HARARE – It is now open war in President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF — after Zimbabwe’s long-ruling leader said pointedly at the weekend that there was not one person among all his ambitious lieutenants who was worthy of succeeding him.
Stung by this damning statement, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s angry allies came out guns blazing yesterday, warning the increasingly frail nonagenarian that he faced a big fight if he continued to thwart the Midlands godfather’s mooted presidential aspirations.
At the same time, analysts also suggested in interviews with the Daily News that Mugabe — by trashing his minions so soundly and so ruthlessly — could have unwittingly lifted the spirits of the country’s fractured opposition ahead of the make-or-break 2018 national elections.
Mnangagwa’s supporters also said yesterday that they would now openly campaign for him as Mugabe’s successor, as Zanu PF’s intensifying tribal, factional and succession wars reach a deadly climax.
All this came after Mugabe, who turns a very mature 93 today, said at the weekend — in his usual birthday interview with the ZBC — that there was no one in Zanu PF who had the support of the people and the right qualities to take over from him: a statement that was seen as slamming the door shut in the face of his longtime aide Mnangagwa, who until recently had been touted as a front runner to succeed the nonagenarian.
Among the vocal Mnangagwa supporters who spoke to the Daily News yesterday was expelled former Mashonaland Central youth chairperson Godfrey Tsenengamu who called for “a mega fightback” from the VP and his allies — saying it was time to bite the bullet and square up to Mugabe.
“It is time we go open about this succession thing because some of us have since identified our candidate and it’s none other than Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. If Mugabe doesn’t like him, that is up to him, but we are saying we now want him to lead now.
“To . . . Mnangagwa, Chikara, I am sorry you may say we have exposed you, but that is the game now Shumba (VP’s totem).
“We want you to take over from Gushungo and make sure that you take care of his family. So, we are going to hit the campaign trail for you as our presidential candidate next year,” Tsenengamu said.
“We are calling upon our mothers and fathers, the war veterans, to lead us in this. We have identified the successor and now like you did during the war, show us the way,” he added.
Tsenengamu also warned Zanu PF against making any attempt to expel Mnangagwa from the party, saying such a move would be “a monumental mistake”.
“Uyu haachadzingike uyu (This one cannot be sacked anymore). You can only talk to him and allow your wife and other members of the G40 to raise their fears so that he takes care of that.
“If you sack him from the party, you will be left only with the Zanu PF headquarters. We want that person (Mnangagwa) because he has been so loyal to you.
“He can guarantee your security instead of you leaving through elections after a defeat by the opposition, because we will sabotage you,” Tsenengamu said.
He also let rip at powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe for the controversial comments she made during her Buhera rally last Friday.
“You (Grace) are a hired spoiler and they (G40) know you are a rough swimmer, but I want to warn you Amai that you can fool around with all other people but touch not the successor (Mnangagwa) because it’s not about him as an individual, but the future of our children. So, you should know your limits.
“If you think you can sustain the game, then go on to your next rally. But one thing for sure is that Zanu PF will be no more, because this will be met with resistance,” he warned.
At her Friday rally, Grace gave 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,” she told the gathered Zanu PF supporters.
In May last year, Grace also 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.
And 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.
But the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), Victor Matemadanda, said yesterday that whatever plans the Mugabes had, these would be resisted vigorously.
“There are so many corpses out there and we would rather be ruled by the corpse of chairman (the late Herbert) Chitepo because he was among the people who shaped the war. Mugabe was not there,” the angry Matemadanda told the Daily News.
“Mugabe cannot tell us there is no successor. He should just retire because he has failed. He ran down this country to the extent that potholes are now fishponds and yet he thinks that he is the best thing that has ever happened to Zimbabwe.
“As war veterans, we have always said that Mugabe wants to create a dynastic rule and this is what Zimbabweans should fight against lawfully. Mugabe should not be allowed to have another term,” he added.
Political analysts also warned that Mugabe may have given the opposition a window of opportunity to profit from Zanu PF’s worsening succession wars.
“The fact that Mugabe has not seen it fit to groom or even appoint a successor is indicative of the poor regard with which he views his colleagues in Zanu PF.
“He has always viewed himself as largely peerless, and the recent comments come as no surprise given his record,” said analyst McDonald Lewanika, pointing to the “Bhora Musango” developments of 2008 when disaffected Zanu PF supporters had voted for the opposition.
Another analyst, Maxwell Saungweme predicted that Mugabe’s statement would adversely affect Zanu PF’s chances in 2018, as it had fuelled “more confusion and factional fights”.
“This will place the opposition at an advantage if the opposition capitalises on this and form a strong coalition under one candidate,” he said.