1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Succession debate in Zimbabwe

Asumpta Lattus
December 5, 2014

During a ZANU-PF party congress, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has rejected speculation that he plans to step down and verbally attacked his deputy who had been widely tipped to succeed him.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe
Image: Getty Images/Afp/Jekesai Njikizana

Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party, with veteran leader Robert Mugabe at the helm, is currently holding a party congress (until 06.12.2104). A major topic of interest for the party and the country is who will succeed the 90-year-old Mugabe. However he has used the congress to consolidate his grip on power and shows no sign of being ready to retire. Vice President and previous heir apparent Joice Mujuru is now facing the prospect of having criminal charges brought against her for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe. Recently Mujuru was dropped from the party's central committee. For an insight into what is going on behind the scenes, DW spoke to Dr Sue Onslow, senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London.

DW: Sue Onslow, President Robert Mugabe has come out indicating that Vice President Joice Mujuru could face charges and it looks like he is going to stay on as the party leader. What do you make of all this?

Sue Onslow: This is the most extraordinary degree of political infighting and factionalism within ZANU-PF. Although Robert Mugabe is 90 years old, he is likely to stand and be elected unopposed as party leader. But the man is mortal and so this means that the succession battle has reached fever pitch. His wife, Grace Mugabe, certainly has political ambitions. Joice Mujuru's own position as vice president has been weakened after the death of her liberation leader husband, Solomon Mujuru, who was of course one of the key anointers of Robert Mugabe back in the 1990s. Now where is Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa in all of this? There have been accusations that he has been in contact with American officials. This is the most extraordinary degree of feverish debate which is going on - but actually in the party congress itself it's a damp squib. Nothing will be decided, I would think, at the party congress and it may be in fact a couple of weeks before the politburo is decided.

Some analysts say that President Mugabe himself is behind what is going on in ZANU- PF at the moment. How do you see this infighting playing out?

Well, Robert Mugabe is the most extraordinary political leader, not just because of his longevity but because of his understanding of political theater. He is remarkably adept at playing different factions off against each and positioning himself so that all are working towards him. He endorsed that in the long speech that he made about Joice Mujuru about the plot against his, life saying that his wife had even more information and this was as explosive as dynamite. So he has effectively endorsed his wife's interpretation that there is a plot against his life. Robert Mugabe is a supreme political operator but he is also increasingly an elderly and unwell man.

Wouldn't it be better for the party and for the country if he were to step down?

Yes it would. Also I would say that, in the run up to last year's seminal elections, there was no overwhelming desire for Mugabe to be indicted as a war criminal. There was a sense of the need to recognize his revolutionary contribution and let "the old man'" retire quietly. We are moving into the post- Mugabe era. Because of the impact of this political squabbling and infighting, and the extent to which you (i.e. the media] and others are paying attention to this, it is distracting attention from the political and economic meltdown which is going on in Zimbabwe.

Isn't this the time that the opposition should actually benefit from the infighting within ZANU -PF?

Absolutely, the opposition really took a body blow at last year's election and they have been slow to try to rebuild themselves - that is not to say that they cannot, but there are serious questions about Morgan Tsvangirai, who is a phenomenally brave trade union leader, and whether it is indeed appropriate for him to continue as leader of his particular section of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which is now split into three.

Sue Onslow, is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus

Skip next section Explore more