THE past few months have seen President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party turn into a political theatre as simmering faction fights boil over ahead of its elective congress in December

Internal squabbles are not new in the party of liberation but they have failed to fatally harm Zanu PF because its leader has traditionally maintained a strong grip that has kept power hounds chained.

Lately however, and in typical "who-let-the-dogs-out" form, Mugabe has been running all over the place, hardly sure which dog to catch first.

The veteran leader has been reduced to watching the rot take root and hurling public rants which he cannot match with action – he sat up until 0400 hours watching Zanu PF's youth elections being rigged and duly raged but failed to void the votes.

Once a tough leader, who would not brook any nonsense in a party he has firmly controlled for nearly four decades, Mugabe now watches aghast and helpless as the rival factions square off under his nose as they seek to position themselves for his job.

Harare based political analyst Charles Mangongera says Mugabe, at 90, has seen his grip loosen in his party.

"I think he is still in control, but obviously, he is losing grip on his party," says Mangongera.
"The party has always had factionalism and major disagreements but over the years, Mugabe has been able to keep these under the radar and make sure they don't spill out into the public domain."

He adds: "But because of his advanced age, his grip on the party is loosening, hence these fights are now coming out into the public domain and disagreements in his party are dominating the political market particularly in the media."

Mugabe has ranted madly at his information minister, Jonathan Moyo for allegedly fuelling the Zanu PF infighting through state media attacks on perceived rivals, going to the extent of describing him as a "weevil", the most scathing description of a senior public official he probably has made in years.

When all thought Moyo would be jobless the next day, Mugabe went quiet and there are no prices for guessing that case has since been dealt the proverbial natural death; the 'weevil' kept his job in government and seat in Zanu PF's politburo.

Earlier during the year, Mugabe made another savage attack on former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairman, Godwills Masimirembwa for allegedly demanding a six million bribe from Ghanaian businessmen who eyed a diamond mining venture in Zimbabwe.

Masimirembwa was never arrested as Mugabe had demanded and it was the president who, later, effectively apologised.

Mangongera says Mugabe's verbal spurts have all to do with old age.

"What has exposed him lately is the open infighting within his party where he has virtually turned spectator as his lieutenants rigged the youth league polls in the most brazen manner," he said.

Political analyst and author, Ibbo Mandaza says Mugabe has lost grip of the party but is trying to pretend he is still in charge.

"What he can do best for now is to appear to be in control. He has accepted the major trend in the party that the outcomes of the women's and youth leagues last month are largely the expressions of the power balance within his party and there is little he can do but to go along with it. When you go back to the provincial elections, you realise that there is a definitive tendency towards the inevitable succession whether he accepts it or not but clearly we are in the last stages of the transition from him to the next leadership and surely that is a fact," said Mandaza.

Takura Zhangazha, another Harare based political analyst, says Mugabe was feigning helplessness in his party while playing politics.

"I think Mugabe is still firmly in charge and he is playing one faction against another to get what he wants. In the end, l think it's really about ability to manipulate either faction to eventually get what he perceives to be in the best interest both for his interest and for his own political interests," he says.

Addressing the Zanu PF youth conference last month, Mugabe was amazed his party did not have a penny to its name, asking party administrators where membership subscriptions were going. This, it is said, gave strong suggestions he was being misled by his lieutenants.

"Mugabe has rarely been misled about his own party. He presides over such an autocratic system in Zanu PF that whatever happens in his party nothing can happen without his knowledge or without his approval," Zhangazha said.

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