Recent remarks by President Robert Mugabe suggesting that none of his two deputies — Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko — are considered “by the people” as suitable candidates to succeed him have opened wide the cutthroat succession race, creating the real possibility of dark horses emerging to take the coveted prize.
Analysts who spoke to the Financial Gazette this week said President Mugabe’s comments had the effect of taking away a semblance of predictability that was beginning to develop in the race to decide who would take over the leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF party, and possibly the country as well, from the veteran leader.
During his traditional birthday interviews, President Mugabe dropped a bombshell when he revealed that his two Vice Presidents did not have the confidence of the people to take over from him.
“The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor, who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” he said.
He pointed out that his ZANU-PF party had just re-posited on him a fresh mandate to contest the 2018 presidential election in spite of his age which to him was a clear sign of the lack of confidence in his two deputies.
“The call to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at Central Committee. But then what do you see? It’s the opposite.
“They want me to stand for elections. Of course, if I feel that I cannot do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But, for now, I think I can’t say so…”
The remarks were seen as effectively slamming the door on Mnangagwa, who until the latest development was being touted as President Mugabe’s heir apparent as he was seen — and also behaved — as someone who was already having one hand on the trophy.
The fight to decide who will succeed President Mugabe has seen his party being divided along two clear factions, Generation 40 (G40) and Team Lacoste.
The latter, backed largely by war veterans, favours Mnangagwa to take over, while the former — comprising mostly women and the youths — wants the incumbent to rule for life.
Mnangagwa has publicly distanced himself from Team Lacoste and its members who claim to be speaking on his behalf.
And from this messy political infighting a dark horse may emerge to land the presidency.
The term dark horse — first used by Benjamin Disraeli in the novel, The Young Duke — comes from an unknown horse that won a race much to the chagrin of bookmakers who had not anticipated its victory.
This is a possibility that analysts says now exist in the race to succeed President Mugabe.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said President Mugabe’s comments defeat the purpose of him having deputies both at party and national levels because the idea of having them in the first place is to help him in the performance of his duties and to facilitate a smooth transfer of power.
Masunungure — who is also the director of the Mass Public Opinion Institute — said a dark horse scenario was only possible with the incumbent’s active involvement.
“It depends almost entirely on one of two likely scenarios. The scenarios are simply: (a) the succession during President Mugabe’s lifetime; and (b) the succession after (President) Mugabe,” he said.
“As I see it, the dark horse possibility is only applicable under scenario (a) and not scenario (b). The dark horse can only emerge through (President) Mugabe himself anointing his successor; that is choosing his successor during his lifetime. Further, he will then shepherd the transition of power from himself to the dark horse and market the latter to his party and nation. In addition, (President) Mugabe would need to live long enough thereafter to allow the dark horse to consolidate power around him/her. This means that if there are any dark horses lurking out there, they should pray that they are anointed while the President is still around and that the President lives long enough to do so.
“The second scenario — succession after (President) Mugabe — does not allow for a dark horse. This scenario only allows for hard politics based on hard power where those who possess or can muster the hard power resources will win State House. This scenario does not provide for anointment by the incumbent and therefore does not provide for a dark horse. The fundamental question then is, which scenario is most likely. That can only be answered by our maker,” said Masunungure.
Another analyst, Ibbo Mandaza, an academic, said it was clear from President Mugabe’s comments and the other developments that have taken place in the party since the beginning of the year that cold water has been poured on the Mnangagwa option.
“First it was the interview by Jonathan Moyo in a local weekly (in which Moyo, a fairly political lightweight in the party, made disparaging remarks about Mnangagwa’s suitability to succeed President Mugabe)… it was clear that he was not speaking without some backing. Then there was the (Buhera) rally by the First Lady. And then came the birthday interview which was followed by his (President’s) speech at his birthday,” Mandaza recalled.
He said the sum total of all these developments clearly showed that President Mugabe had someone in his mind, but he has so far managed to keep the identity of that person to himself.
Mandaza, however, pointed out that one of the dark horses that could emerge from this development was current Defence Minister, Sydney Sekeramayi — who turns 73 this month — a medical doctor and veteran of the liberation struggle who has not shown any public interest to contest in the fierce race.
The soft-spoken, physician who left Swedish medical school in the mid-70s and headed straight to join the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army forces in Mozambique, is seen as a loyalist of President Mugabe who has managed to keep himself clear of the factional fights in ZANU-PF.
A level-headed politician and none of the two factions hate him, although none of them can claim to love him.
A career Cabinet minister since 1980, Sekeramayi has presided over virtually most of the key ministries and he has the added advantage of being one of the few politicians less tainted by allegations of corruption.
There are also suggestions that President Mugabe could be seriously considering grooming his wife, Grace, to take over from him if he cannot get someone whom he can trust to continue safeguarding his legacy as well as to insure the security of his fairly young family.
Currently, the leader of the ZANU-PF Women’s League, has been holding whirlwind rallies across the country, rallies that many have viewed as possibly testing the waters before making up her mind on whether to sponsor someone or to get into the race herself.
With a solid women and youths backing behind her, she could emerge a serious contender for the throne if President Mugabe could give her the much-needed head start.
A number of politicians who have no liberation war credentials, among them Ignatius Chombo, David Parirenyatwa, son of the late nationalist, Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa, and Edna Madzongwe are also being mentioned in ZANU-PF corridors as capable of springing up surprises.
Chombo has risen the fastest in the ZANU-PF, and occupies position number four in the top echelons of the party, as secretary for administration.
Parirenyatwa is one of the few children of former liberation war stalwarts President Mugabe has accommodated in his Cabinet. He is seen providing the bridge between the future and the past.
The succession debate has been raging on for several decades now.
In 1994, the late University of Zimbabwe lecturer, John Makumbe pointed out that there was no sign of President Mugabe handing over power in the near future as he was exploiting the internal fissures existing in ZANU-PF — fissures that he would do nothing to heal because they only served to benefit him by creating a case for him not to leave the helm of party for fear that it could disintegrate.
At the time Makumbe pointed out that while under normal circumstances, successors could easily be picked from the ZANU-PF Politburo, it was almost impossible because some of its members were “either blunderers, dictatorial, had weak democratic principles, come from wrong regions or ethnic groups, or do not just have the stature like (President) Mugabe”.
“It is unsettling for the electorate not to know to some extent what the future is likely to be politically. Grooming a successor motivates citizens to support the government or ruing party as they will be able to visualise a stable future,” Makumbe said then.
A good 23 three years later, Makumbe’s prediction has come to pass, as the puzzle about President Mugabe’s successor is still to be solved.
However, unlike in 1994 when Makumbe made his predictions President Mugabe—who turned 93 last month — no longer has age on his side, thereby putting urgency into the matter. Financial Gazette