Analysts attribute the problem of succession in Zanu-PF to the absence of democracy in the party. Over the years, democratic principles have been undermined in favour of the appointment system based on party loyalty and cronyism, where party loyalists have found themselves at the pinnacle of the party’s decision-making body.
This includes the ‘tested unelectables’ who have contested parliamentary seats repeatedly and lost dismally. The concept of meritocracy does not exist in Zanu-PF politics any more. The recent chaos at the Zanu-PF women’s conference is a clear example of electoral decadence in Zanu-PF politics. It is universal wisdom that democracy can never be replaced by any form of unrepresentative system except in war situations.
An organisation that does not have a succession plan, be it in business or politics, is a danger to itself and its people. Such an organisation is not sustainable as it is devoid of any capacity to meaningfully transform itself. UNIP in Zambia, MCP in Malawi and KANU in Kenya suffered the same fate about to befall Zanu-PF.
Mugabe has been accused by his critics for stifling the issue of succession in his party and allowing the debate to continue ceaselessly to his advantage.
People who have previously presented as potential succession candidates have been sidelined and those who have tried to ignite the issue of succession have been branded enemies of the revolution and their voices have been muted. Dzikamai Mavhaire spent time in political limbo when he raised the succession issue a few years back. Mugabe himself has been asked several times by foreign journalists to state whether or not he was contesting the next elections and the man has been evasive.
When asked by BBC at State House recently, Mugabe said the question was based on the “regime change” western agenda. Mugabe has stated that he was looking forward to retirement and possibly handing over power but this has not happened. The longer the issue persists unresolved the more people will continue to press for answers. Some have also questioned the wisdom and political maturity of senior Zanu-PF members who are seemingly devoid of any ambitions to lead their party forward.
It puzzles me and other progressive-minded people that all that Zanu-PF bigwigs can ever think of is being Mugabe’s deputy and followers. They must have resigned to the reality that Mugabe cannot be challenged and therefore will lead them to eternity. It is true that parties that are run as private political enterprises can only serve the interests of their leadership not followers or sympathisers. In the long run a party that undermines democracy will be deserted in favour of those that are more democratic and representative, such as the MDC.
The ANC in South Africa has so far provided the best form of democracy in Africa by imposing a fixed term of office for its cadres and creating a transparent way of choosing its leadership. Succession politics works in South Africa; they have had four presidents in a space of 15 years which is phenomenal by any standards. The recall of former president Thabo Mbeki would not have happened in Zimbabwe and indeed in most parts of Africa.
The Mbeki example shows that no one individual, no matter how important they are, should be allowed to impose their will on the people forever. Frelimo of Mozambique, Swapo of Namibia, MMD of Zambia and Chama Cha Mapinduzi of Tanzania have all had successful succession plans. Even the former military dictators like Obasanjo and Rawlings gave in and allowed succession to take course. Zimbabwe currently stands out as the only undemocratic regime in the SADC region apart from the Swazi Monarchy without a succession plan.
Mugabe is currently the third longest serving African leader and there is no evidence he is going soon.
The Communist Party in China, undemocratic as it might appear to the west, has had for many years a system that allows leaders to come and go. In the event of Mugabe dying unexpectedly or possibly losing the next election as public opinion currently indicates, without a clear succession plan the country may be set ablaze as the leaders from various Zanu-PF factions will be fighting for control of the party.
The death of Mzee Joseph Msika, Mugabe’s deputy a few weeks ago could be the beginning of a stormy period ahead for Zanu-PF. It is also feared that the inclusive government will fall apart if anything happens to Mugabe without a clear favourite to succeed him. Many in Zimbabwe would prefer a smooth transition in Zanu-PF from Mugabe to a more level headed person who is capable of unifying the party and ensuring that it behaves responsibly most likely as a major opposition party in the near future.
Currently, there are two main factions in the Zanu-PF party vying for power after Mugabe, thus one allegedly led by Vice President Joyce Mujuru, wife of the revered former army commander, Rtd General Solomon Mujuru and another led by the Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, ostensibly Mugabe’s current preferred successor. There is a possibility of more factions and tensions within Zanu-PF. The current succession debates and power games between party stalwarts is said to have riled Mugabe who has always maintained that only the people will choose his successor.
It is saddening to note that the same people Mugabe refers to have always been denied the change to change leader at Zanu-PF congress after congress let alone talk about succession. Succession has almost become a taboo in Zanu-PF circles. The recent allegation of sodomy levelled against John Nkomo, Zanu-PF chairman is another unsavoury tactic by those seeking to ignite the succession debate. It appears succession in Zanu-PF is a confirmed taboo which has cost and may still cost people’s careers and any one who dares talk about it in any specific fashion will be committing political suicide.
When Margaret Dongo, then ZUD president once said Zanu-PF stalwarts were Mugabe’s ‘wives’ few paid attention to her views but the current situation surrounding the succession debate has proved Dongo right. The latest revelation that support for Zanu-PF is now at an all-time low of 10 percent of the electorate is a worrying feature for the succession debate and Mugabe’s flawed concept of people power. The problem in Zanu-PF today is that those capable of succeeding Mugabe are getting too old and frail themselves, leaving the MDC as the only party whose leadership has youth, energy and vision that resonate with the generality of the people in Zimbabwe.
Zanu-PF’s future fortunes only lie in a reformed organisation that has democratic structures and a credible record of upholding human rights. The violence characterising Mugabe’s disputed ‘re-election’ in June 2008 indicates the level of anarchy that might ensue Mugabe’s untimely departure without a clear succession plan.
Finally, the longer the Zanu-PF succession debate and confusion continues the less likely the country will stabilise. It’s not clear whether Mugabe still wants to pursue plans for his party’s life presidency which can only complicate the current fragile political dispensation. His hero-worshippers and cheer leaders are already presenting him as their only choice for the next presidential elections, which is another example of lack of direction and ambition in the party.
The succession debate in Zanu-PF should be made a matter priority as it threatens the foundations and stability of the state. Any chaos that might arise either from the military or Zanu-PF bigwigs will reverse the progress that has been achieved by the inclusive government. It is high time Zanu-PF imposed party presidential limits to allow Mugabe to retire peacefully to his Zvimba mansion and allow a new democratic political era to unfold in Zimbabwe.