Factions within Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party are out to get rid of of Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, according to the rumour mill in Harare. The Standard newspaper has said that groups to president Robert Mugabe want to have her sacked following reports that she has met American government officials without permission and discussed with them reforms in ZANU-PF, better relations with Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and the succession.
Mugabe is 87 and is reported to be suffering from prostate cancer. For years there has been speculation about who will succeed him. This is hotting up as the years pass and his health declines.
Succession is always a big issue in political parties – just look at the factional struggle within Britain’s Labour Party between Blair and Brown – but all the more so in a country where politics is rarely conducted in the open, where violence is part of the political mix and “accidental” deaths are all too common among the ruling elite.
For a long time, it was presumed that Emmerson Munangagwa was the hot favourite to succeed. A man who had been among the first Zimbabweans to be trained as a guerrilla and to return to start the liberation struggle, he told me in an interview 2o years ago that he was the first guerrilla to kill a white Rhodesian during the war. Munangagwa has been a key figure supporting Mugabe for years and has played a major intelligence and security role. But his fortunes went into decline after 2004, when he failed to get the post of Vice-President, following the death of Smon Muzenda.
The post went instead to Joyce Mujuru who, with the backing of husband and former head of ZANU-PF’s guerrilla army and of the Zimbabwe’s national army Solomon Mujuru, was seen as a rising star. She had been a guerrilla fighter during the war and a minister since ZANU-PF came to power in 1980. She had the backing of the ZANU women’s league and, through the kingmaking role of her husband, of important sections of the party and the all-important military.
When this faction outflanked Munangagwa in 2004, it was seen as a sign that the former security chief was out of favour. It was rumoured that an abortive coup attempt by a small group of arm officers in 2007 was intended to put Munangagwa in power, though this was never discussed in the open. There were also stories that Munangagwa had differed violently with Mugabe over the deal with Tsvangirai’s MDC in 2008, leading to a further worsening of relations.
Now, the content of Wikileaks cables about contacts between Zimbabwean government ministers and American diplomats suggest that both Mujuru and Munangagwa have had clandestine talks with the Americans and have been promising changes and a more cooperative attitude towards both the MDC and the international community once Mugabe goes.
These stories have added to the fast mounting rumours about plans to get rid of Mujuru ever since her husband died in an unexplained accident at his farm in mid-August. He burned to death and his body was said to have been charred beyond recognition. The police and ZANU-PF have said it was an accident, but many Zimbabweans, including it is now said Joyce Mujuru, are not convinced.
Many senior Zimbabwean politicians have died in accidents – ZANU military leader Josiah Tongogara in 1979, just before independence (clearing the way for Mugabe’s absolute dominance of ZANU), Mugabe’s own brother and then head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions (found drowned in his own swimming pool).
And there are more – others who died in “accidents” on Zimbabwe’s hazardous roads include former deputy defence minister and war-time head of operations of ZANLA William Ndangana. He died in a car crash after offering a lift to ZANU dissident Edgar Tekere. In August 1994, Sidney Malunga, a fiercely independent ZANU-PF member, died in an unexplained crash. Others died in mysterious ways: former ZANU-PF deputy army commander Lookout Masuku from a serious but unexplained illness after being released from detention by Mugabe; Maurice Nyagumbo allegedly committed suicide after a corruption scandal. The list is a long one.
Solomon Mujuru’s death – accidental or not – has seriously weakened his widow’s political clout. The Standard says that loyalist factions in ZANU-PF want Mugabe to sack Mujuru and replace her with women’s league head Oppiah Muchinguri. If Mujuru goes, the succession is wide open again, especially if Munangagwa has had his chances dented further by the Wkikileaks reports of his meetings with the Americans.
There aren’t other obvious front-runners, but given the up and down fortunes of Zimbabwean politicians close to Mugabe, it could be all chance again well before he is removed from the equation by death, ill-health or in a political coup of some sort – constitutional or otherwise.