War veterans are said to have thrown their weight behind the ascendancy of Vice president Emerson Mnangagwa to the presidency when President Mugabe eventually vacates office.
This has provoked a harsh response from rival faction members in both the ranks of the war veterans and the ruling party. War veterans have denied that they have said that its ‘either Mnangagwa or bloodshed’ although they have made remarks that they are the ones who choose the party leadership in the past.
Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko described the utterances as treasonous echoing the same sentiments as President Mugabe a few weeks ago at the million men march rally where he said talk of succession was treasonous. This is an undemocratic attitude from both Mugabe and his deputy who are attempting to silence any democratic debate on leadership change.
Manicaland provincial governor Mandi Chimene said she is ready to defend the President with her life arguing that the new constitution gives President Mugabe two terms and he still has to serve the other term that ends in 2023. This is despite the fact that Mugabe still has to win a national election to get this second term.
Chimene’s utterances show that she believes that once a candidate gets the blessing of her ruling ZANU PF party, it follows that the nation will also endorse that candidate. To Chimene Mugabe is the sole centre of power who must do as he pleases.
It is Chimene’s faction that has declared that Mugabe will be life president despite what his leadership may be doing to the welfare of the nation. Grace Mugabe said Mugabe would rule from the grave an insult on the voters whom she assumes will vote for a dead person. She has said even if Mugabe is incapacitated she will personally push the wheelchair , a clearly intention to violate the constitution.
In all these succession fights the people and their wishes have taken a peripheral role. The people were only roped in when Mugabe wanted to prove his dominance in the million men march.The people are pawns in the elite power fights within the ruling party.
Two opposing but both undemocratic discourses on ruling party leadership and succession have emerged. The first one is that being pushed by the war veterans that it is them that determine who leads the party regardless of what the people may prefer. being in control of the gun gives them a right above any other party member to determine leadership and direction of the party.Anyone without liberation credentials is not allowed to take lead the party.
The second is that from Chimene offers Mugabe as the only centre of power. Chimene argues that Mugabe still has a second term as state president which amounts to an attempt to impose the wishes of a few party members onto the entire nation. Mugabe is not guaranteed of a second term because it is Zimbabweans who decide that via the ballot box.
Zanu PF has always had an autocratic way of choosing party leadership. There is a whole history of subverting the will of the people through military involvement. Mugabe ascended to the helm via the Mgagao Declaration which was a military declaration effectively thrusting him into firm control of the party. Dissenting voices in the party were violently crushed.
In 2007 Mugabe again resorted to war veterans to keep control of the party after he was almost ousted in Goromonzi. Seven out of ten provinces were against his leadership. Through the aid of war veterans and security apparatus he imposed himself on the party.
He subsequently lost the 2008 Presidential elections and then in the run off election announced that the party would employ a ‘war like strategy’ to win the election. He meant state sponsored violence in which the security apparatus played a pivotal role in campaigning for him.
Mugabe has managed to hold on to party leadership because of the military support he enjoys. He has used this support to suppress any talk of succession in the party. He has declared himself the only centre of power through a raft of controversial constitutional changes that saw his opponents being thrown out of the party and him being given absolute power.
But due to old age and his lapse of judgement including allowing his wife to take centre stage on party and state affairs he has now lost some of the support he enjoyed from war veterans and the security apparatus. These are key pillars of power in a party that is highly militarised.
Economic turmoil and rampant corruption are threatening the survival of the party beyond Mugabe. There is also an emerging group of younger party members contesting for the capture of state power and Mugabe seems to be siding with this group.
All these factors have introduced uncertainty on what direction the party and country will take after Mugabe. It has ratcheted pressure on Mugabe to choose a successor but he is resisted these manoeuvres.
Mugabe has invited this upon himself by repeatedly failing to oversee a democratic process of contesting and handing over of power within his party. He has repeatedly refused to entertain questions on his succession despite being 92 years old and frequenting foreign countries for medical attention. It is hard to feel sorry for Mugabe in these circumstances because after riding the tiger for so long with reckless abandon it is now time to dismount.
He has relied on the gun to entrench his dominance on national politics and now that he is slowly losing control of the gun he cries foul. It is clear though that whatever process that will usher in new leadership in the ruling party is likely to be an undemocratic one.