HARARE,- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife once said the 93-year-old leader should run “as a corpse” in the 2018 elections if he dies before the vote. Now politically ambitious Grace Mugabe is positioning herself as a possible successor, saying one of the ruling party’s two vice presidents should be a woman.
Grace Mugabe’s remarks on Thursday inject extra intrigue into a succession debate that has featured fighting within the ruling ZANU-PF party and a widespread sense of uncertainty in a country with debilitating economic problems.
State broadcaster ZBC quotes Grace Mugabe as saying the ruling party should restore a rule stating that one of its two vice presidents, currently both men, should be a woman.
The president has traditionally picked his party vice presidents for the same positions in the government.
Meanwhile Mugabe yesterday unexpectedly attacked the military fiercely in public amid delicate brinkmanship with the army over internal power struggles, warning them against succession manoeuvres which could amount to a coup in remarks bound to trigger a seismic shift on the issue.
Mugabe told the military to remain in the barracks, while speaking at the Zanu PF Women’s League national assembly meeting at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare. He said in Zanu PF “politics leads the gun; not the other way round”.
Mugabe also said he would not allow commanders to go around boasting and pretending to be kingmakers even if they can express their views within the limits of the constitution and the law.
This came as his wife First Lady Grace publicly demanded for the first time that Mugabe must name his successor, while also pushing for a female vice-president in line with the 2015 Zanu PF annual conference resolution in Victoria Falls.
“The military yese (whole of it) has no right, you know, to be interfering with the political processes; theirs is to support. They can give their own views within the constitution and according to also the principle that politics shall always lead the gun and not the gun politics,” Mugabe said.
“Iyo inenge yava coup iyoyo (that will be a coup). Hino chiona zvimwe zviri kuitika zvichibva ikoko kuvakuru varikoko kuti ah president ngavachibva (Now see what is coming from some of the senior army personnel, they are saying the president should go). Vachibva kuchipinda ani? Ndiani akatarirwa kuti ndiye anosungirwa kupinda? (Leave to accommodate who? Who has been identified to take over?). It’s disgraceful for anyone to say ‘I am the one now, President must go’. Kungozvirova dundundu kuti (Someone is being boastful saying) yes, I am the one now; aiwa hatidi, hatidi, hatidi (No, we can’t, we can’t, we can’t!).”
Mugabe first warned security service chiefs against interfering in Zanu PF succession politics at the Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls in 2015.
Yesterday he raised the intensity of his attacks on military meddling in politics with direct assaults against top commanders, particularly Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, widely seen as the pillar of strength behind Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s faction and the kingmaker.
As the Zimbabwe Independent previously reported, there have been serious considerations since last year of retiring Chiwenga. Informed officials say the plan to get rid of Chiwenga is still on the table.
Mugabe yesterday also made it clear that war veterans supporting Mnangagwa, led by the militant and vocal Chris Mutsvangwa, were proxies of the military.
“Ko ma-manoeuvres aya anozoitwa nerweseri (there are manoeuvres happening behind our backs) and organisations twese twumwe even of young people vatakanga tinavo kuhondo kuti aswere kuti tsoropodza muma-paper (There are junior people to us whom we were with during the liberation struggle who are attacking us in the newspapers). It’s not vanana Mustvangwa (it’s not Mutsvangwa) per se. They are not alone they are being sent by those at the top,” Mugabe said.
Mugabe spoke as the succession war reached a climax. Two factions in Zanu PF, the G40 group which has coalesced around Grace, but is rallying behind Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi to succeed Mugabe, and the Mnangagwa camp, are locked in mortal combat over succession.
Mugabe also indicated there might soon be some decisive interventions in Zanu PF’s internal strife to change the structure of its presidium, saying the party could not afford to ignore the Women’s League’s recommendations. He made the revelation after Grace challenged him to name his successor, while also ensuring that a woman is appointed to the presidium.
“We came here to listen and we have been good listeners. We have heard your complaints and recommendations. We hope you will write to the politburo and allow this to be discussed at central committee level. As a party we cannot afford to ignore your recommendations. We are sorry if the Women’s League is offended (by the delay),” Mugabe said.
“I also have two suggestions that I would want you to consider. My suggestion is that we leave things as they are at the top and consider the idea of three vice-presidents to add a woman to the two. The other would be to revert to the original position and amend the constitution, then go to congress. I want you to think about that.”
Grace urged Mugabe to be bold and to decisively resolve his succession question, while also revealing she has been quarrelling with the president over the issue as recently first reported by the Independent recently.
“I have told people that there will be no succession without Mugabe. I have argued with him (Mugabe) and told him that he has a right not only to participate in the succession process, but a right to anoint his chosen successor. His word is final and mark my words, its coming,” she said to whistles and ululation from a section of the crowd.
Women’s League secretary for administration Letina Undenge then led the group in singing Uri Musoja Usatye (you are a soldier, don’t be afraid) apparently urging Mugabe to bite the bullet and make the announcement.
“In some countries, leaders choose their successors, (the late South African president Nelson) Mandela anointed (another former South African leader Thabo) Mbeki. Tell us who you want to lead us and we will campaign for that person. We just want your word and it’s done. You must not be scared,” Grace said.
Grace told the women to desist from factionalism and stick to the party principle of one centre of power. She called for the amendment of Article 7.1.b of the Zanu PF constitution to reinstate the provision that states that one of the two vice-presidents and second secretary must be a woman.
According to the 1987 Unity Accord, one of the vice-presidents is supposed to be from the Zapu and the other must be from Zanu. Mphoko is representing Zapu, meaning a woman vice-president could be earmarked to take Mnangagwa’s place, unless Mugabe chooses to appoint three deputies.
Mugabe and Grace’s remarks are likely to trigger a seismic shift on the succession dynamics as it becomes increasingly clear there is a process underway behind the scenes to resolve the issue.
It is understood Mugabe is actively considering not standing for re-election next year unless he is fit by that time and is now helping Sekeramayi to become his successor.
Sekeramayi, speaking at a Zanu PF Harare inter-district meeting in Mbare last weekend, expressed strong support for Mugabe saying the president was there to stay and would represent Zanu PF in the next elections. He also took a swipe at those endorsing themselves as Mugabe’s successors in what was widely seen as an attack on Mnangagwa.
In June, Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, a G40 pot stirrer, threw a cat among pigeons when he said Sekeramayi was a better candidate to succeed Mugabe than Mnangagwa.
A day after Moyo endorsed Sekeramayi, Mugabe stunned senior Zanu PF officials in a private briefing before addressing thousands of supporters at a rally in Marondera when he tacitly endorsed Sekeramayi, saying “when the sun sets, it shall rise from Mashonaland East; do you hear me?” The defence minister hails from that province.
However, the Mnangagwa faction has vowed to continue to resist and fight back.
Grace last year in February at a rally in Chiweshe attacked the army and created serious tensions between the military, Mugabe and Mnangagwa faction. At that time Mugabe was forced to call an emergency meeting with his deputies to contain the situation.
“It looks like the die is cast on succession, but then again we will see more twists and turns, meaning it’s not yet over until it’s over,” one senior Zanu PF official said yesterday.