Zanu-PF faces divisions

HARARE – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's ruling party holds its annual conference on Friday facing internal divisions and intense global pressure over a ruinous political crisis and a cholera epidemic.

With several leaders pressing him to step down, Mugabe (84), meets his top officials with the first-ever loss of their parliamentary majority in elections earlier this year hanging over them.

But The Voice, the official mouthpiece of the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), said the issue of succession would not be on the agenda of the meeting, which was meant to "invigorate" the party.

The conference takes place in the small mining town of Bindura, some 80 kilometres northwest of the capital Harare.

Tackling divisions

Harare-based political pro government commentator Caesar Zvayi, said the conference was an opportunity for Zanu-PF to patch up the divisions that characterised the party’s campaign, leading to its general election loss in March.

"At the conference Zanu-PF needs to tackle the divisions within the party," Zvayi told AFP.

"If one looks at the March elections results, Zanu-PF is not united as it should be. There are problems of disgruntlement," he added.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled just ahead of Mugabe in first-round presidential elections, but handed the presidency to his rival when he pulled out of a second round, citing violence against his supporters.

The two parties signed a power-sharing accord in September but are deadlocked on its composition.

"Currently the country is operating without a substantive government, social services such as health has been declared a state of disaster, other social services are crumbling," said Zvayi.

Schoolchildren missed lessons for the better part of the year as teachers went on strike to press for better pay; major hospitals closed due to understaffing and a lack of essential drugs; and water and power supplies have been erratic.

Mugabe to close ranks?

Mugabe will seek to close ranks in his party, after himself admitting faults within Zanu-PF led to its embarassing election result.

"Our structures went to sleep, were in deep slumber in circumstances of an all-out war," Mugabe said in May.

"They were passive, they were lethargic, ponderous, divided, diverted, disinterested, demobilised or simply non-existent."

Unusually, the former liberation hero has also faced open dissent from some elements of the military. Ordinary soldiers suffering the same stark deprivations as civilians went on the rampage in Harare two weeks ago, beating up currency dealers and looting shops.

Party spokesperson Ephraim Masawi said he expected the party to emerge stronger after the conference, which has as its theme: "Let’s stand united in support of the party and the revolution."

He played down divisons in the party, arguing that the party’s poor showing in the March general elections was a result of complacency.

"We have always been united," he told AFP. "The major problem was that we underestimated the strength of the opposition."

Fresh elections?

Takavafira Zhou, a political scientist at Masvingo State University said: "Zanu-PF has a challenge on how to proceed assuming the MDC pulls out of this power sharing agreement."

Mugabe has threatened fresh elections if the two parties fail to reach agreement.

"The conference will also have to deal with the issue of divisions within the party, there is also a possibility of PF-Zapu severing ties with Zanu-PF and intra-party protest," Zhou said.

PF-Zapu was a former opponent of Zanu-PF, led by Mugabe rival Joshua Nkomo, which formed the country’s first ever unity government in 1987.

"One way or the other, they will have to deal with the issue of succession given that Mugabe has hinted that there might be elections," said Zhou. AFP