89-year-old Robert Mugabe has begun his seventh, and probably final, term as president of Zimbabwe. The debate about a successor, both for him and for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, has now begun.
There is just one person in Zimbabwe who thinks Robert Mugabe needs no successor - and that is Robert Mugabe himself. The 89-year-old is now embarking on his seventh term as president of the southern African country. "Don't you want me to stay the whole term? Why should I offer myself as a candidate if it is to cheat the people by resigning afterwards?" he asked reporters on election day (31.07.2013). They had asked if he really intended to stay in office until 2018 or was planning to step down earlier in favor of a successor.
However few Zimbabweans take the president's words at face value. "People know this will be Mugabe's last term in office," said Wilf Mbanga, editor-in chief of the opposition paper "The Zimbabwean", in an interview with DW.
Mugabe has been in power for 33 years and is beginning to show signs of aging. For years there has been speculation that he is suffering from cancer. Frequent trips abroad have done little to silence the rumors.
During his long period in office, Mugabe has successfully sidelined numerous opponents but has never named a successor. This is all part of his strategy to make sure no one can shake his hold on power, observers say.
However, when there is talk of such things, two names are frequently heard: Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
After Mugabe, Mujuru?
"“Recent decisions by Mugabe show he has a soft spot for Joice Mujuru," according to Thomas Deve, a political analyst in Harare. It is said that, in 1974 during the civil war, Mujuru shot down a helicopter with a machine gun. At the age of 25, she became a minister following Zimbabwe's independence from Great Britain. She packed secondary school studies in between cabinet sessions and parliamentary debates. When she resigned "Mugabe handpicked her to come back," Deve said.
Under the new constitition, Vice-President Mujuru would not automatically become president should Mugabe die while in office. In that event, the parliamentary speaker would name a temporary successor for the period leading up to fresh elections. Governing party ZANU-PF is then likely to be rocked by internal power struggles. "Mugabe is the glue that holds the party together," Wilf Mbanga told DW. "If Mugabe would disappear from the scene tomorrow, you would see warfare within ZANU-PF. Mugabe is the only one who can keep the two factions together."
Comeback for 'The Crocodile'?
Mujuru's main rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, also has good connections within ZANU-PF. Nicknamed "The Crocodile", Mnangagwa is currently defense minister, after previously serving as minister of state security and parliamentary speaker. For a long time he was regarded as Mugabe's successor. Then, in 2004, he lost out to Mujuru who became vice president. In the same year Mnangagwa also lost his post as head of administration within ZANU-PF. Observers believe he may have become too strong for President Mugabe's liking.
Recently he has again been seen in the company of President Mugabe which has led to speculation that he is making a comeback. However, for Thomas Deve, Mnangagwa still lags behind Mujuru. Deve says he lacks much of the public and political support that he enjoyed previously.
Amongst the population at large, Mnangagwa is feared as a hardliner. In the 1980s, when he held the office of minister of state security, Zimbabwean elite troops and security forces attacked supporters of Mugabe's rival Joshua Nkomo. 20,000 people died during the operation called "Gukuharundi" (A Shona word meaning "the early rain which washes away the chaff.")
Opposition also seeks a leader
Mugabe's main opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai is also facing calls for a successor. For Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic change (MDC), the elections at the end of July were a disaster. Just 34 percent voted for Tsvangirai as president, 61 percent for Mugabe. There is considerable anger and frustration within the MDC, Mbanga told DW.
Indeed, Tsvangirai's record as party leader is unimpressive. He has now lost three times against Mugabe in presidential elections. Many party members have not forgiven him for joining forces with Mugabe in a coalition from 2008 to 2913. While MDC deputies were involved in corruption scandals, Tsvangirai himself made headlines with his personal liaisons.
New opposition party
Top of the list of possible successors is former finance minister Tendai Biti. While he was in office, the economy reversed its long decline and grew by up to nine percent. Inflation is under control and the country has seen record turnovers from the sale of gold, platinum and cotton. Nevertheless, analyst Thomas Deve does not think Biti, or any other leading member of the MDC, will take over from Tsvangirai. "In terms of political presence, he is much stronger than all the people challenging him," Deve said.
Nevertheless, Tsvangirai is the target of much criticism, both within the party and from state media which revel in reports of internal bickering. Roy Bennett, a former deputy minister for agriculture and member of parliament, has left the party in protest. On August 20, 2013 a group of former MDC members founded a new party, the Zimbabwe Independent Alliance (ZIA). While observers do not believe the ZIA can shift the MDC from its position as strongest opposition force, it is clear that there are hard times ahead.