote of no confidence. He was the fourth provincial chairman aligned to Mujuru to suffer this fate. This comes on the back of accusations, predominantly disseminated by Grace Mugabe, claiming that Mujuru and her followers are plotting against the President. The accusations include working with the opposition MDC-T, which was given credence by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai after he stated that he is working with ZANU-PF “moderates” at his party’s congress. Mujuru’s vulnerability was also demonstrated by reports of her apparent resignation as Vice President on 10th November. At the time of writing there has not been any definitive evidence to support these reports and ZANU-PF has not commented on the matter.
Furthermore, the faction linked to Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe is also attempting to alter ZANU-PF’s constitution so that Mugabe personally selects the presidium rather than the positions being contested in a congress-wide vote. This amendment could be passed before the December congress if approved by the Central Committee. Although the ZANU-PF chairman, Rugare Gumbo, has said that he is not aware of this plan and noted that it would not succeed, a recent article in the state-owned Herald newspaper specifically called for the amendment in order to bring stability to the political scene. This is highly significant as the Herald is widely perceived as Mugabe’s personal media outlet.
It seems likely that Mugabe is attempting to gain control over the presidium selection process, perhaps in order to remove Mujuru as first Vice President (the second vice presidency, currently vacant, is usually reserved for a representative of the former Zimbabwe African People’s Union ZAPU). Although the removal of Mujuru would appear to leave the first Vice Presidency open for Mnangagwa, Grace Mugabe has also become a significant contender for this position. Thus there is an undeniable possibility that after December Zimbabwe’s two most senior political positions could be held by Mugabes.