ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe this week gave a long television interview on the eve of his 93rd birthday anniversary in which he covered a plethora of areas. These ranged from the economy, the opposition, corruption in the party and outside. Mugabe said he was not worried by negative comments from people like Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema while reserving his judgment on newly inaugurated US president Donald Trump.
One thing the President left unresolved in the interview was the matter of his succession, a sore subject in the party and outside, a subject which has seemingly soured his relations with Malema who recently called on him to step down as leader. Mugabe said he did not listen to people like Malema who behave like fake pentecostal prophets who interpret their wishes as God’s will.
Instead of giving indicators of how he wants the succession issue resolved, Mugabe instead lambasted senior members of his party for causing divisions in their jostling to succeed him.
Speaking in the interview to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation ahead of the birthday on Tuesday, whose main celebrations will be held in the south-western province of Matabeleland South bordering South Africa and Botswana, Mugabe compounded the succession conundrum when he said it was up to his party to tell him when it was time to go. For now, the party had not said so. In any case, said the veteran leader, it was clear his supporters had not yet found anyone suitable to succeed him.
Alternatively, President Mugabe said it would be up to him if he felt he could no longer lead the party and Government, to announce his decision. For now, he said, he was still fit to carry on as leader.
Namibia’s Founding Father and former President Sam Nujoma this week waded into the Zanu-PF succession issue when he said Mugabe still enjoys expansive support within his party and country and that only his party and supporters must be allowed to choose a successor when the time comes. Nujoma is a key ally of Mugabe’s, the two having shared the trenches during the fight against colonialism and apartheid and his views therefore carry much weight. The two also sent their armies, when Nujoma was still the Namibian president, to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 to shore up another regional ally, the late Laurent Kabila, after his country came under attack from rebels sponsored by Rwanda and Uganda.
Mugabe, in his birthday interview, vaguely suggested party supporters were being too harsh in their search for his successor. He said they wanted the next leader to match his skills and ability, “but I have been in it for a long time”.
This is the conundrum: effectively, the President said it was not yet time for those wishing to lead his party Zanu-PF, and the country, to show their hand because this was causing divisions. On the other hand he insinuated that nobody, according to party supporters, could replace him as leader.
That leaves a few avenues open for aspirants. Unfortunately, both the national and party constitutions are silent on the issue of the president “grooming” his successor. So the President stated bluntly in the interview that he would not groom one because that would be unconstitutional and undemocratic.
But President Mugabe made remarks in the interview about his wife Dr Grace Mugabe, which have sparked intense speculation that he wants her to succeed him. He was asked if he was not worried that his wife, who is leader of the women’s wing in the ruling Zanu-PF party and has been campaigning in support of the President, would be exposed to attacks by party rivals or the opposition.
The President said the First Lady was “very acceptable, very much accepted by the people. She is well-seasoned now. She is a very strong character”.
President Mugabe said in the past people wanted leaders to allow their wives to be involved in politics. “But what you get nowadays from some quarters is that the leader’s wife should not participate in politics. Why not? Why not?” he said.
This on its own, however, does not lend itself to easy or simplistic conclusion that Mugabe has “anointed” his wife as his successor. This is because she is already deep into politics by virtue of being secretary of the Women’s League. It is possible that is the position the President was defending.
The nation can only wait to see how the whole issue resolves itself.