HARARE – The dog-eat-dog war between the two major Zanu PF factions angling to influence President Robert Mugabe’s hotly-contested succession is set to get nastier after the ruling party decided to cancel its annual conference in December and replace it with a special congress.
Insiders told the Daily News yesterday that the decision to cancel the conference, which was scheduled to be held in Gwanda this year, had escalated the deadly battle for the control of the party and its structures in the burning former liberation movement.
“There is gnashing of teeth in the party, particularly among senior officials linked to Team Lacoste, as fears abound that this special congress is targeting Ngwena’s (Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s) scalp.
“The fear of a new circus of long knives (after the disputed 2014 ‘elective congress’ which ousted former Vice President Joice Mujuru from office) is more so as the G40 is behind this move, and is also reviving its calls for an amendment of the party’s constitution to re-introduce a clause that compels the party to have a woman in the presidium,” a Zanu PF central committee member said.
The ruling party last held its congress in Harare three years ago, where it sacked Mujuru and several other senior officials over untested allegations of plotting to unseat Mugabe.
In the current intra-party ructions, the Lacoste group is backing Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, while the G40 bitterly opposes the Midlands godfather’s mooted higher ambitions.
The move to amend Zanu PF’s constitution to re-introduce a clause to have a woman in the party’s presidium was originally presented as a women’s league resolution at the annual conference that was held in Victoria Falls in December 2015.
Both insiders and political analysts agree that the move is “a transparent plot” to oust Mnangagwa, and possibly replace him with Grace.
Zanu PF resorted to the quota system in 2004 to accommodate Mujuru at the expense of Mnangagwa. However, the system was expediently abandoned in 2014 to allow him to succeed Mujuru.
In the meantime, the Daily News was also separately told by well-placed sources yesterday that the G40 may also be “refreshing” a contentious 2015 conference resolution by Mashonaland Central province seeking to amend the party’s constitution to facilitate the election of its vice presidents.
In terms of the ruling party’s constitution, an extra-ordinary congress may be convened whenever it is deemed necessary, at the instance of the members of the central committee or its president and first secretary.
Alternatively, it can be convened at the instance of resolutions of at least five provincial executive councils to that effect.
But unless there are constitutional amendments at the mooted congress, only Mugabe’s position will be contested. The rest of the party’s senior officials will be appointed by the current or new president.
Other sources said yesterday that serious canvassing has already started on the ground, in preparation for possible elections at the congress.
“With party cohesion disappearing, the various camps are now working feverishly and at cross purposes ahead of the meeting,” one of them said — adding that Team Lacoste was convinced that the special congress was “Mugabe’s way of dealing with Mnangagwa”, and as such, they were mobilising party structures to frustrate the efforts.
There were reports that the faction was confident that its three stronghold provinces of Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South could help carry the day — while the camp was also said to be targeting Manicaland, Harare and Bulawayo where the beleaguered VP also enjoys considerable sympathy.
But the faction appeared to have resigned to not getting the support of the three Mashonaland provinces, as well as Matabeleland North.
According to the pre-2014 arrangement, for one to become a vice president, he or she should be voted for by at least eight provinces.
The last time Mnangagwa participated in such an internal party poll, ahead of the 2004 congress, he had managed to get the required votes.
“The battle has been taken to the provinces. It is all pointing to a situation whereby VPs will have to be elected, and so it’s now an all-out war. There is nothing to lose anymore,” a party official linked to the Mnangagwa camp said.
Speculation is also rife in the party that Mugabe may resuscitate the national chairperson’s position, which he abolished in 2014 — ostensibly to accommodate either his powerful wife Grace or another G40 kingpin in the presidium.
Besides Grace, other names being touted as possible contenders for the presidium are those of Ignatius Chombo and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
Political analysts told the Daily News yesterday that the special congress could be the coming together of Mugabe’s “masterplan”.
“Those who sense they are on the verge of tipping over the other faction are demanding the congress as a platform to grab power and do away with Lacoste once and for all. How that plays out in real terms can only be left to conjecture, because I am sure Lacoste will also go to the congress well prepared.
“We must, however budget, for a surprise from Mugabe, especially if he calculates that his re-election project is threatened by an outright Lacoste decimation … as removing Mnangagwa might be a mammoth task,” political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said the special congress was Mugabe’s “tool” to keep the party’s factions fighting each other, while keeping his position safe.
“The special congress will only make the factions raise the tempo in trying to outdo each other, in the process leaving his (Mugabe’s) position safe, at least for now. The jostling will, however, continue unabated,” Masunungure said.
Zanu PF is currently divided in the middle, with the G40 faction involved in a life-and-death tussle with Mnangagwa’s backers, Team Lacoste.
Mugabe has consistently refused to name a successor, arguing that it is Zanu PF that must decide this issue through a congress when the time comes.
The party’s infighting took an ominous turn in August when Mnangagwa fell sick during an interface rally in Gwanda, which his backers said was a poison attack by his G40 enemies.
Mnangagwa was later airlifted to South Africa where he had emergency surgery. He subsequently issued a statement denying that his illness was caused by ice cream from the First Family’s Gushungo Dairies, although, he has consistently suggested that he was poisoned.
Recently, Mnangagwa again suggested to hordes of his supporters who had converged at Mupandawana Growth Point in Gutu, for the late Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa’s memorial service, that he was poisoned in the same way Mahofa was in 2015.