Politics in Zimbabwe over the past 35 years have been about Mugabe and it appears it will remain so until the end of his life.
Turmoil could be avoided if Mugabe took a keen interest in who succeeds him and shepherds the process. He could use his immense influence in the party to assure stable leadership in Zimbabwe after his tenure. For instance, he could call a special congress for the election of his successor. Instead of hand-picking a successor, he could encourage internal party democracy, robust debate and campaigning.
This could be a significant legacy to bequeath to the party, and the country. Implemented well, it could become the template for succession in Zanu-PF and set the national democracy project back on track.
Zimbabwe is seen by some observers as already in a transition because Mugabe’s regime has become so obviously dysfunctional – that is why Mnangagwa’s close allies such as Hungwe have started to speak of Mnangagwa as the “Son of Man”, suggesting he is a messiah.
But Mnangagwa’s rivals have sharply criticised this view, not only because it insinuates he is a saviour like Jesus Christ but also because this kind of hagiography is exclusively reserved for Mugabe in Zanu-PF.
But who will succeed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe? This has been the most important question within Zanu-PF and in Zimbabwe over the past few years.
1. Emmerson Mnangagwa
From a constitutional and political perspective, Mnangagwa who replaced his bitter rival, Mujuru, who was ousted at the December 2014 Zanu-PF congress and subsequently expelled from Zanu-PF this April, is the most likely successor.
Mnangagwa’s faction comprises Zanu-PF politburo heavyweights, such as the secretary for administration, Ignatius Chombo, and his deputy, July Moyo, who is the leader’s “chief of staff”. Other members of this powerful and apparently confident faction include Kembo Mohadi, Oppah Muchinguri, Josiah Hungwe, Patrick Chinamasa, Joram Gumbo, Larry Mavhima and Owen Ncube.
Although Mnangagwa is seen as the clear frontrunner, Grace’s allies are resisting his path to power. They argue that Mnangagwa, after he was named vice-president, failed to rally the party behind Mugabe to ensure unity and cohesion. They also charge that he has remained a regional and hidebound figure, always focusing on his Midlands political enclave and the past, and not on national issues and the future.
Mugabe himself seemed to agree with this in January this year when he said Mnangagwa and Mphoko must remember they were no longer regional or factional leaders but national figures.
The Mnangagwa faction’s strategy is to approach the current situation in Zanu-PF and the country as a transitional phase. So it has to increase its political manoeuvring and position its leader to be ready to take over from Mugabe at any time.
Given the state of unbearable uncertainty, apart from Mnangagwa, who are the other contenders and what are their chances?
2. Phelekezela Mphoko
There is Mnangagwa’s co-vice-president, Phelekezela Mphoko, a former liberation struggle stalwart and long-serving diplomat, whom Mugabe plucked from obscurity just before congress to appoint as one of his deputies. Mugabe used his new-found sweeping powers that allow him to choose not only his assistants but also the party chairperson and the decision-making politburo members to effect the appointment.
Mphoko does not have a congealed faction, so he floats between the rival groups, although he sometimes sounds and looks like a one-man band intent on self-destructing. Of late, it has become increasingly clear that his guns are trained on Mnangagwa.
Mphoko is known to be very close to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, a relationship cultivated during exile days in Mozambique. Mphoko hails from the minority Ndebele ethnic group, and this could either aid or hinder him.
It appears that his presidential ambitions have been bubbling for a while. For instance, in 2013, Mphoko, while he was still Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa, sought declassified files in Pretoria that shed light on Mnangagwa’s role in the 1980s massacres of minority ethnic Ndebele civilians and Zapu supporters by Mugabe’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.
Although these files point a finger at Mugabe as the main architect of the Gukurahundi killings, they also reveal how Mnangagwa cut deals with apartheid security service chiefs to crush Zapu while isolating the ANC during the struggle for freedom. African diplomats in Harare believe this will damage Mnangagwa not just at home but also in the region, particularly in South Africa.
3. Gideon Gono
Grace Mugabe is pushing to have former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor, Gideon Gono, succeed her husband as president when he finally retires, according to senior CIO sources in Zimbabwe.
The two families are reportedly exchanging frequent personal visits, and many in Zanu (PF) interpret this as an indication that the latter is being groomed as President Robert Mugabe’s successor. Intelligence sources told The Zimbabwean that Gono’s regular visits to the first family’s Borrowdale home have become more frequent.
They said the president and his wife were also visiting Gono’s Sunlands chicken farm, at Number 2 Luna Road, just outside Borrowdale, more frequently.
A senior Central Intelligence Office (CIO) official said: “His Excellency (Mugabe) and Gono are becoming more and more close to each other (sic). They are visiting each other almost every week. It is believed the President has chosen Gono as his most trusted associate and word doing the rounds is that he feels safer being succeeded by the former governor than anyone else.”
He added that Grace was instrumental in tightening relations with Gono, who is said to be offering the First Family financial advice for its expanding business empire that is mostly agro-based. Grace hails from rural Chivhu, which shares borders with Buhera, Gono’s home district.
“The First Lady has a soft spot for Gono, mainly because he has over the years provided much-needed financial and business development advice to her and her husband. He would play a crucial role in building her nest in the post-Mugabe era,” said another intelligence source.
He added that Gono offered a more secure future for the business empire than any other possible successor, adding that even though the former governor was sympathetic to the Zanu (PF) faction reportedly led by Joice Mujuru, his loyalty was mostly to Mugabe, now 91.
4. Grace Mugabe
The first lady has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and was recently appointed its secretary for women’s affairs. Photographs of her sitting alongside the president in the cabinet have done little to squash rumours that her 91-year-old husband is seeking to build a political dynasty.
Asked if she would like to be president one day, she laughed and said: “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
The Zimbabwean leadership battle has intensified, with Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest leader, increasingly frail and Zanu-PF locked in a bitter factional struggle. Last year, his wife made a dramatic entrance on to the political stage, holding a series of rallies and denouncing the vice-president, Joice Mujuru, once seen as a possible contender but since expelled from the party.
“They say I want to be president,” Grace Mugabe said at one event. “Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?”
5. Generation 40
Besides Mphoko, there is an amorphous clique associated with Grace, described as Generation40 (G40) and representing the so-called Young Turks in the party. This group comprises ambitious mavericks like Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Zhuwao.
6. Jonathan Moyo
Until recently, when Grace was slowed down by poor health, she appeared to be the leader of the group. Since then the temperamental and silver-tongued Moyo has emerged as the leader. There is little doubt that the spindoctor in Moyo will turn the disadvantage of being from a minority ethnic group into a strong positive. Prepare yourself to hear Moyo send the loud and uncomfortable message that there has never been a Ndebele president of Zanu-PF.
In a BBC Hardtalk television interview recently, Moyo strongly dismissed suggestions that Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s heir apparent. The emotion displayed tended to betray Moyo’s own personal views on the succession issue. What is clear is that, after joining forces to oust Mujuru, Mnangagwa’s faction and Grace’s clique are now at each other throats, as shown by Moyo’s hostility during the interview.
7. General Constantine Chiwenga
Then there is the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, who should not be counted out. It is now accepted, albeit grudgingly, within Zanu-PF that Chiwenga, who wields great influence in Zimbabwe’s politics because of the military’s strong hold on national issues, has presidential ambitions. But his biggest obstacle is how to move from military fatigues to civvies without staging a coup.
Chiwenga, like Mphoko, does not have an identifiable clique other than his military base, and is thus swinging between the Mnangagwa faction and the Grace clique.
Chiwenga is known to be close to Mnangagwa and would reportedly not mind him taking over if he gets guarantees that he will have a future under his rule. But there are whispers from the Mnangagwa camp that they would fire Chiwenga once in office as they don’t regard him highly. The bromance between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa might not survive the tests of realpolitik.
Although Chiwenga has no political power base and formal grip on Zanu-PF structures, his role would be crucial in deciding who will succeed Mugabe. The truth though is that Chiwenga does not enjoy the full support of the military. In fact, the military, police and intelligence are all divided along the same lines currently paralysing Zanu-PF politics.
But Chiwenga enjoys the very real power of incumbency in the military and, at the very least, this could make him a power broker.
What binds these factions is that none of them seems to want Mugabe to go. They want to succeed him without challenging him. They pledge allegiance to him and the party and appear to want to be anointed by him.
Privately it is known that they loathe the man and can’t wait for him to go or for something to happen to him. But they are using his political cover to consolidate the position of their factions within the party. Apart from wanting power, none of the factions has articulated an ideological position different from Mugabe.
8. Sydney Sekeramayi
Sources told our Harare correspondents that although the military did not want to publicly wade into the succession row, a number of party officials are becoming increasingly restless as cracks in Zanu PF continue to widen
“Essentially, people are discussing the possibility of having a compromise candidate who has been in the struggle for a long time and understands security matters and Sekeramayi’s name is top of the list.”
Sekeramayi is one of the four individuals from Zimbabwe’s first cabinet after Independence alongside Mugabe, Mujuru and Mnangagwa who are still serving. He was appointed Lands minister in the first cabinet.
The other member Dzingai Mutumbuka, Zimbabwe’s first Education and Culture minister at Independence, is no longer politically active.
Sekeramayi has mostly been in charge of Defence ministries including the Ministry of Defence and State Security.
He was Minister of State for National Security between 1984 and 1988.
From 2001 to 2009 he was the Minister of Defence. He moved to the Ministry of State Security during the inclusive government era (2009 and 2013). After elections last year he was appointed Defence minister.
His knowledge in security matters has been one of the key reasons he is touted as a replacement.
Zanu PF officials said although Mugabe has kept his preferred candidate close to his chest, there are indications he also favours a compromise candidate.
Although Mphoko and other dark horses such as Sydney Sekeramayi, a Mujuru ally who survived purging by a whisker, don’t have the leverage to chart their own independent paths to power, they are seen as possible compromise candidates. Some even say Mujuru might bounce back if there is stalemate in the party.