ZANU-PF Succession Battle Entering Volatile Waters

BMI View: There continues to be little clarity on who will succeed President Robert Mugabe as leader of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party. Party elections in December 2014, where several senior positions will be up for grabs, will shed limited light on the succession question as party hierarchy will be only one of many variables that will determine who takes the helm. The recent entry of Mugabe's wife into frontline politics introduces a new dimension to the battle.

A continuing lack of clarity on President Robert Mugabe's succession as leader of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the jostle for positions by members ahead of a December party congress mean Zimbabwe's political climate is likely to see a volatile six months. Mugabe's strategy to prevent either of the main contenders - Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa - from gaining meaningful advantage in order to maintain his own tight grip on power looks set to continue amid indications that his wife, Grace, may have leadership ambitions of her own. The succession struggle will prevent the formation and implementation of the kinds of policy needed to resuscitate the moribund economy, which will continue to struggle for the final six months of 2014.

D-Day In December?

ZANU-PF Dominant At A National Level Despite Factionalism
Zimbabwe - Parliamentary Election Results, % Of seats (LHS) & Presidential Election Result, % Of Votes (RHS)

ZANU-PF Succession Battle Entering Volatile Waters

BMI View: There continues to be little clarity on who will succeed President Robert Mugabe as leader of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party. Party elections in December 2014, where several senior positions will be up for grabs, will shed limited light on the succession question as party hierarchy will be only one of many variables that will determine who takes the helm. The recent entry of Mugabe's wife into frontline politics introduces a new dimension to the battle.

A continuing lack of clarity on President Robert Mugabe's succession as leader of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the jostle for positions by members ahead of a December party congress mean Zimbabwe's political climate is likely to see a volatile six months. Mugabe's strategy to prevent either of the main contenders - Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa - from gaining meaningful advantage in order to maintain his own tight grip on power looks set to continue amid indications that his wife, Grace, may have leadership ambitions of her own. The succession struggle will prevent the formation and implementation of the kinds of policy needed to resuscitate the moribund economy, which will continue to struggle for the final six months of 2014.

D-Day In December?

ZANU-PF is scheduled to hold its five-yearly congress in December, at which senior party officials will be elected. Barring an act of nature such as a bout of ill-health, or a decision to retire, the 90-year-old Mugabe will remain party president. The more interesting competition will be for other positions within the party presidium, which also consists of the two vice presidents and the national chairperson. It is likely that Mujuru will retain her vice presidency as the party's constitution requires that the presidium include at least one woman. 

The second vice presidential post has been vacant since the death of John Nkomo in early 2013. The 1987 Unity Accord, which led to the unification of Mugabe's Shona-dominated ZANU-PF and the predominantly Ndebele Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), dictates that one of the vice presidential posts is filled by a former member of ZAPU. There remain few eligible candidates within ZANU-PF following the decision by senior ZAPU figures in late 2008 to leave the party. Of the ZAPU figures who remain, the most senior - and therefore most likely to fill the role - is current national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo, who is thought to lean towards the Mujuru faction.

ZANU-PF Dominant At A National Level Despite Factionalism
Zimbabwe - Parliamentary Election Results, % Of seats (LHS) & Presidential Election Result, % Of Votes (RHS)

The national chairperson's role has also historically been filled by an ex-ZAPU member, although this is not enshrined in the Unity Accord like the vice presidency is. Another presumed Mujuru loyalist, party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, who is not ex-ZAPU, has been bandied for the national chairman role. On the surface, Mujuru's faction is best placed to make gains in the congress, having scored a major victory when figures supposedly loyal to her won control of nine of the 10 provinces at party elections at the end of 2013. This is crucial, because provincial executives will have a big say in electing the party leadership at the 2014 ZANU-PF congress.

However, this does not mean that Mujuru is a shoo-in as the next ZANU-PF leader. Given that the succession battle is bubbling beneath the surface rather than playing out in the open, the understanding of faction support is based on rumour, hearsay and conjecture. Even if these factions are accurately identified at a given point in time, they are unlikely to remain static, and allegiances will evolve based on changing circumstances. It is also thought that, after having served as minister of defence and minister of state security, Mnangagwa crucially enjoys support from much of the country's military leadership, who are likely to have some influence in the succession process.

Saving Grace?

Mugabe himself will have a big say in who takes over from him. He has largely employed a tactic of playing the factions off against each other over recent years to prevent either one from gaining too much power and posing a threat to his control of the party. It is therefore unclear whom he favours, if anyone. Some believe Mnangagwa is his preferred choice. However, this assumption has been brought into question by the nomination of Mugabe's wife, Grace, 49, to the powerful position of secretary of the ZANU-PF Women's League in late July. Mugabe will be very keen to protect himself, his family and their business interests after his exit from power; the elevation of his wife to a powerful position seems to be the surest way to do that.

It is not clear that Grace Mugabe's first foray into frontline politics is an in initial step towards eventually taking over from her husband. Although his backing would be a major boost, she is not popular in the country and lacks his political acumen and revolutionary credentials; it is questionable how viable a candidate she would be. But it does introduce a new variable into the succession question, probably posing the biggest threat to Mujuru given that her rise to the vice presidency relied in no small part on support from the Women's League.

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