PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s inauguration today will be the biggest in the history of the country, raising speculation that it could be his last, with focus probably shifting to the Zanu PF succession race.
Mugabe has declared a public holiday today and plans a mega event, where up to 80 000 people will attend, a far cry from his last inauguration, which almost went unnoticed, as he left the country immediately for the African Union summit.
Three days after last month’s elections, The Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru — believed to be Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba — hinted that today’s ceremony could be the President’s last.
“Soon Mugabe will go through the rituals of enthronement,” he wrote on August 3. “We call it inauguration. It shall be a big event, what, given that this may be his last such.”
Manheru described the inauguration as Mugabe’s second coming, saying he would use it to make his mark in a lasting way.
At 89 and with health concerns, it is highly unlikely that Mugabe will stand for another term after five years and observers say he may use this time to anoint a successor, an issue that has been a pain in Zanu PF’s side for a while.
Mugabe comes across as feisty and sprightly for his age. He has denied reports that he has prostate cancer and told reporters he intends to serve the full term.
But his advanced years and the persistent questions about his health, compounded by successive medical check-up visits to Singapore, mean that his endurance in office carries its own cloud of uncertainty for Zimbabwe’s future.
Adding to Zimbabwe’s uncertain outlook is the perception that another Mugabe’s term will intensify a succession battle within the ruling party. Zanu PF has a history of feuds and splits dating back to its bush war against white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia.
“Vicious faction-fighting is in the DNA of Zanu PF,” Stephen Ellis, a professor at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands, said.
Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a 66-year-old guerrilla war veteran and Mugabe’s main security enforcer, is widely seen as a succession contender, along with Vice-President Joice Mujuru and State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
Mnangagwa, known as “the Crocodile”, earned a hard line reputation as Security minister in the 1980s for his role in the Gukurahundi massacres.
Mnangagwa, Mujuru and Sekeramayi have been members of Mugabe’s Cabinet since 1980 and played a major role in Zanu PF’s re-election machine.
During the campaign, Mujuru addressed rallies, Mnangagwa acted as Mugabe’s presidential election agent and Sekeramayi was the ruling party’s point man for the legislative elections in which Zanu PF was declared the overwhelming winner. On the face of it, Mujuru (58), another liberation war veteran, appears to hold an advantage in the succession stakes because as first party vice-president she acts for Mugabe when he is away.
But under a new Constitution adopted earlier this year, Zanu PF will choose a new President if Mugabe stepped down or were to die before the end of his term.
Many fear this could lead to a scramble for power among ambitious aspirants.
“For all Mugabe’s problems, he has been able to keep the peace in Zanu PF and has commanded the authority to keep a potentially chaotic party organised,” political analyst Eldred Masunungure said.
“Mugabe’s absence could lead to chaos because he has managed the party in such a manner that nobody else has his kind of unquestionable authority.”
Some party insiders say Mugabe has skilfully played the Mujuru-Mnangagwa rivalry to strengthen his own position. Nine years ago, when Mnangagwa appeared headed for election to the Zanu PF vice-presidency with the backing of six of the country’s 10 provincial party structures, Mugabe stepped in to engineer Mujuru’s appointment to the job.
There was speculation at the time that Mugabe penalised Mnangagwa for his leadership ambitions and that Mujuru’s husband, ex-army commander General Solomon Mujuru, had prevailed on the President to promote his wife.
This week, breaking with party tradition that individuals do not actively promote themselves for leadership, Mujuru attacked party rivals and presented herself as the moderate leader Zanu PF needs after Mugabe, local media reported.
“We know that the President will soon be 90 and God might decide to call him,” she was quoted saying by the Daily News.
“I am best-placed to succeed Mugabe if he departs, whether by natural wastage or voluntary retirement.”
Zanu PF insiders say Mujuru may have been frustrated by Mugabe’s statement that he plans to serve his full term to 2018.