This has been an intriguing question of Zimbabwe’s politics and becomes more pronounced whenever Zanu PF holds a congress.
Mnangagwa, who stood for the Zanu PF chairman’s post and lost to John Nkomo a decade ago, is leader of a faction locked in a duel to control the party with another camp headed by retired army general Solomon Mujuru.
There is a third faction aligned to President Robert Mugabe which is fronted by ministers Saviour Kusukuwere and Nicholas Goche. This faction has political ambitions of its own.
The Kasukuwere faction has been in an alliance with Mujuru to block Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to the presidium, it has been reported.
The fall-out between Mnangagwa and Mujuru is not over political ideology, but triggered by business interests in the 1980s when the retired general bought a substantive stake in Zimasco.
Since then the two political giants have been engaged in a political turf war analysts say was meant to defend their business interests.
The Mujuru-Kasukuwere alliance emerged victorious a fortnight ago when the majority of the 10 Zanu PF provinces nominated their candidates to the presidium ahead of next month’s party elective congress, defeating those from Mnangagwa’s camp.
Mugabe was nominated president and first secretary of the party, deputised by John Nkomo and Joice Mujuru, while Simon Khaya-Moyo will come in as chairperson.
Mnangagwa had preferred Mugabe as president, Nkomo and women’s league boss Oppah Muchinguri as vice presidents and Kembo Mohadi as chairperson.
The Defence minister and his faction have lost their bid to take control of the party presidium for the third time, having earlier lost in 1999 and 2004.
The failure has raised questions over Mnangagwa’s capacity and clout to win support within Zanu PF and one day land the position of party president. Questions are also being asked if Mnangagwa can pick up the pieces after the latest drawback.
Political analysts believe that factions within Zanu PF were not cast in stone as there were underlying alliances that could be more enduring than camps.
These alliances, the analysts argued, include ethnicity and the role of the young Turks and businessmen and these give Mnangagwa the proverbial nine lives of a cat.
“While there are factions within Zanu PF, it has to be pointed out that politics is about the struggle for power at any level and this includes within political organisations, of which Zanu PF is one,” said a University of Zimbabwe political scientist who asked for anonymity. “If anything, Mnangagwa has been the biggest beneficiary from the factions within the party and there is nothing that will stop him from doing so in future. In fact the threat he poses as a faction leader is political currency which he can easily trade for political posts.”
The political scientist said Mnangagwa, despite losing the fight to control Zanu PF since 1999, had always emerged a winner of sorts.
He said even when Mnangagwa twice lost parliamentary polls in 2000 and 2008, he remained in government demonstrating that he has power in Zanu PF.
Mnangagwa was elected Speaker of Parliament in 2000 after he lost his seat in Kwekwe and when he lost it again in 2005 he was appointed a non-constituency MP and minister.
“This is a clear sign that the Mnangagwa faction can still lobby to have its leader within the echelons of power with the other giving in,” the political scientist added. “I am of the strong opinion that the same rule would be used and the man will rise from the setback of failing to control the presidium.”
Another political analyst and also the director of Centre for Community Development, Phillip Pasirayi, said factionalism was a reality in Zanu PF but was quick to point out that Mnangagwa lacked the necessary “gravitas” to lead.
“Mnangagwa has no gravitas to effectively lead a faction because he has suffered a string of defeats in elections after the formation of MDC and this is a sign that he has no grassroots support,” said Pasirayi.
He said the factions in Zanu PF have largely worked to Mugabe’s advantage as they always fight each other without shaking his power base.
“What happens is that they are afraid of what would follow should they challenge Mugabe’s power,” said Pasirayi. “If you look at the Zanu PF provincial leadership then you would realise that they are designed to support either of the factions. This is how the factions have continued to bicker and haggle for positions within Zanu PF itself without challenging Mugabe.”
Such suggestions raise further questions on the nature of factions within Zanu PF and their purpose.
It is clear that these factions are, at least for now, content with being close to power and not assume it as they do not challenge Mugabe.
This may mean that they are content with the benefits which come with such closeness.
Another political analyst said questions should be asked on the role of Mugabe in the set up.
This, the analysts said, could be answered by the fact that despite lacking clout, Mnangagwa leads a faction which has continued to challenge for power each time there is leadership wrangle in Zanu PF.
The analysts said it was still to be seen how the Zanu PF presidium political dynamics would influence the configuration of the central committee and the politburo during the congress.
Until then, the analysts have said, it would be very premature to make conclusions on Mnangagwa’s position in relation to power in the short-term and long-term.