Zanu PF meets amid faction fighting, economic woes


President Robert Mugabe

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s ruling party opens a two-day annual conference Friday as it battles internal faction fighting and attempts to stave off Zimbabwe’s second economic crisis since the turn of the century.

The meeting in the resort town of Victoria Falls comes as party officials are split over improving ties with the International Monetary Fund to rebuild an economy blessed with diamond deposits, the world’s second-biggest reserves of platinum and chrome, after South Africa, and fertile farmland.

The conference will debate plans to hand a greater stake in business to “the people,” said Simon Khaya Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party.

The economy shrank by about 40 percent between 2000 and 2009 after Zanu PF backed an often-violent seizure of most of the country’s white-owned farms.

This year the worst drought in a decade has left Zimbabwe, once Africa’s second-bigges maize exporter, with 1.5 million people in need of food aid from January to March, according to the United Nations.

Battling deflation and an unprecedented liquidity crisis, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in November that monthly wage obligations swallow about 82 percent of government revenue.

While Zanu PF has chosen Mugabe, 91, to lead the party into the next elections in 2018, the conference may reinstate a clause requiring gender-equality in leadership positions that could lead to a third vice-presidential position that his wife Grace could win, Alex Magaisa, a constitutional lawyer at the University of Kent, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“This conference won’t make any other fundamental changes to the current leadership,” he said. “It will merely confirm that Mugabe will be their candidate for 2018, as bizarre and ridiculous as that might seem, given his age.”

Known by her critics as the “First Shopper” and “Gucci Grace,” for what they say is her extravagant lifestyle, Grace Mugabe has built support among a group of senior ruling party officials known as Generation-40 because most of them are in their 40s and played no role in Zimbabwe’s war for independence against the white-minority Rhodesian government.

Her main adversary in a run for the top job is the vice president and deputy leader of Zanu-PF, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who previously served as state security and defence minister.

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