So far, the dominant belief is that the party will be fatally crippled if Mugabe leaves. This view is premised on the oft-repeated line that he is the one holding the factions together and, with him gone, the faction leaders would immediately jump at each other and splinter the party.
In fact, Mugabe has over the years justified his continued stay with exactly this thinking. He says he is afraid to hand over the baton to anyone because that would disintegrate the 50-year-old institution.
This has apparently been taken as gospel truth by many Zimbabweans, but the more I hear it, the less convinced I become. This is particularly important for the local political opposition, which needs to disabuse itself of the risky inclination of planning its future around the possibility of a fatal crisis in Zanu (PF) in the post-Mugabe phase.
It is useful to remember that Zanu (PF) is not a stranger to factional and power fights, but has always survived as an organisation, having been formed in August, 1963, on the backdrop of factionalism in Zapu, then led by Joshua Nkomo.
In October 1973, disgruntled members from the then Zanu teamed up with some colleagues from Zapu to form the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe. Led by James Chikerema, Frolizi hardly became a party to reckon with and Zanu remained almost completely unscathed, despite the acute divergence among some of its top members. Again, with the assassination of Chitepo in 1975, intense power struggles emerged in the party after Sithole took over.
It remains highly possible that, even with Mugabe’s exit, people would look more at the party than the individuals who happened to be leading or belonging to the factions. In this case, while it is still possible that the party would splinter, we could only see a repetition of what happened after the Mgagao Declaration when one party remained with large numbers.
‘Will Zanu (PF) survive the factionalism that resides in the party’
From where I stand, it seems that the faction led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, if it decides to split off when Mugabe leaves or dies, would not take with it a substantial enough population to cause a fatal shake-up. Over the years, I have noticed that the Mnangagwa faction tends to be elitist, with little grassroots support. It has only kept afloat through its crafty strategies of stuffing party structures with its sympathisers but even then, this has not yielded as many results as the other faction, currently rallying around Joice Mujuru.
Mnangagwa himself is not popular enough within Zanu (PF) and Mujuru seems to have a far broader appeal, even in provinces like the Midlands and Masvingo where one would have thought her rival should boast his strongest bases. It thus remains very likely that, in the event of a split along the Mujuru/Mnangagwa fault lines, the majority would go with Mujuru and still maintain Zanu (PF) as a large party.
Finally, what happened in 2008 when Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa abandoned Zanu (PF) to lead a loose coalition of mostly disgruntled former Zanu (PF) members is telling. Makoni’s dramatic announcement of his resignation from Zanu (PF) had all the ingredients of razing the party to the ground, especially given his own popularity and the fact that he was an offshoot of the Mujuru faction. Yet the Makoni project was much ado about nothing.
In essence, my point is that discourse on whether Mugabe’s departure will kill the party or not has wrongly focused on Mugabe as an individual and failed to place itself in a more global context by considering that the dynamics in Zanu (PF) might, after all, be determined by other factors rather than a specific personality.
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