A stage-managed congress fails to tackle succession and factionalism: Is Zanu-PF digging its own grave?

Photo courtesy of mcdaniel.hu
Photo courtesy of mcdaniel.hu

By Sizo Nkala

Amidst questions of succession raised by his withering health, Zimbabwe’s 90 year-old president, Robert Mugabe, has enacted a mass purge of his own high-ranking officials, ostensibly to clear the way for his wife Grace to assume power after he goes. But all is not yet settled. Rather than consolidating power, Mugabe’s actions have created an unsustainable level of division within the ruling party.

Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), held its much anticipated sixth national elective congress in December 2014. The quinquennial event is the most important on the calendar of the party since its inception in 1963, as it is where decisions on party leadership and policy are made.(2) This particular congress attracted widespread interest as it was viewed as a watershed moment with the potential to redefine Zanu-PF, and possibly the country’s political trajectory. At the crux of the hype was the issue of leadership succession for 90-year-old President Robert Mugabe – an issue the party was hard-pressed to address and could seemingly no longer evade. The scourge of factionalism that had permeated almost every facet of the party seemed to lend credence to these expectations. Somehow, the congress lived up to its billing with unprecedented spilling of political blood as mass purging of high-ranking officials – including the then vice president Joice Mujuru – was effected. However, on the main issue, the succession issue, it turned out to be another so-near-but-yet-so-far moment as President Robert Mugabe hastily effected constitutional amendments tightening his grip on the party and reinforcing the status quo.(3)