Sorry - there is no vacancy

The death on 4 August of Joseph Msika, one of Zimbabwe's two vice-presidents, has sparked media frenzy on the succession issue within the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Focus is not so much on who will replace Msika but on how this will impact on the top job- that of the president of ZANU-PF and Zimbabwe, currently occupied by Robert Mugabe who has been in power for 29 years.

Analysts say there is no contest for both jobs. There is no vacancy for the top job. Robert Mugabe is there to stay and is likely to be re-elected at this year's congress in December. The replacement for Msika is obvious. Party chairman John Nkomo who already sits in the presidency has no challenger.

Analysts who have both political and military knowledge of ZANU-PF say Nkomo's chances are 100 percent because of three main reasons.

  • · ZANU-PF is a stickler for tradition. The post is usually occupied by the most senior party member and right now Nkomo is the man. He is not the most senior person in the former Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). That honour belongs to Welshman Mabhena who was number three as the party's general secretary just before the merger. Only party president Joshua Nkomo and his deputy Joseph Msika were above him.

Naison Ndlovu currently deputy president of the Senate was the party national chairman and was ranked number six. John Nkomo was number eight as secretary for Information and Publicity. Mabhena is no longer in government and has lost favour with Mugabe. Ndlovu has played a low profile throughout and has not displayed any presidential ambitions.

A military strategist said Nkomo was the obvious choice because the party was no longer looking at what position one occupied in ZAPU but the position one occupies in the united ZANU-PF.

  • Another key factor is that the party constitution adopted after the unity accord of 1987 stipulates that one of the vice-presidents has to be from ZAPU. The two parties have to share the top five positions, three-two.

This is another ace up Nkomo's sleeve. Arguments that he is not likely to make it because of poor health are just wishful thinking "because that does not count in African politics", an analyst said.

If Nkomo is elevated to deputy president, the national chairman has to come from the former ZAPU and not from ZANU-PF. This is perhaps where the fight could be because there are many contenders including Simon Khaya Moyo (Zimbabwe's ambassador to South Africa), Obert Mpofu (Mines Minister), Sikhanyiso Ndlovu (currently out of government but a member of the politburo) and even people like Kembo Mohadi (co-Minister of Home Affairs).

  • Nkomo is facing no serious challenger. The only person from the former ZAPU who had shown "hunger" for power was Dumiso Dabengwa. He had the political clout and was a member of the politburo.

Dabengwa had catapulted himself from number 38 in the former ZAPU to number three after Msika and John Nkomo, but at times he even overshadowed Nkomo. But he wrote himself out of contention by leaving the coalition and joining first Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn with Simba Makoni and later reviving ZAPU and announcing that the unity agreement was over.

Analysts said the death of Msika and the elevation of Nkomo would have no impact at all on who would succeed Mugabe. "Mugabe is there to stay because there is no vacancy," one of the analysts said. "This is already being demonstrated by the provinces which have all so far endorsed Mugabe as the only candidate".

The analysts argued that though provinces were led by political lightweights, their decisions carried a lot of weight because each province was effectively led by a politburo member.

Vice-President Joyce Mujuru is in charge of Mashonaland Central, her husband Solomon of Mashonaland East with Didymus Mutasa ruling the roost in Manicaland, Nathan Shamuyarira in Mashonaland West, David Karimanzira in Harare, Emmerson Mnangagwa in the Midlands, Stan Mudenge in Masvingo and John Nkomo in Matebeleland.

"What the party is aiming for is stability," the military strategist said. "They want to demonstrate that the party is still stable despite losing to the Movement for Democratic Change last year. Yes, there are factions within the party, but these only demonstrate vibrancy within the party not that it is disintegrating as some people claim."

Political scientist and strong supporter of the MDC, John Makumbe, concurred. "Those who are saying ZANU-PF is disintegrating are daydreaming. Nothing can be further from the truth," he said.

There are three main factions within ZANU-PF, one loyal to general Mujuru, the other to Mnangagwa, and a third still solidly behind Mugabe, but the analysts said right now everyone is rallying behind Mugabe because they have a bigger fight with the opposition than among themselves.

"Traditionally, members of ZANU-PF close ranks when they feel that they are under siege. That is the position right now," the military strategist said.

"Their endorsement of Mugabe is a wise tactical and strategic position. Their priority is to mobilise people for the next election. Forget that they were defeated last year. Forget the political bickering. That will only arise when they are in power again. Everyone is convinced that there is no life outside ZANU-PF."

One of the analysts said it was critical to understand how ZANU-PF works before one looked at the succession issue because, despite the fights within the party, people only differed on personalities and not on policies.

"Everyone knows at the moment that there is no vacancy at the top. It is only being created by outsiders who have their own agendas.

"The leadership of ZANU-PF is open ended. It is based on the British system that you remain in power for as long as you enjoy the support and confidence of the majority. The question of how long you have been in power does not therefore arise. It is only raised by outsiders and for their own personal reasons," the analyst said.

ZANU-PF just seems to be waiting. Officials of the MDC admit that while they are bickering, ZANU-PF is busy campaigning.

It could easily regain its political majority through the by-elections that have been created through deaths of Members of Parliament, suspensions and court convictions.

The MDC has already complained that its MPs are being harassed to create vacancies. Three from MDC-T have already been convicted. A dozen are facing various charges. One MP, Raphael Dube of Emakhandeni in Bulawayo, died recently.

The Global Political Agreement signed by the three parties in September last year had guaranteed that any vacancies that arise would not be contested for the next 12 months. That provision falls away on September 15. After that it's fair game and that is what ZANU-PF seems to have been waiting for.

Chaos in the Arthur Mutambara faction of the MDC has not helped either. The party has suspended three MPS. Adding these to the vacancies that might occur if the MDC-T legislators facing charges are convicted, there could be as many as 20 by-elections. If ZANU-PF wins all it could end up with 119 or 120 seats, giving it a comfortable majority, not enough to go it alone but enough to carry weight.

But contrary to widespread reports that the party will resort to violence to win votes, it might have a smoother campaign than the 2008 Parliament one. The party has always performed better in by-elections as it can concentrate all its efforts on one seat unlike national elections where it has to spread its resources.

The party is not likely to scuttle the unity agreement either. The main reason why it lost in 2008 - the economic collapse of the country- has not yet been addressed. It needs Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC to achieve this. What it could do, however, is to prolong the life of the inclusive government to let the dust settle, get the economy back on its feet and allow the people to forget its violent past. They do. Easily!

ZANU-PF Chivi legislator, Paul Mangwana, who co-chairs Parliament's Constitutional Select Committee, has already indicated that legislators, some of whom went back to the polls after only three years, now want to serve their full five-year term. That could buy ZANU-PF some time.

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