HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s recent declaration that he won’t groom a successor is yet another indication that he wants to be Zimbabwe’s leader for life, analysts said.
They said the nonagenarian — who turned 93 today — must groom a successor because “presidency is not chieftaincy” whereby the heir takes over only after the incumbent’s death.
Speaking during his traditional annual birthday interview Mugabe said his successor must be chosen by the people, a warning to feuding members of his Zanu PF party that he is still in charge after 36 years in power.
This comes after his wife, Grace, on Friday said that if he dies, his “corpse” will stand in next year’s presidential election.
“If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse,” she told supporters at a rally in Buhera, eastern Zimbabwe.
Mugabe also scoffed at a mooted coalition of opposition parties seeking to gang-up against him in the forthcoming election.
In the wide ranging interview with State broadcaster ZBC, he said: “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, beyond corruption, their leaders are knowledgeable, sure that’s grooming.”
However, analysts said the comments from the continent’s oldest leader escalate fears that the country could be riven by instability, if he dies without resolving the succession issue.
“Party presidency is not chieftaincy that should wait for incumbent’s demise for succession processes to start,” senior Africa researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said.
“Sound democratic practice the world over is that the party Constitution must clearly lay out succession procedures, preferably with term limits at the helm,” he said.
Professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, Stephen Chan, added: “I don’t think Mugabe will ever name a successor until the last possible moment. He was actually quite witty in his birthday interview, showing there is still some vivacity left in him.
“The succession speculation will continue. It’s become Harare’s favourite guessing game, and I think the president enjoys encouraging the game,” he said.
It is a “political tragedy” that “this partially-incapacitated president does not find it fit to groom a successor,” analyst Maxwell Saungweme said.
“His speech makes one even fear more the prospect of Zanu PF-induced civil strife once Mugabe is gone as strong men and women in Zanu PF fight to succeed him,” he said.
Joy Mabenge, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator, said it was disingenuous of Mugabe to suggest that he has no hand at all in grooming his successor.
“People can only groom a leader if the leader is given the space to prove themselves. But more importantly, the message in Mugabe’s statement is that he is the only person who can lead his party and the country, unless the undoable, that of the people grooming a successor, is done in his lifetime,” he said.
International Crisis Group senior consultant, Piers Pigou, said: “Mugabe’s statement may be interpreted by some as a push-back against Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential ambitions and that Mugabe has again hitched his wagon to the G40 agenda; namely, to extend his term in office as long as possible, and to stand in the next election in 2018, apparently from his wheelchair or even from his coffin, if Grace Mugabe’s recent utterances are to be taken seriously.
“Some may see this as a declaration of intent to die in office, although this option could generate significant unpredictability.
“His declaration shifts the onus onto Zanu PF’s factionalised machinery to distill some kind of succession process, either through an extraordinary congress or more unlikely, the next elective congress which will only be held in 2019, when he will be 95, almost 96 years old.
“But as with Zanu PF’s own Constitution, Mugabe’s statement is sufficiently ambiguous to enable more than one interpretation.”
This comes as fighting over leadership of a post-Mugabe Zanu PF has intensified.
Mugabe was chosen in 2014 to lead his party for another five years, automatically becoming the Zanu PF presidential candidate for Zimbabwe’s 2018 presidential vote.
He will be 99 if he wins and completes that term, his last under a new Constitution.
Mugabe told ZBC TV that he will resoundingly win the forthcoming poll.
“Zanu PF is ever-ready for elections . . . We have been in this game for a long time,” he said.
“We are not vanaZimFirst (Zimbabwe People First which is also known as ZPF). They are born in the morning, before sunset, it has become something else,” he said, referring the stunning public fall-out a fortnight ago of his former deputy Joice Mujuru’s opposition ZPF party, which saw her expelling erstwhile allies Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa, together with five other party heavyweights — on account of them being alleged Zanu PF agents and working to topple her from her interim position.
Mugabe said Mujuru’s party was doomed to fail.
“There is no opposition at all,” he said.
Mujuru has been working behind the scenes with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other smaller parties towards the formation of the planned grand opposition coalition, and remains confident of participating in the 2018 national polls.
The move anticipates another potential face-off between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, expected to be the main opposition challenger as he was in the presidential votes of 2013 and 2008.
But Mugabe said he was “not scared” of the alliance.
“My Grade One teacher used to say zero plus zero plus zero is zero. We are not afraid at all. Are there any prospects that the alliance will ever take off?” he asked rhetorically.
“If they want a coalition, if they believe that a coalition can save them; so why the dilly-dallying about it?
“But now . . . Mujuru apparently divorced, left in that situation which appears to be without anyone who matters, politically, Tsvangirai will say ahh, you are now only an individual. Ini ndine party kaini. (I have a party). And yes, he has a party. My party cannot have a coalition with an individual. You must join us as a junior partner.”
But MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mugabe was wrong.
“He (Mugabe) is having sleepless nights and the CIO counter-intelligence desk has been specifically-tasked to do everything it takes to scuttle the formation of an opposition alliance,” he claimed.
“However, this time . . . vanyangira yaona (They are preying on the alert). We are on top of the game and whether or not Mugabe likes it or not, a formidable opposition coalition is definitely on the cards,” Gutu said.
Mavhinga further said: “If an opposition coalition was a non-issue, why talk about it?
“Opposition forces should know that two things will be key for 2018 elections: a united front, and a strong push for electoral reforms to make the electoral field level to allow for genuinely free and fair elections in which Zimbabweans, including the Diaspora, can freely express their will about whom they want to govern them.”
Chan said Mugabe is comfortable about the lack of a genuine coalition.
“Mujuru brings no actual party to the coalition, only herself. But Tsvangirai would be wrong not to showcase her in some way,” he said.
Pigou said “most analysts agree the opposition only has a realistic chance of tackling Zanu PF in the current environment at the 2018 polls if they pull together. The ZPF break up suggests, this may have never been more than a mirage in the first place.
“Yet, the MDC-T and Tsvangirai emerge from this as the centrifugal force of opposition politics, so it is necessary for Mugabe to resuscitate a narrative of treachery and sellout against him and for anyone considering a political association with him. It is classic Mugabe; denigrate and divide.”