President Robert Mugabe turns 92 years old in February and still his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front has no clear succession plan. Now the battle for influence is spilling over into the armed forces and influential war veterans’ associations.
The aged leader has been at the helm of the party since 1977, and of the country since independence in 1980. His wife, Grace, who is seen as a possible heir-in-waiting, explains: “Mugabe shall continue ruling this country even if we place him in a wheelchair.”
One sector of the military is sympathetic with ousted former vice-president Joice Mujuru
Gripped by uncertainty, Mugabe’s followers have intensified their fight to gain influence, with various names, such as General Constantine Chiwenga, vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa and his rivals in the group known as Generation 40 (G40), thrown in the boiling pot.
The President’s divide-and-rule tactics have long worked in his favour, but this time a worried Mugabe admitted during the December ZANU-PF conference that the infighting had divided the uniformed forces.
The main battle is essentially between Mnangagwa, touted as the incumbent’s heir apparent, and the G40 faction that thrives on smoke and mirror tactics.
The G40 counts among its backers Mugabe’s nephews – flamboyant Phillip Chiyangwa and indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao – and outsiders like Saviour Kasukuwere and Jonathan Moyo, who are trying to propel first lady Grace to the helm of the country in the event that Mugabe dies in office or resigns.
The G40 left the December party conference confident because ZANU-PF adopted the gender quota system it was fighting for to consolidate Grace’s power in the party hierarchy.
To strengthen her ascent, she would need the support of the uniformed forces, most of whom in the top leadership are the former freedom fighters known as ‘war veterans.’
War veterans see themselves as the party’s kingmakers. As Grace does not have any independence struggle credentials, the G40 has sought to change the leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA).
War veterans who spoke on condition of anonymity hinted that the G40 was behind the ousting of war veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa from the party a few days after the December conference for resisting Grace’s sudden political rise.
A source at the ZNLWVA who requested anonymity explained: “There is talk of a formation of a splinter war veterans association called the Zimbabwe War Veterans Heritage Trust. Mutsvangwa, a close ally of Mnangagwa, is likely going to resist being outmanoeuvred, effectively splitting the uniformed forces.”
Mnangagwa commands a lot of respect in the armed forces, though less among ordinary party supporters and Zimbabweans at large. The fight for hearts and minds in the security forces will not be so easy though, says political analyst Pride Mukono.
“One sector of the military is sympathetic with ousted former vice-president Joice Mujuru, now interim leader of a new ZANU-PF splinter group calling itself People First. The support continued to grow over the years following the mysterious death of her late husband, retired general Solomon Mujuru, again in what some believe was [an incident] linked to the succession battle in 2010.”