HARARE – There is gnashing of teeth among Zanu PF’s bigwigs hoping to succeed President Robert Mugabe, after the country’s long-ruling leader said pointedly that Zimbabweans did not feel that there was a worthy and acceptable candidate among them to take over from him.
Speaking in his choreographed annual interview with ZBC last week, ahead of his 93rd birthday tomorrow, Mugabe did not mince his words saying he would soldier on in power — notwithstanding his advanced age and declining health — and would only step down if Zanu PF asked him to do so.
The interview, excerpts of which were published in advance by government newspapers yesterday, will be flighted by the State broadcaster tonight and tomorrow evening.
Mugabe also used the interview to hit back at firebrand South African opposition leader Julius Malema, a former ally turned foe, who recently joined other prominent voices, asking the nonagenarian to step down.
“Do you listen to anything from Malema? Who is Malema? The call to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at central committee … I will step down.
“But then what do you see? It’s the opposite. They want me to stand for elections. They want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party.
“Of course, if I feel that I can’t 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 majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” Mugabe said.
“But the people, you know, would want to judge everyone else on the basis of president Mugabe as the criteria.
“But I have been at it for a longer period than anyone else and leaders will have to be, as it were, given time to develop and to have the ability to meet with the people and to be judged by the people.
“Silently, in the majority of cases, the people must see and be convinced that yes, so and so can be the successor.
“Others think, yaa, yaa, that they are this in the party, they are capable of succeeding the president. It’s not that easy,” he added as he rubbished his ambitious lieutenants.
Asked a follow-up question to afford him to drive the point home, regarding whether he was grooming a successor, Mugabe said emphatically that he would not do that.
“A successor is groomed by the people. Those around you can get the confidence of the people as they operate around you, and gain the confidence of the people, you see.
“When the people see that they trust their leaders, (that they are) beyond corruption, (that) their leaders (are) knowledgeable, sure that’s grooming,” he said.
Mugabe also said he was confident Zanu PF would win next year’s much-anticipated national elections as long as the ruling party — wracked by its deadly tribal, factional and succession wars — closed ranks.
“Zanu PF is ever-ready for elections. But we need to ensure unity, (that) we don’t have differences that can mar our participation in elections. We have been in this game for a long time.
“We are not vanaZim First. They are born in the morning and before sunset it has become something else … There is no opposition at all,” he said.
Mugabe also pooh-poohed the opposition’s planned grand alliance, saying it would be a coming together of weaklings.
“If they want a coalition, if they believe that a coalition can save them so why the dilly-dallying about it? But now Mai Mujuru is apparently divorced, left in that situation which appears to be without anyone who matters, politically.
“(Opposition leader Morgan) Tsvangirai will say ah, you are now only an individual. Ini ndine party kaini (I’ve a party and you don’t). And yes, he has a party.
“My party cannot have a coalition with an individual. Iwe kana uchida unojoina wouya pasi pangu (so, if you want to join me you will be a junior partner).
“She (Mujuru) might have to do that perhaps to save her political skin. But that will be the final blow to her political life,” he said.
On clergymen who have “prophesied” his pending death, Mugabe said he would not lose sleep over them.
“So-called prophets … why don’t you say prophets of doom? They are prophets of doom who prophesy what really are their wishes. They turn their wishes into prophesies, or dreams perhaps, but hardly any (prophecies).
“I would want to think they are just wishes that this man must go. This man must go, and so year in and year out it’s the same wish. And so they say prophesy.
“Why do you care about them? I don’t care about them anymore? We had even some pastors praying for my death and even a bishop in my church, wekuMatabeleland uya watakazo bata aine mudzimai, akazviregera (the one from Matabeleland whom we caught sleeping around, resulting in him mending his wayward ways).
“So you get these things in society … Ndakanzwa chimwe chichiti president ari kufa in October asi kana asingade kufa ngaataure (I heard one of them saying I will die in October and that if I don’t want to die I should say so). So there it is. I don’t pay them much attention,” Mugabe said.
State newspapers said yesterday that Mugabe also spoke about corruption and powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe’s dramatic entry into politics among other issues.
Zanu PF is deeply divided over Mugabe’s succession, with a faction of young party Turks going by the moniker Generation 40 (G40) rabidly opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding the nonagenarian, and squaring up against the VP’s allies, Team Lacoste.
Mugabe’s failure to name a successor has led to persistent suspicions that he wants to lead Zanu PF and Zimbabwe for life.
On Friday, while addressing a rally in Buhera North, his wife appeared to give fresh legs to the loud whispers within the ruling party that her husband wants to rule Zimbabwe for life — particularly as she also went on to tell the gathered crowd that if Mugabe were to die, Zimbabweans would vote for his corpse.
“You will hear people saying you want Mugabe to continue so that you will remain as the first lady.
“It’s unfair. Don’t expect me to tell him to retire when there are millions who voted for him.
“There can be miracles. If God decides that Mugabe should go and we put pictures of his corpse on the ballot paper, people will still vote for him and he will win the election,” Grace told Zanu PF supporters.
In May last year, Grace stunned thousands of Zanu PF supporters who had gathered in Harare for a solidarity rally with her husband when she said Mugabe would rule Zimbabwe from the grave.
“We want you to lead this country from your grave, while you lie at the National Heroes’ Acre,” she said.
Speaking during a rally at Murehwa Business Centre in 2015, the influential first lady also warned Zanu PF heavyweights that she was going to design a special wheelchair from which Mugabe would rule until he was 100 years old.
“We are going to create a special wheelchair for president Mugabe until he rules to 100 years because that is what we want.
“That is the people’s choice. We want a leader that respects us,” she said.
The Zanu PF youth league has also since formally moved a motion, at the ruling party’s annual conference which was held in Masvingo last December, for Mugabe to be declared life president.