Who's who in the battle for Zanu PF leadership


Emmerson Mnangagwa

HARARE: Ahead of the official opening of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF conference on Friday, President Robert Mugabe has admitted that jostling for positions "threatens to split the party".

It's a key admission: Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba recently denied there were factions within the party. 

There have also been threats to media houses daring to report on the bitter infighting within Zanu-PF.

So who exactly are the "ambitious ones" Mugabe said were angling for positions ahead of the next elections, which are still officially a good two years away?

Here is a run-down of some of the important individuals and groupings within Zimbabwe's ruling party:

- Mugabe turns 92 in two months' time and has been at the helm of Zimbabwe for the last 35 years. He will reportedly be confirmed as Zanu-PF's 2018 presidential candidate at this conference. If he stands for re-election, he will be 94. He appears to be mostly in good health, maintaining a punishing public schedule of overseas travel. Is he masterminding his glamorous much younger wife's rapid political rise? No-one seems sure. 

- First Lady Grace Mugabe only arrived on the political scene a year and a half ago. But the effect she has had, has led to her being dubbed a "tsunami". She oversaw the downfall of vice president Joice Mujuru last year. She recently held a series of well-attended rallies, handing out agricultural goods, as well as clothes and washing powder. Some analysts believe she is too naive to survive Zimbabwe's cut-throat political world in the absence of her husband.

- The Generation-40 or G-40 is comprised of younger Zanu-PF officials like political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Mugabe's nephew Patrick Zhuwao (some of the members of this group are in their 40s). There have been denials that this group exists. The G-40 is backing Grace Mugabe's political rise. Some analysts believe the group is merely "using" her for its own ends. Interestingly, Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko - until recently seen as being in a much weaker position than Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa - is believed by analysts to have the sympathies of this grouping.

- Mnangagwa was touted way back in the early years of this century as a probable successor to Mugabe. He was even known as Mugabe's "blue-eyed boy", indicating Mugabe's apparent preference for him. His elevation last year to the vice presidency at the same time as his predecessor Mujuru was ousted seemed to cement his position. But lately, Mnangagwa's grouping has fallen from grace. Grace Mugabe insists she is "senior" to him. Is the first lady and/or her supporters about to do a "Mujuru" on Ngwenya (the Crocodile, as he is nicknamed)? Mnangagwa has, until now, kept remarkably quiet. Analysts say that, like his nickname, he may be biding his time below murky political waters. He could be about to strike. Or he could get struck first?

- Zanu-PF's women's league is officially led by Grace Mugabe and therefore (mostly) appears to support the G-40. Ahead of the conference, the league has indicated it wants a 50% female representation. That likely means that members want to see the first lady up there on the presidential podium. Significantly, two G-40 opponents - Monica Mutsvangwa and Esphinah Nhari - have just been booted out of the women's league "for pushing factional politics". Nhari allegedly chanted "Down with G-40" at a Grace Mugabe rally.

- War veterans do not always speak with one voice. But the Bulawayo grouping appears to be especially unhappy with the rise of the G-40. War Veterans' Minister Chris Mutsvangwa (husband of Monica) is believed to be a close ally of Mnangagwa. Mutsvangwa is on record as supporting the call by war veterans for Kasukuwere to be removed from the position of Zanu-PF national commissar.

- Ousted vice president Joice Mujuru and her supporters were pretty thoroughly purged from the ruling party after the last conference in December 2014. Mujuru may or may not soon launch her own party, People First. Fear of Mujuru - and her popularity - is still real in some Zanu-PF circles. On Monday, the independent Newsday reported that a local "prophet", Lloyd Matikiti, was being visited by state security agents after he prophesied that the keen farmer and grandmother would eventually succeed Mugabe.

Party officials have tried to insist that this Zanu-PF conference will concentrate on Zimbabwe's troubled economy. But it's hard to believe some of these factional fights won't come to the fore.

And if it all gets too much for overwrought attendees, they can take their minds off things by jumping from the Victoria Falls bridge. Delegates will be offered a 30% discount on bungee jumping (and other activities), the official Herald newspaper reports.

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