HARARE – The succession issue has cost Zimbabwe a lot in the past few years within and without the ruling Zanu PF.
There is no denying the fact that President Robert Mugabe — at the helm of the country since independence from the British in 1980 — is now frail and in the twilight of his career.
Similarly, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change — following reports that party president Morgan Tsvangirai was again airlifted to South Africa — should be looking at finding an individual who could stand with the same clout as Tsvangirai, allowing the former trade union leader ample time to get back to full fitness.
While Mugabe is visibly tiring and has been blighted by frequent health challenges consistent with people of his age, his campaign train is well-oiled and is being fronted by his wife Grace and the party’s youth league, which organised well-attended presidential interface rallies in eight of the 10 provincial capitals of the country.
Looking for a powerful person to take care of business in the MDC is a reality that may definitely aid the opposition as well as the whole pro-democracy movement in the country because in his present condition, Tsvangirai may not be able to endure a taxing campaign.
For the former prime minister in a shaky government of national unity with Mugabe, it must not be viewed as an issue of stepping down but probably taking time to focus on his health while putting the party’s best foot forward in the current campaign for the 2018 elections.
Analysts canvassed by the Daily News to tackle this thorny succession issue in the labour-backed party — which is obviously behind schedule in its preparations for the much-anticipated 2018 elections — say there is no clear succession plan in the MDC and this will cause confusion ahead of the crucial polls.
United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean academic and lecturer of law at the University of Kent, who also served as an advisor of Tsvangirai during the unity government, Alex Magaisa said on his blog:
“Already, questions are being asked whether Tsvangirai can carry the burden of next year’s elections, given the burden of illness. There are those who argue that he can, while others have begun to express some doubt.
“Eddie Cross, a veteran opposition Member of Parliament who has been by Tsvangirai’s side for many years drew attention and controversy this week when he openly spoke about Tsvangirai’s predicament, opining that his family was worried that he might not be able to sustain the gruelling election campaign for next year’s polls.
“The foundation of Cross’ intervention is unclear. But he has been pilloried by his fellow comrades. It has done little to douse the fire that the comments sparked.
“What is more likely is that what Cross said publicly is being whispered behind closed doors. Politicians are by nature sly and devious. Some of those who are screaming publicly against Cross are the same who mumble in the dark, echoing his sentiments.
“All this is because, just like in Zanu PF, the subject of succession is taboo in the opposition. Those who raise it are quickly labelled sell-outs.
“Yet there is nothing imprudent about planning for the future or having contingency measures in an organisation. It gives a clear signal to the public that the organisation is prepared for the future.”
Magaisa also said Zimbabwean politics has generally discouraged any talk of succession, it being regarded unkindly as a plot against the leader, adding that “Indeed, if you want to besmirch another politician, the easiest way is to label him as someone who is challenging the leader. Everyone is scared of the label, hence they remain quiet, not because they do not harbour such thoughts, but because they fear the consequences.
“With three vice presidents, an arrangement Tsvangirai would have designed as a strategy of containment, the main opposition has its own factions that are in attrition, accentuated by the unfortunate circumstance of Tsvangirai’s current debility.
“In Zanu PF, the factions are looking at Mugabe’s old age as an opportunity. In the MDC, the factions are looking at Tsvangirai’s fragility as an opportunity. In both cases, it’s a recipe for toxic succession battles,” Magaisa concluded.
Political analyst Shakespear Hamauswa said: “In terms of charisma (Nelson) Chamisa would come first, but because of the nature of politics in Zimbabwe characterised by spite, envy and generally insistence on seniority, it is difficult for him to take over. The best solution for MDC succession is very simple, bring (Elias) Mudzuri to the centre then Chamisa and (Thokozani) Khupe will deputise him.
“Mudzuri brings in the much-needed Karanga factor, then Khupe’s concerns will be equally considered and those from Matabeleland. This option is the best because Mudzuri will respect Chamisa for having paved the way for him and Khupe will feel misled by those who thought Chamisa wanted the highest post.
“For Khupe, the issues standing on her way up are many: she recently displayed disloyalty to the struggle, then Zimbabwe does not seem to be ready for a female president, even though the MDC might not have a problem with that.
“Again, the current political dynamics within the MDC present Mudzuri as the father figure and someone who can stand in the midway between old politics and the much-awaited political reforms.”
Maxwell Saungweme said: “… the issue is the MDC — like Zanu PF — has many people who can and have potential to run that party and government far more than Tsvangirai in the MDC and Mugabe in Zanu PF. The current issues around succession in the MDC are not dissimilar to those in Zanu PF.
“It’s all about longevity by founding leader, poor governance of the party, lack of a clear succession plan, well-oiled system of patronage and personality cult-like politics and failure to run a party in a manner the party is bigger than the leader.”
Saungweme added: “Tsvangirai led the party for 18 years while Mugabe did for over 35. None of them groomed a successor. Both parties have very educated and experienced politicians and leaders who can run the parties well and efficiently but were sidelined by a system that makes the leader bigger than the party and everyone else.
“Khupe is a very educated, seasoned female politician who can run the party and government if our politics looked at substance not political hullabaloo certain names make.
“She is articulate, smart and experienced. Who would not want such an educated female president for our country if people looked at issues not tribe, gender, sex or ethnicity.
“You can’t compare her to Chamisa and Mudzuri who are political appointees. She is an elected VP whose potential and political clout was neutralised by Tsvangirai when he played a Mugabe and appointed Chamisa and Mudzuri on tribal lines. She is more educated than both Mudzuri and Chamisa too. She also represents two critical groups that have been marginalised in Zimbabwean politics — the Ndebeles and women. To me, the question of who should succeed Tsvangirai is a no-brainer. Khupe is there and is capable.”
“We need to redirect our politics and focus on issues and substance not political noise makers or those are eloquent on spewing hot air at rallies,” he added.
Just like in Zanu PF, where tribal considerations played a major role during the liberation struggle and beyond, the same connotations are also manifesting in the MDC — for long considered as the hope of crisis-weary Zimbabweans.
Perhaps — despite the hope that people have in a new dispensation led by the MDC — Zimbabweans must start at looking at life without the charismatic former trade union leader who is evidently indisposed currently.
For now, what is clear is that Tsvangirai’s continued indisposition will certainly rock the MDC campaign train and no doubt the MDC Alliance which has already nominated him as its presidential candidate to face the ageing Mugabe in the 2018 elections.