Succession questions loom for ageing Mugabe in Zimbabwe

Succession questions loom for ageing MugabeDespite four years of a forced unity government, Robert Mugabe is expected to brush aside his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, in presidential elections

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 August, 2013, 2:20am

A victory for Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's presidential elections held yesterday would raise the prospect of him ruling well into his 90s, inflaming a succession battle that already quietly rages.

You don't rule a country - especially one as volatile as Zimbabwe - for 33 years without knowing a thing or two about seeing off rivals. Since taking up the reins of a newly independent country in 1980, Mugabe has for three decades deftly brushed aside opponents and, with power consolidated, kept subordinates in their place.

He started with Joshua Nkomo, a man many considered to be the father of the modern nation. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) kicked out the white-minority government after a long bush war. A brief co-habitation followed.

But ultimately it was Nkomo who fled the country, accused - with the aid of some suspect intelligence operations - of plotting a coup. His supporters in Matabeleland were crushed by North Korean-trained forces, in an operation that killed 20,000 people and became known as Gukurahundi - the early rain that washes away the chaff.

Since then a series of elections has seen Mugabe retain power by hook or crook, repeatedly seeing off Morgan Tsvangirai, who he again faced yesterday. Again critics doubted that the vote would be free and fair, but few doubt the outcome. Yet perhaps the fiercest battle will take place behind the scenes. Throughout his rule, Mugabe has steadfastly refused to name a successor.

The lack of a clear heir has led to jockeying within Zanu-PF between two camps, one led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the other by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

After losing the first round of the 2008 elections, there were reports that Mugabe was prepared to accept defeat, but was pushed by allies in the security forces to hang on. It was the military that reportedly led the violent campaign in the lead-up to the run-off election which Tsvangirai boycotted following the killing of some 200 of his supporters.

Wrapping up his election campaign on Sunday, Mugabe showed no sign of changing tack, claiming he would have the energy to run in 2018.

On the eve of the vote, he was confident of victory but said he would step down if he lost. "If you lose you must surrender," he said at a rare press conference where he dismissed claims of any interference. "I comply with the electoral law. I am very obedient."

Mugabe's failure to pick and groom a successor "means he cannot trust anyone in Zanu-PF", according to political analyst Shakespeare Hamauswa of the University of Zimbabwe.

As a result, if he is handed back power he will likely continue to recycle the stalwarts who have served him for decades.