A possible elevation of First Lady Grace Mugabe or Oppah Muchinguri as the new vice-President at the forthcoming Zanu PF congress will not decimate a faction linked to VP Joice Mujuru, nor resolve the deep-seated fights in the ruling party, analysts have warned.
by PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
Mujuru a few months ago appeared to have all but cleared most of the hurdles on her way to an eventual succession of President Robert Mugabe.
Her faction trounced the rival faction linked to Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa during last year’s provincial elections and its members dominated the powerful Zanu PF policy-making body, the politburo.
But the entrance of First Lady in the political arena has seen Mujuru’s star waning and she is no longer the unchallenged most senior woman leader in the country.
Mujuru, who denies leading any faction, has increasingly come under pressure and her group appears to be in disarray with some of the key members increasingly under attack or on the defensive.
These include the likes of Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa who was on Friday challenged in his own stronghold in Mutare by youths bussed from Harare who allegedly booed and denounced him.
Zanu PF Mashonaland West chairman, Temba Mliswa, a strong backer of Mujuru was last week “suspended” in a vote of no confidence following weeks of clashes among the provincial executive members. The ruling party’s chairman in Harare, Amos Midzi has also been on the defensive after reports that his provincial executive was opposed to Grace’s political rise as Zanu PF women’s league boss.
Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono was blocked from becoming a senator in Manicaland after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) ruled that he was not registered in the province. The faction linked to Mnangagwa, which Information minister Jonathan Moyo was associated with, has also been given an edge through unrestrained access to the State media, which of late has been in overdrive in its coverage of Grace’s whirlwind tour.
President Mugabe slammed members of the Mujuru faction in the wake of the Zanu PF women’s and youth conferences held in August where they were accused of vote-buying and failure to organise the two events.
But the First Lady’s appearance in the political arena, reportedly engineered by the shrewd Mnangagwa, seems to have thrown the most spanners into Mujuru’s works.
Mujuru herself is coming under veiled attacks from Grace in her speeches.
But analysts said while Mujuru appeared to be on the back foot as Grace was the lady of the moment, it was unlikely that the VP’s grouping would be completely decimated.
They said there were chances that Mujuru’s faction would bounce back after the party’s December elective congress.
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure told The Standard yesterday that it was too early to dismiss Mujuru as the battle had just begun.
He said the fact that President Mugabe had not publicly laid out the stature of his preferred candidate meant the two factions would keep contending for the party’s leadership in a fierce tug-of-war.
Although the Mujuru faction did not have access to the media, unlike the Mnangagwa camp, they were not going to take the blows lying down, he said, and suggested that they were likely to spring a surprise at congress.
Masunungure said chances were high that the congress was not going to resolve the deep-running factionalism and only Mugabe had the key to unlock the political logjam.
“I don’t think that these are just pre-congress dynamics. The elevation of Mnangagwa, Oppah Muchinguri or the First Lady to the position of Vice-President will not resolve the issue. It will actually deepen the conflicts,” he said.
“It is wishful thinking to say the Mujuru faction will be decimated because the President himself has not made it clear and not named publicly whom he wants to succeed him. People have not been given the chance to freely elect in good faith the candidate they want to succeed him.”
Masunungure said while President Mugabe may not necessarily pinpoint whom he wants to take over from him, he could set out the profile of the ideal candidate.
He said since the Women’s Assembly had already nominated Mugabe as their preferred candidate, it was up to him to withdraw from the race.
Political commentator Godwin Phiri however said the Mujuru faction was in a tight spot as the First Lady has increasingly emerged as the “kingmaker” in the succession politics and whoever desired to be in contention for the throne had to be in her good graces.
“The Mujuru faction will have to engage the First Lady but I don’t see that happening,” he said. “With the way things are happening now, the camp that is on the road is the Muchinguri (Mnangagwa) camp. It is clear that the First Lady is in charge now.”
Grace, however, has publicly announced her ambition to occupy a higher office following her nomination to lead the Zanu PF Women’s league.
She said she had been learning the ropes in President Mugabe’s shadow for many years.
“You would see me quiet, a young girl, what did you think I was doing? I was learning… I am seeing a higher post. If you are not serious, women will take over the party,” she told party supporters during her tour.
It is clear that she is being sponsored by outgoing Women’s League boss Oppah Muchinguri and some senior officials linked to the Mnangagwa faction.
The First Lady has been increasingly flexing her muscle, tearing into politicians believed to be aligned to the Mujuru faction.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza however said the dynamics playing out in Zanu PF were much broader and deeper than just factional fights, but the Mnangagwa faction would face an uphill struggle in trying to upstage her.
“Things are much more complex and dynamic, and I don’t see it in terms of factions,” he said. “By virtue of her position as Vice-President, Mujuru has a constitutional advantage, so how do you stop her?”