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Political observers yesterday offered a slew of interpretations and conspiracy theories about the future of embattled Vice President Joice Mujuru, Zanu PF and Zimbabwe, following Thursday's brutal purging of her allies from positions of power within the ruling party.

Among her sympathisers who were dealt savage blows by President Robert Mugabe at a politburo meeting that was held in Harare was party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, who was suspended from the party for five years, and war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda who was summarily expelled from the party of liberation.

Alex Magaisa, a United Kingdom-based law professor, said it was clear that Thursday's politburo meeting was a well-orchestrated Mugabe version of "the night of the long knives".

"The idea was to clear the deck and remove all political opponents. This will preserve his position but also allow him to clear a path for his preferred successor, who in my opinion is someone beyond the ones that are often mentioned (Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa)," he said.

"Mugabe is a master of divide and rule politics. He has simply used one faction to defeat the other, just like he did in 2004 when he used the Mujuru faction to defeat Mnangagwa. Mugabe knows that if he names a successor, they will become restless. He prefers to keep them guessing," the former aide to Morgan Tsvangirai said.

"I think Mujuru's chances have now been reduced to very little, if any. By suspending and expelling these important figures he (Mugabe) is sending a warning signal to all others," Magaisa said.

Another political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said it was becoming increasingly clear that Mugabe wanted to be "life president" of the country.

"What more life, indeed, remains to a 90-year-old leader whose country has a life expectancy rate of less than 40 years? But the purging of Gumbo and other Mujuru allies has nothing to do with his life presidency. In fact the people Zanu PF is purging have never campaigned against Mugabe's stay in power," he said.

"The purges are being orchestrated by a faction that has an upper hand over Mugabe's decisions. A faction where his wife is a member, these purges are about this faction's takeover after Mugabe. It's not about Mugabe's life presidency which no one in Zanu PF apart from (Information minister) Jonathan Moyo has ever challenged," Saungweme said.

Dewa Mavhinga, chairperson of Crisis Coalition Zimbabwe, said it was unfortunate that in the context of general lawlessness and factional fights within Zanu PF, "the in-fashion things are votes of no confidence and suspensions as has happened to the Rugare Gumbo".

"This does have an impact on succession politics as it clears the path for Mugabe to become a life president, but this does not in any way end factionalism," he said.

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