AS President Mugabe’s handlers fight to stifle debate on the succession issue, speculation remains rife that his departure from office may be sooner than he is prepared to admit.
Newspaper reports in Britain yesterday, citing South African government sources, said Mugabe would be prepared to go within a year if the conditions were right.
These include recognition of his legitimacy – at home and abroad, an “honourable” retirement with freedom from prosecution by international courts, and a seamless transition to a candidate of his choice.
Speculation has been fuelled rather than quenched by Speaker of parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa’s denial last weekend of any presidential ambitions. Mugabe is understood to be keen to regulate the succession debate, which means prospective candidates will need to keep their heads down until an internal decision-making process is complete.
Mugabe’s recent forays across the country to speak at what looked like election rallies could offer a clue to his wish to take charge of a process that earlier showed signs of getting out of hand.
Recent contacts with President Thabo Mbeki over Morgan Tsvangirai’s incarceration and Mbeki’s statement at the conclusion of last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Durban that the coming year would see a resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis through inter-party dialogue suggest South African interest in a solution to the political impasse in Harare is still very much alive.
“We will have an agreement in Zimbabwe between government and the opposition about all the challenges that face Zimbabwe,” Mbeki confidently predicted
Mozambique’s President Joachim Chissano said at the WEF meeting that as a result of peer pressure Mugabe would be revoking oppressive laws against the media and opposition.
Mnangagwa remains the most visible contender although with the economic crisis impacting on Zanu PF’s leadership, former Finance minister Simba Makoni’s prospects are improving despite the absence of a local support base.
Undeterred by orders to keep quiet, Zanu PF’s Bulawayo province has moved ahead, throwing its weight behind party chairman and Special Affairs minister John Nkomo.
The province this week announced that succession issues should be dealt with using the set party protocol of seniority, a process that would favour Nkomo’s candidacy.
Information and Publicity minister Jonathan Moyo this week rubbished suggestions that Mugabe was preparing to go.
The state mouthpiece the Herald this week quoted Moyo dismissing any suggestion of dialogue aimed at ensuring Mugabe’s early retirement.
“Zanu PF will not negotiate with anyone, let alone (the) sell-out MDC, on the legitimacy of President Mugabe,” he said. “The issue of legitimacy is not negotiable and will thus not be negotiated because it was decided by the people.”
Despite Moyo’s hostility to any talk of Mugabe’s early exit, the party’s Bulawayo provincial leaders said the people currently being touted did not qualify to succeed Mugabe.
Zanu PF’s Information secretary Nathan Shamuyarira yesterday said the party president was elected at a congress.
“He can come from any organ of the party. Any member can be elected,” said Shamuyarira.
But Zanu PF Bulawayo provincial secretary for information and publicity, Sikhumbuzo Ndiweni, this week said party rules had to be followed in choosing Mugabe’s successor.
“The party presidium,” said Ndiweni, “is made up of four people who are President Mugabe, his two vice-presidents (Simon) Muzenda and (Joseph) Msika, and the party national chairman John Nkomo.
“Those are the people who should fit into the succession equation.”
He said when Mugabe finally retires he would do so with his two vice-presidents, which would leave Nkomo as the only senior replacement from the presidium.
“Nkomo, by virtue of being in the current presidium, would articulate national issues better than anyone outside the presidium,” said Ndiweni.
He said the current succession debate ignores set structures of the party.
“There is a set structure when it comes to succession and the party is structured in a manner that makes succession automatic and this is not open to debate,” said Ndiweni.
He said in the event of the president retiring, the three other leaders in the party would be elevated in terms of seniority.
“The party is clear on what happens when it comes to replacing leaders and after the presidium has retired the party says the next top person should be a woman. Here we are talking about people like Joyce Mujuru, Oppah Muchinguri, Thenjiwe Lesabe and others,” said Ndiweni.
He said Nkomo was acceptable to all provinces and his election by those provinces to the national chairmanship was ample evidence of his national appeal.
“Nkomo was elected by Masvingo, Matabeleland and Mashonaland provinces when he trounced Mnangagwa in the national chairmanship elections,” he said.
But Ndiweni’s views are unlikely to find favour among Mugabe’s inner circle where individuals with vested interests are likely to block the ambitions of “unapproved” candidate