Mugabe still the ultimate King-maker

President Robert Mugabe is very good at playing political mind games when it comes to his succession. He came up with an intriguing stance in a recent interview for a BBC documentary to mark his 90th birthday. Filmmaker Roy Agyemang asked him for his take on who should succeed him.


His calculated answer was that, after considering some names, he had not come to a conclusion as to who would take over his shoes, purportedly surrendering the duty to choose his successor to the people.

Of course, that response was hardly earth-shaking, considering that he said something similar when he addressed his Gushungo clansmen in Kutama a couple of weeks ago.

The BBC remarks directly cast doubt on Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa as possible successors, while the Kutama declaration merely widened the succession race. In the interview Mugabe boldly declared that he had considered names of people who could possibly take over from him and was inconclusive about any of them – basically admitting that he has no faith in either Mujuru or Mnangagwa.

Big question

The big question is: What is the Old Man trying to achieve through such statements? The most obvious thing that readers and the hawks angling for the coveted position must note is that, as he has done in the past, Mugabe is playing the Zanu (PF) presidential aspirants off against each other. This is what they call divide-and-rule – a classic manipulative tactic.

At one time, Mugabe gave us the impression that he preferred Mujuru as his successor. I remember very clearly that rainy day in early December 2004 at the Harare International Conference Centre when he told a Zanu (PF) elective congress: “I have a dream.” He was referring to the elevation of Mujuru to the position of Vice President of the party. “Do you want her to end there?” he asked – a deliberate signal that he preferred her to take over from him.

Of course, I had no doubt even then that Mujuru’s elevation and Mugabe’s “dream” were a strategic manouevre to play the Mnangagwa and Mujuru factions against each other. He smiled all the way back to State House. That was the time of the attempted Dinyane palace coup, when the Mnangagwa faction was exposed for reportedly plotting, down in rural Tsholotsho, to take over the party presidium. Those that belonged to the Mujuru camp had successfully convinced Mugabe that Mnangagwa et all were planning to remove him from power, hence the sudden nest-building around Mujuru as a counter measure.

He triumphed in his game plan, of course. The Mujuru camp, then visibly led by the late General and Joice’s husband, Solomon, dug deep into its bag of tricks to demonstrate its gratitude to Mugabe for favouring Joice. On the other hand, realising that their political subsistence depended on Mugabe’s whim, those in the Mnangagwa camp did all they could to re-endear themselves with the Supreme Leader. This is the tendency we see up to date. The camps grovel at Mugabe and, by virtue of that, his political base remains strong. That does not mean that either camp actually likes Mugabe or his continued stay in power; just that their fate depends on him.

Ultimate Kingmaker

This observation makes even greater sense when one considers Mugabe’s most recent utterances. In the BBC interview, he deliberately leaves the possibility of deciding on a successor close to the next election in 2018. The net effect is that both Mnangagwa and Mujuru, and possibly others lurking in the dark alleys, will trample on each other as they seek to curry favour with him. They know that he remains the ultimate kingmaker, in spite of his professed insistence that it is the people who will choose his successor.

They will try to outdo each in proving to the kingmaker that they are the rightful heirs, and the more they are, the merrier Mugabe is. In fact, the recent statements at Kutama and during the BBC interview bear a pre-emptive effect ahead of Zanu (PF)’s congress this year. They will—if they haven’t started doing that already—shake Mujuru, Mnangagwa and other aspirants and make them aware of their vulnerabilities. That will then drive them to be more cautious and to literally do vigils at Mugabe’s office and home, begging for favours.

The most likely result is that all will unanimously reconfirm Mugabe as a life leader, after which he will, close to 2018, declare that the party must choose another leader. By that time, he would have positioned his favourite to take over. – To comment on this article, please contact [email protected]

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis
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