By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Harare – Zimbabwe’s First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe has stirred a hornets’ nest by urging President Mugabe to follow the regional trend in naming a successor to effectively deal with internecine factional fights threatening the revolutionary Zanu-PF party’s hegemonic hold on power.
The First Lady, who is the party’s Women’s League secretary, said this while addressing members of the women’s wing in Harare recently. The meeting was also attended by President Mugabe as the guest of honour.
Dr Grace Mugabe said time was nigh for President Mugabe to consider naming a successor as was the regional trend.
She said the President had a role and right in choosing his successor as a Zimbabwean citizen.
“There is no succession which can be done without the involvement of Mugabe. No. He has a say as a citizen of this country. I know President Mugabe says, no, no, no, I don’t impose any candidate but I have always argued with him that you have the role; you have the right to be part of that process in determining who is to take over after you have gone because we respect him. So his word will be final. Mark my words, his word will be final,” she said.
Although the ruling party’s constitution does not mandate the President to name a successor, the incumbent is not barred from indicating his preferred candidate who will still have to undergo the party’s election process.
The Zanu-PF constitution states that presidential aspirants have to present themselves at the party’s congress held after every five years. There is also provision for an extraordinary congress as demanded by the situation before the expiry of five years.
However, the First Lady said although the constitution was clear on the election of the president and first secretary of the party, there was no harm in Mugabe indicating his preferred candidate.
“We hear in other countries some presidents saying they prefer so and so. We encourage you, Mr President, not to be afraid to name your successor because we will all rally behind that candidate,” Dr Mugabe said.
Indeed, there seems to be a trend in southern Africa of incumbent leaders indicating their preferred candidates before leaving office.
In the case of South Africa, it was the governing ANC party that had the final say even though then President Nelson Mandela preferred Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of Thabo Mbeki as his deputy president.
Although official narrative states that it was Mandela who chose Mbeki as deputy, the truth was that Mandela preferred Ramaphosa who had been the chief ANC negotiator at the multiparty talks that brokered the country’s independence.
Mbeki’s rivals were Ramaphosa and Chris Hani, the late secretary-general of the South African Communist Party. What weighed in Mbeki’s favour was that he had a strong support base among the ANC Youth League and the women’s wing. When Hani was assassinated in 1993, Mbeki and Ramaphosa were left to contest the position of Deputy President.
After South Africa’s first democratic election in April 1994, Mandela had no choice but to choose Mbeki as the first deputy president in the Government of National Unity. The ANC’s alliance partners (SACP and Cosatu) appeared to approve of Mbeki in this position and Ramaphosa quit politics to go into business.
A number of factors played out in the intervening period including the fervent campaigns by the party’s youth wing, then led by Peter Mokaba, who made it clear that the youths preferred Mbeki and tacitly labeled Ramaphosa an “apologist”.
The same situation seems to be unfolding in Angola where the MPLA has asserted its authority by picking Defence Minister João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço.
Although incumbent Eduardo dos Santos is viewed as wielding so much power in MPLA, the party picked Lourenco, a party loyalist, as its candidate for the August elections.
Lourenço’s election by the MPLA’s central committee signaled the growing authority of the party after years of rubber-stamping the incumbent’s decisions.
President dos Santos has already endorsed Lourenco as the presidential candidate for the August elections and is believed to have dispatched emissaries in the region validating his party’s decision.
In Namibia, President Sam Nujoma in 2004 called for the ruling Swapo party to convene an extraordinary congress to elect the ruling party’s presidential candidate for elections slated that year. Nujoma publicly endorsed Hifikepunye Pohamba, who at the time was Swapo vice president, as his preferred candidate. Pohamba emerged victorious and ruled the country for 10 years. In 2012 Pohamba also chose his successor in Hage Geingob who at the time was also Swapo party vice president like Pohamba. In 2004, Geingob was challenged by two other candidates in the party’s internal elections but emerged the victor.
In Botswana, then President Quett Masire played a pivotal role in the eventual takeover of the presidency by Festas Mogae. President Mogae systematically influenced the amendment of the constitution to stipulate that the vice president would be an automatic successor to the incumbent. His argument was that the amendment would curb unnecessary fights and infuse certainty on succession.
This is how the current President Seretse Khama Ian Khama eventually ascended to the Presidency after being appointed vice president by Mogae in 1998, a move that surprised many who regarded him as a political novice.
It appears, however, that President Khama is prepared to go against the tenets of the constitution as his preferred successor is not the current vice president Mokgwetsi Masisi but Specially Elected MP, Eric Molale.
It is still to be seen whether President Khama will have his way or give in to the constitutional dictates of the vice president being the automatic successor.
Mozambique has a very interesting succession history in that it gives credence to the notion that seniority is not always a prerequisite in assuming leadership.
Following the death of founding President Samora Machel in 1986, there was a lot of jostling for power despite the fact that the second in command in the party hierarchy was Marcelino dos Santos, a committed Marxist widely respected for his care in not displaying public disagreements and for his role in the independence struggle.
What seemed to have been Marcelino’s downside was his ethnicity. He was light-skinned and even with its multiracial tolerance, it became very unlikely that Frelimo could extend this to electing a non-black as head of state.
The party later settled on the third in command, Joaquim Chissano, then Minister of Interior. Armando Guebuza, who was known at the time as an efficient executor of executive commands, had also expressed interest. His past misdeamours as the one pivotal in the Nkomati Accord (which specified, inter alia, that South Africa was to end its support for the Renamo rebels in exchange for a commitment by Maputo not to allow the use of Mozambican territory by the ANC as an operational base and/or a springboard for guerilla raids into South Africa) was some kind of a sore in the eyes of some Frelimo members and probably lost out on that basis as at one time he was put under house arrest by President Machel.
It was only after Chissano’s reign that Guebuza was chosen as Frelimo’s presidential candidate in 2002 after a grueling contest within the party.
It was, however, a different situation for current President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, the former Defence Minister, who was publicly endorsed by Guebuza. But again Nyusi had to go through the party process and eventually emerged as the favourite.
The idea of the incumbent naming a preferred candidate seems to be gaining currency in the region as it is perceived as the panacea to bringing predictability and a peaceful transition.
However, as shown by the cited examples, there are a number of variables that normally operate outside the glare of the public that ultimately determine a future leader of a party.
In the case of Zimbabwe, the ruling party plays a critical role in determining the next leader despite the incumbent’s preference. As repeatedly emphasised by President Mugabe, it is the people through the Zanu-PF congress who have the final say of who becomes the next leader.
One political commentator, Alois Masepe, once remarked that the succession fights were normal and should be expected in politics because every politician aspires for power.
He expressed concern on the absence of a coherent and transparent leadership succession framework in the governing Zanu-PF party.
“The tension is a result of failure by Zanu-PF to formulate a clear and unambiguous leadership career-path. If there was a political heir-apparent, the current tussling for power would be low key and manageable. Once that is done, the current feverish competition will cease, or at least, will decrease and normalcy will prevail in the party,” said Masepe.
War veterans aligned to Zanu-PF have repeatedly advocated for seniority to take precedence in the succession matrix.
However, from a regional assessment, this is not always the case. The population’s temperament is also another consideration in choosing the path to follow in the succession matrix.
It remains to be seen whether Mugabe will give a nod to the Women’s League suggestion and name a successor or follow the party’s constitutional dictates. Either way, analysts agree on the need to prepare for a desirable peaceful transition.