PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s failure to appoint a successor could throw Zimbabwe into turmoil if he dies in power or is incapacitated, a think-tank has warned, with observers saying First Lady Grace Mugabe could be positioning herself for the country’s top post.

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The think- tank warned that the situation could be further exacerbated if Mugabe died or was incapacitated without appointing a successor.

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It noted that Mugabe, who has travelled extensively to seek medical treatment, chose his deputies as figureheads rather than possible successors.

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The Institute of Defence Analysis said growing factionalism within Zanu PF could destabilise the country.

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“The potential for intraparty strife may have increased as the result of the purge of former Vice-President (Joice) Mujuru, several of her loyal Cabinet ministers, and large numbers of party and government officials at the regional and local levels,” the report by George Ward reads.

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“In dismissing Mujuru and her supporters — who at one point enjoyed majority support at the local level — Mugabe ran roughshod over electoral rules, made all significant decisions on his own, and dispensed with the façade of democratic procedures.”

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In an article titled Political instability in Zimbabwe the think-tank warns that Mugabe might use the security apparatus to secure his position, but the seeds of dissent may already have been sown.

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“Mugabe will use his security apparatus to control the resentments and grievances of those who lost their offices and to provide the accompanying material benefits, but that dissent could boil over,” the report reads.

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“Mujuru’s allies have already filed a legal challenge to Mugabe’s recent actions.

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“Even in the likely event that the challenge goes nowhere in the courts, it symbolises the open wound that exists in Zanu PF.”

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In the short term, the report says Mugabe will consolidate his power, with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa taking “every opportunity to display his loyalty to Mugabe, sometimes even kneeling before him, but he has fallen into disfavour with Mugabe in the past”.

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“Former Vice-President Mujuru, the apparent major loser in the party congress and its aftermath, should not be counted out,” the report says.

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“She has strong support at the local and regional levels within the party, and she has significant ties to the security establishment on the basis both of her own record in the liberation conflict and that of her late husband, former army chief (commander), Solomon Mujuru.

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“A relatively swift and uncontested succession would enable the government of Zimbabwe to move past its political infighting and begin to attend to the economic and social challenges that the country faces.”

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The report notes that Grace could be a wildcard for the presidency, something that sounded farfetched half a year ago, but is increasingly gaining currency.

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“Most observers believe that Grace Mugabe sees Mnangagwa as her future patron and protector, but others believe Mrs Mugabe has ambitions to succeed her husband,” it says.

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With the country’s economy stalling, the think-tank said this could cause instability and Sadc countries, particularly South Africa, were likely to bear the brunt of an economic collapse.

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“The risk factors associated with political instability in Zimbabwe are growing and although Mugabe has moved to strengthen his already tight grip on the levers of power within both the government and the ruling Zanu PF, doubts remain as to how long tight discipline will last,” the article reads.

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“It will be important to watch for increased willingness on the part of the political opposition and civil society groups to carry out protest activities.”

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Opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has reportedly threatened protests, although he is yet to say when he would lead these.

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“Difficult economic circumstances could lead to both civil unrest and new flows of refugees and the opposition MDC party, which was credited with the currency reform that ended the last economic emergency, might re-emerge as a political force,” the report says.

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The think-tank advised South African President Jacob Zuma to focus on achieving an agreement and to consistently urge Mugabe and other Zanu PF leaders to avoid violence.

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“South Africa possesses the greatest potential influence on Zimbabwe’s government and would be directly affected by a crisis and it should be prepared to mediate between factions in Zanu PF, as well as between Zanu PF and the opposition, should widespread violence appear imminent,” the report adds.