PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is moving with speed to avoid a split of his troubled party by keeping his outgoing number two, Joice Mujuru, in the Politburo as strategists behind her catastrophic demise work out ways to push Zimbabwe’s first female Vice President from government.
Vice President Mujuru’s star has come crushing down in the past two months. From being the country’s second citizen, Mujuru has been reduced to a bystander — unable to play any role in the organisation of the party’s congress, let alone participate at the five-day event held only once in every five years.
Not only has she resigned to the fate of being downgraded to an ordinary card-carrying member of ZANU-PF after she was blocked from seeking a Central Committee seat, but she also has allegations of high-treason hanging over her head for allegedly plotting to topple her boss in cahoots with some of her perceived allies.
It is the first time in the history of an independent Zimbabwe that a serving vice president has been muscled out of office. The other vice presidents that served Zimbabwe at various intervals departed from their positions through death. They include Joshua Nkomo (1987-1999), Simon Muzenda (1987-2003), Joseph Msika (1999-2009) and John Nkomo (2009-2013).
The two months leading to the on-going congress have been nightmarish for the outgoing Vice President. Influential figures linked to the widowed Vice President were either stampeded from their positions, blocked from seeking Central Committee nominations or severely weakened. Other casualties of the purge which started immediately after President Mugabe’s wife, Grace had concluded her tour of the provinces, includes Didymus Mutasa (secretary for administration), Rugare Gumbo (secretary for information and publicity) and Nicholas Goche (secretary for transport).
Facing an uncertain future is Simon Khaya-Moyo (national chairman) and Sydney Sekeramayi (secretary for national security). While a split of the party had looked inevitable when the purge started, ZANU-PF insiders said there was a backup plan to stop that from happening. They said President Mugabe was unlikely to condemn Mujuru and a few of her top allies into the political dustbin but keep them on a leash to avert an implosion.
Mujuru is likely to be demoted to a lesser role in the party’s supreme decision-making body, the Politburo, and so is Mutasa who, along with Goche, will miss the congress due to ill-health. Goche will be among those who should brace for life in the political wilderness until the next congress in 2019. Gumbo has already been expelled from the party.
“Mujuru and Mutasa will continue to hang in there albeit in lesser important roles so that the party can continue to keep an eagle eye on them,” said a ZANU-PF insider.
“Throwing them out in the cold will cause them to start thinking seriously about finding an alternative political home, which we cannot afford as we head towards the 2018 elections,” he added.
In 2004, Mnangagwa, just like Mujuru, came closer to landing the Vice Presidency after mobilising support in eight of the country’s 10 provinces. But his plan was ruthlessly crushed by President Mugabe, who elevated Mujuru from obscurity, leaving the Justice Minister to fight another day. Mnangagwa had to be demoted from being the party’s secretary for administration to legal secretary — a position six levels down the ranks.
Even before the new-look ZANU-PF top brass has been announced, think-tanks within the Justice Minister’s camp are already exploring legal options to enable the party to recall Mujuru from government. It is being said that the party could take advantage of its two-thirds majority in Parliament to amend the national Constitution in order to re-align it with that of ZANU-PF.
Amendments to the party’s constitution were approved by ZANU-PF’s Politburo last week before being ratified by the Central Committee. Whereas the amended ZANU-PF constitution states that the second and third secretaries of the party are to be directly appointed by the President, the national charter says something else.
Section 92 (5) of the constitution reads: “the election of the President and Vice Presidents must take place concurrently with every general election of Members of Parliament, provincial councils and local authorities.”
Analysts have said the amendments have rendered the congress a mere formality since it is now devoid of the competition that usually precedes such events. A congress is usually about rejuvenating the party by allowing the organisation’s membership to choose their preferred leaders.
To a greater extent, ZANU-PF has all but usurped the power of the generality of its membership, by denying them the right to choose their leaders. In terms of the new amendments, it is no longer a requirement that one of ZANU-PF’s two vice presidents be a woman. The party president now has the sole prerogative to appoint anyone he so wishes to deputise him. Similarly, he now appoints all Politburo members, who now serve at his pleasure.
What had been hoped to be the most exciting congress in the history has therefore been turned into a damp squib as the event now exist to give legitimacy to a new order. “What we are witnessing is a situation whereby for the first time, party leaders who used to come from the people are coming from just one man in a case of extreme guided democracy,” said political analyst, Alexander Rusero.
“This is not just a constitutional amendment; it is best described as a constitutional abrogation whereby you twist the constitution whenever it does not suit your current aspirations,” he added.