HARARE – The annual conference of Zimbabwe’s governing Zanu-PF ended in controversy on Saturday with no announcement of final resolutions amid fierce factional fighting over President Robert Mugabe’s unresolved succession.
In an unprecedented development that highlighted the growing quarrels, Mugabe told the 4 000 delegates that although the conference had “debated robustly”, “the resolutions will come soon”.
Party insiders said there were fierce disagreements over the campaign by a faction aligned to Mugabe’s wife Grace, to amend the Zanu-PF constitution and reserve one of the two vice-presidential posts for a woman.
Final resolutions are always announced on the closing day of Zanu-PF conferences. Yesterday’s departure from tradition is significant.
A faction associated with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa opposed the proposed resolution, arguing that this was a non-elective conference. Had the resolution been adopted, Grace would have been elevated to second-in-command, elbowing Mnangagwa out of the race to succeed the 91-year-old president.
Loyalties over the succession issue are split between Grace and Mnangagwa. Commentators said Mnangagwa, nicknamed “The Crocodile” for his stealthy political moves, has lived to see another day, at least for now, but he can only heave a sigh of relief when the final resolutions are eventually announced.
As stunned delegates trooped out of the five-star resort where the meeting was held, there were murmurs of disbelief as Zanu-PF members realised that there was no emotional closure on a matter that has threatened to tear the party apart.
In his closing speech, Mugabe rallied the party to unite and fulfil the socio-economic dreams of the masses.
“We can never succeed if we tear ourselves into compartments. We cannot succeed when the party has people pulling in different directions,” Mugabe said. Speaking in a conciliatory tone, the Zimbabwean leader described the meeting as “one of our most successful conferences”.
“We came with great expectations. Some were saying people are going to fight here. Others were saying certain people would be removed from positions. There was a lot of hallucinating, a lot of fear, but as you can see the fear is gone. All of us feel much more confident that I am truly a member of a strong party, all of us are members of the party, smiling together,” Mugabe added.
On the contentious issue of his succession, the conference has generated more questions than answers.
The leader, who has been at the helm of Zanu-PF since 1977 and has run the country since independence in 1980, revealed a shocking dimension to the factionalism rocking his party.
The army, police and intelligence service were now mired in succession politics, he complained.
“People are coming to me asking whether it is good that the military, the police, the intelligence are meddling and standing behind different candidates. Let’s stop that completely, we are ruining the party that way,” Mugabe said.
His remarks suggest that he is having a torrid time keeping tight control of the security forces.
Mugabe’s advanced age sparked heated debate on Friday when he momentarily read the wrong speech to conference delegates, repeating September’s blunder which led to calls for his resignation.
Mugabe read the speech for about 30 seconds before his panic-stricken aides gave him the correct one. In September, he read a 25-minute speech from start to finish, unaware he was delivering the same text he had presented during his state of the nation address the previous month.
Mugabe will be 94 when the next national elections are held in 2018. With the succession issue remaining unresolved, he appears determined to extend his stay in office.
In Victoria Falls, Mugabe’s increasingly influential wife may not have managed to topple Vice-President Mnangagwa but she will gain confidence in her ability to mobilise the provinces.
Grace was the star attraction, eliciting loud cheers every time her name was chanted by President Mugabe and Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko. Mphoko’s post appears safe, as he is linked to Grace’s camp. Interestingly, Vice-President Mnangagwa is the only speaker who did not chant the Pamberi naDoctor Amai (Forward with Dr Mugabe) slogan on the podium. – Africa Ind