, HARARE, Zimbabwe, Oct 24 – Zimbabwe’s ruling party could be heading for a devastating split as bickering between rival factions jostling to succeed ageing ruler Robert Mugabe escalates ahead of a key congress.
Over the years, ZANU-PF’s leaders have papered over the cracks forged by the battle to succeed 90-year-old Mugabe, playing down factional feuding even while acknowledging it cost them dearly in the 2008 elections.
But the arrival of Mugabe’s wife Grace on the political stage has thrown the battle into the open.
From the bully pulpit she has launched searing attacks on her opponents, including Vice-President Joice Mujuru whom she singled out for fomenting factional fights.
Many see Grace Mugabe’s attacks and the clashes between rival camps as a harbinger of fighting that will characterise the party’s congress in December.
“The fights have reached a threshold and it’s going to widen the fissures in ZANU-PF,” said Charles Mangongera of the political think-tank Porterhill Research.
“It’s difficult to think they will find each other. The party is headed for some kind of rapture. Post December, it won’t be the same ZANU-PF we have always known.”
Mujuru and powerful Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa – who in the past controlled the secret police and military – are seen as the leading contenders to replace Mugabe when he steps down or dies.
Independent political analyst Gift Mambipiri said Grace Mugabe was propping up a faction fighting to discredit Mujuru.
“Grace is being used by the other faction to fight Mujuru and perhaps to secure her own interests when Mugabe is gone,” Mambipiri said.
But Mujuru remains popular among the party’s grassroots.
“They will use her to get what they want and dump her. But whatever the plan, Mujuru will win and if they rig the vote at the congress, the party will break apart and Mujuru will go with her sympathisers.”
Takavafira Zhou, a political scientist at Masvingo State University, said a split would hurt the already moribund economy.
“Because of the internal squabbles, all energy will now be channelled to politicking, while the economy suffers.”
After a long and costly battle against Mugabe the opposition may not be able to capitalise, Zhou added.
“While ZANU-PF is disintegrating, there is no consolidation of power by the opposition so the split may not be of much benefit.”