Mugabe signals deepening divide in Zimbabwe's ruling party

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. (AFP)
Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. (AFP)

Harare - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe signalled a worsening split in his ruling party ahead of elections next year by announcing he’s prepared to fire his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mugabe issued the threat at a rally in the southern African nation’s second biggest city, Bulawayo, on Saturday, a day before his wife Grace announced she’s prepared to succeed the president, who’s ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.

“If I made a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa, tell me,” Mugabe said at the rally, which was broadcast on national television. “I will remove him.”

Tensions in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front have grown as the nation gears up for elections next year when it may face a seven-party opposition alliance that’s capitalizing on public discord over cash shortages, crumbling infrastructure and a collapse in government services. While the ruling party has named 93-year-old Mugabe as its presidential candidate, he’s grown increasingly frail, sparking concern among his supporters that he may be unable to complete another five-year term.

Coup threat

Grace Mugabe, 52, accused Mnangagwa of attempting to “carry out a coup” against the president and said at a rally in the capital, Harare, on Sunday, that she’d told her husband that he “should leave your position for me.” The first lady is head of Zanu-PF’s Women’s League and the leader of the party’s so-called Generation-40 faction that opposes Mnangagwa as a possible successor to Mugabe.

“Have no fear, if you want to give me the job, give it to me freely,” she said.

Zanu-PF will probably amend its constitution at a congress next month to ensure a woman is appointed to its top body, according to a draft document sent to senior members of the party by its secretary for administration, Ignatius Chombo. The party’s presidium currently comprises the president, Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe’s other vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko.

Mnangagwa, 75, has suffered setbacks in recent weeks, including losing his position as justice minister in a cabinet reshuffle. He was replaced by Happyton Bonyongwe, the country’s former top spy. Mnangagwa is known as Lacoste, taken from the French sportswear company’s Lacoste’s logo, a crocodile -- the nickname he earned during the liberation war against white-minority rule.

Backing Grace

The party’s youth league is backing Grace Mugabe to replace Mnungagwa as vice president, Kudzanai Chipanga, the Zanu-PF Secretary for Youth Affairs, told reporters in Harare on Monday.

The current divisions are the worst since 2014 when Mugabe fired Joice Mujuru as vice president. She’s now part of the opposition alliance that includes former Finance Minister Tendai Biti and ex-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

“There is no doubt that Mugabe is on his way out and his attempts to shape the future of Zanu-PF according to his will are facing resistance,” Rashweat Mukundu, an analyst with the Harare-based Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said by phone. But Mugabe will probably still be able to dictate who his successor is because he has “both political and state power on his side,” he said.

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