By Gift Phiri
Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi’s political stock is rising amid indications that neutrals in the do-or-die Zanu PF war to succeed President Robert Mugabe are pushing for his elevation to occupy the top office in the event that the incumbent retires or gets incapacitated.
This comes as influential First Lady Grace Mugabe has stunningly challenged her long-ruling husband, aged 93, to name his preferred successor without delay, amid escalating factional fights centred on the unresolved succession issue.
Impeccable Zanu PF insiders told the Daily News this week that the contestation for power has reached its zenith so much that Mugabe is about to give in to demands that he anoints his successor before the party’s December conference so that the ruling party could go for make-or-break elections next year as a united force.
If Mugabe’s recent remarks are anything to go by, his instincts seem to be radiating farther from Zanu PF bigwigs long touted to be the frontrunners in the succession race on account of their attempts to rope in the military to settle the succession debate, without involving its commander-in-chief, who happens to be Mugabe himself.
The Zanu PF insiders said while the race remains wide open, it was quite clear that the Swedish-trained medical doctor — Sekeramayi — could be surging ahead at the moment unless something dramatic happens.
The Defence minister has the distinction of being the only remaining Cabinet minister ever-present since Zanu PF came to power in 1980, having presided over some of the most key ministries in Mugabe’s successive governments — including being Defence minister and State Security minister three times each in the two portfolios.
He has never been demoted.
He has the added advantage of being one of the few politicians less tainted by allegations of corruption and has never lost an election since 1980, when Mugabe’s party swept into power after a brutal liberation war.
Mugabe has consistently said that it was up to the party, and not him, to name his successor. Nonetheless, pressure has been brought to bear on him to anoint a successor, with his wife adding her voice to the calls.
In potentially revealing recent remarks, Mugabe rubbished claims by some within the Team Lacoste faction, which is campaigning for Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed him that it was now time for Karangas to also “eat”, as Zezurus had dominated the State since 1980.
Mnangagwa is of the Karanga tribe, while Mugabe belongs to the Zezuru tribe, which provided the bulk of the fighting forces and military leaders who fought the successful 1972-1980 Chimurenga war that secured independence and black majority rule.
Mugabe’s remarks at a rally in Marondera came after Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo publicly criticised Mnangagwa’s alleged presidential aspirations at a lecture in Harare, where he also made a not-so-subtle announcement of Sekeramayi as a serious contender for the presidency.
Moyo effusively played up Sekeramayi’s “consensus-style of leadership, political experience, unquestionable stature and his humility” that he contrasted with Mnangagwa’s alleged “arrogance” and “sense of entitlement”.
And speaking in his annual interview with the ZBCTV in February, ahead of his 93rd birthday, Mugabe also appeared to rule out the chances of Mnangagwa succeeding him when he said he would soldier on in power — notwithstanding his advanced age and declining health.
“The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor who to them is acceptable . . . as acceptable as I am,” Mugabe said.
On Thursday, Mugabe — an intellectual with several degrees who allegedly did not do any fighting – insisted that the “gun cannot lead the politics”.
Political scientist Eldred Masunungure told the Daily News: “Well, he (Sekeramayi) has always been a hidden dark horse, suspected for a long time in uninformed circles to be the president’s blue-eyed boy. It’s feasible that he is surging ahead; he has always had a close relationship with the president, not as public as the other contenders, he has been in the shadows.
“He is coming out of the shadows, out of his shell, projecting himself as the most likely candidate. I would buy the story of him being leading candidate in Mugabe’s eyes.”
Masunugure said Mugabe will have to be around to anoint Sekeramayi.
“He will have to be around long enough, beyond 2018. Sekeramayi’s chances are brighter than any of the contending candidates. He is definitely a leading candidate, look at his demeanour, he has liberation credentials, he is electable, he has won in his home province.
“Well, his strength does not lie in his electability, he is very close to the president, he is the president’s confidante, he is not a megaphone, he is media-shy. He has what it takes for Mugabe to anoint him, but there are so many factors at play, so many variables,” Masunugure said.
But some critics have sledged Sekeramayi as “not assertive enough to lead”, while others say just like Mnangagwa he is also tainted by the role he played in his capacity as Defence minister at the time, when the Gukurahundi massacres took place mainly in Matabeleland and Midlands between 1983 and 1987.
United Kingdom-based legal expert Alex Magaisa recently expounded on this fact in an opinion piece on his blog.
“The pair (Sekeramayi and Mnangagwa) were Mugabe’s reliable water carriers during the early 1980s, probably the dirtiest period on account of Gukurahundi.
“It is therefore hard for most people in Matabeleland, to reconcile the man described by Moyo and the man who performed a key role during this dark patch of Zimbabwe’s history.
“If one of Mnangagwa’s darkest spots in his long political career is his alleged role in Gukurahundi, it is hard to see how the other half of the pair, Sekeramayi, can escape the same charge,” Magaisa said.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, noted the “endless speculation” about Mugabe’s succession yesterday.
“Sekeramayi is 73, only one year younger than Mnangagwa. Either way, Zimbabwe would not be blessed by youthful leadership. In this sense, both men would be transitional presidents as few live as long as Mr Mugabe,” Chan told the Daily News.
Zanu PF has for the past two decades been deeply divided over Mugabe’s succession. Recently, a faction led by the party’s young Turks, Generation 40, has been locked in a life-and-death tussle with Mnangagwa’s backers, Team Lacoste over the succession riddle.
Many observers and Zanu PF insiders have consistently said Mugabe’s failure to groom and name a successor was fuelling the ugly fights in the ruling party.
But Mugabe has so far refused to name his successor, arguing that the Zanu PF constitution does not allow him as it leaves that role to the party to decide who succeeds him, via a congress.
Meanwhile, disgruntled war veterans have repeatedly said Mnangagwa should take over from Mugabe when he leaves office, and at one time warned ominously that blood could be shed if the Midlands godfather does not succeed the veteran leader.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa share a close relationship that dates back to the days of the liberation struggle when the latter was the former’s aide.
Mugabe first met Mnangagwa ,74, when he was working as a teacher in Mapanzure, a remote rural village in Zvishavane from where his deputy hails.
Earlier this year, when there was frenzied speculation within Zanu PF that Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations were dead in the water, after Mugabe’s birthday interview with the ZBC in which he said there was no one fit to succeed him, former ruling party spokesperson and Cabinet minister, Rugare Gumbo, said the Midlands godfather could not be written off.
Gumbo — who worked with both Mugabe and Mnangagwa for many decades, before and after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — also said it was “folly” to assume that Mugabe had shut the door on his deputy succeeding him.
He also said it could not be ruled out that Mnangagwa himself was “playing a game of hide-and-seek” with the nonagenarian, adding that the two men had a strong bond and long-standing relationship which was “only fully understood by them”.
“Mugabe has always been a slippery character because of all things he always wanted power the most. While many other liberation movements had a succession plan, Mugabe long decided against coming up with one.
“Still, I wouldn’t say Mnangagwa has been blocked out. However, what I know is that Mugabe and Mnangagwa vakateyanirana mariva (the have set traps for each other). They are playing each other and only time will tell who will win,” he said.
In December, a respected British magazine, New Statesman, portrayed Mnangagwa as a firm favourite to succeed Mugabe.
It also argued that a Mnangagwa presidency could extricate the country from its current economic rot — going on to highlight his profile rather glowingly.
“He (Mnangagwa) is sharp, organised and business-savvy, more pragmatic and less ideological than Mugabe. And, unlike the president (Mugabe), he understands the urgent need for reform, if only so that he can pay the security forces and fill the trough at which his Zanu PF comrades guzzle,” the New Statesman said.
Former Cabinet minister David Coltart also told the same magazine that Mnangagwa had a better understanding of the economy than most of his Zanu PF colleagues, including Mugabe.
“For all his historical problems he (Mnangagwa) understands the running of the economy better than Mugabe, better than most Zanu PF politicians,” he was quoted saying. Daily News