Threat to Robert Mugabe lies in Zanu (PF)

FOR 13 years the biggest threat to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s grip on power came from an opposition party that grew out of the country’s labour unions. Now he is facing an even bigger challenge from within his own party.

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Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, left, chats with former vice-president Joice Mujuru, who is seen as a successor to Mr Mugabe. File picture: SUPPLIED

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The ruling Zanu (PF) is effectively breaking apart because of a power struggle between factions of the party with the one backing Mr Mugabe, including politicians who played no role in the liberation struggle that led to independence from the UK in 1980, people familiar with the situation say.

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The split deepened when vice-president Joice Mujuru was ousted at a congress in December last year. Her followers plan to try and compete in by-elections in June and may take part in the 2018 general and presidential elections, the people say, asking not to be identified because public announcements have not been made.

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“She has a lot of wealthy and influential people who would support her,” Charles Laurie, a senior Africa analyst at UK based Verisk Maplecroft says. “They may have underestimated her ability” and her faction will probably form an opposition party, he says.

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The dispute highlights the tension between long-time party stalwarts like Ms Mujuru, who fought in the war, and newer leaders such as Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, have allied themselves to Mr Mugabe, his wife, Grace, and newly appointed Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

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The conflict comes as an economic crisis deepens, with government laws that demand that black Zimbabweans own as much 51% of businesses hindering foreign investment and government worker wages accounting for about 82% of the budget.

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Consumer demand is slumping, and 87 companies closed last year compared with 44 in 2013, according to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

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“Given the prevailing economic hardships, the looming food crisis and declining inflows to the fiscus, the politburo’s silence on these matters is deafening,” Ms Mujuru said on April 9, a week after being expelled from Zanu (PF). The politburo is the party’s highest decision making body.

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Appointed as vice-president in 2004, Ms Mujuru is viewed as a rival to Mr Mnangagwa and a successor to Mr Mugabe. She has won her constituency in every election since 1980.

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Mr Mnangagwa has served in several ministerial roles. He spent time in prison for blowing up a train during the independence war and rose through Zanu (PF) ranks after his release.

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“The only real opposition to the ruling party is a splintering of Zanu (PF),” NKC Independent Economists Paarl, SA-based analyst Gary van Staden says. “That is where any hope of change must lie.”

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Bloomberg