PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is set to drop a bombshell by announcing his retirement plans during the ruling Zanu PF’s crucial congress in December, a senior party official has said.
Despite attempts to backtrack on his earlier statements last week, it has now been established that Zanu PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira did in fact say Mugabe would announce his future plans at the congress, which he described as “a defining moment” for Zimbabwe. He predicted some infighting among candidates.
Reliable Zanu PF sources said Shamuyarira said if Mugabe left office immediately, Vice-President Joseph Msika – whom he said was not popular in parts of the country – would automatically take over and consolidate his grip on power.
The sources said Shamuyarira told a visiting foreign journalist last week that once Msika took over it would be difficult to dislodge him because he would deal with anyone challenging him as “subversive”.
If Mugabe announced his retirement plans beforehand, Shamuyarira said, there would be “infighting” in Zanu PF between party chair John Nkomo and secretary for administration Emmerson Mnanangwa.
He said Nkomo and Mnangagwa were clear frontrunners in the Mugabe succession race. He said Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, external affairs secretary Didymus Mutasa, and ex-Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe were trailing.
“We have Mnangagwa …he is one of the frontrunners in the situation and there is Mutasa…he is also one of the frontrunners … (and) there is (also) … Sekeramayi,” he said.
“Sekeramayi is quite strong also but there are other dark horses like Zvinavashe, the retired army commander. He is very political, and he is waiting in the wings. We have people of stature and ability who can walk into the shoes of Mugabe.”
But Shamuyarira said the issue of who would come in hinged on how Mugabe left.
“If Mugabe were to relinquish (power) today the likely successor will be Msika. He is not popular in many parts of the country but it will be difficult to oppose him if Mugabe left immediately because he would immediately hold the reins of power,” he said.
“He can use those reins to buy support from various people, he can make concessions…but he would make a good president also, he is presidential material.”
“Nkomo … I’d put him on par with Mnangagwa. He is also up and coming. But it depends very much on how Mugabe quits. If Mugabe at the December congress… says I’m quitting now, Msika will take over.”
Shamuyarira went further: “It will be very difficult for anyone to oppose Msika. (If anyone does that) he would say ‘ah now you are being subversive’.
“But if he (Mugabe) says ‘I will be retiring in a year’s time’… then Msika will be out, the infighting will be between these, Mnangagwa and Nkomo, that’s where the infighting will be. But the encouraging thing is that they are all men of substance.”
Shamuyarira, a Zanu PF politburo member and former cabinet minister for nearly 20 years, is one of Mugabe’s closest lieutenants. He is currently working on Mugabe’s biography.
He said the Zanu PF congress would be a political watershed for the country.
“The issue is that the retirement of President Mugabe is done first by himself in his own decision and secondly (through) the decision of the supporters in Zimbabwe,” Shamuyarira said.
“What we don’t like about the present situation is that it is outsiders who are calling for his retirement, and you know that is …unacceptable to us.
They are not the ones who should decide as to when he should retire.”
He said people would be free to discuss Mugabe’s succession at the gathering.
“They will discuss it and he himself will insist on … guaranteeing the freedom of the people to express themselves. He has always been saying that people should discuss the question of succession openly and I think at that congress he will stress that even more and (say) to the people ‘say your mind on this matter’. I think it will be open,” he said.
“So it will be an interesting a juncture because that will also be three months before the parliamentary election … it will be a defining moment for Zimbabwe.”