A Queen’s Gambit in Zimbabwe | Freedom House

A Queen’s Gambit in Zimbabwe

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Freshly surfaced rumors indicate that Joice Mujuru, seen until recently as a potential successor to President Robert Mugabe, has resigned from her position as the deputy president of Zimbabwe. However, Mugabe has apparently refused to accept her resignation. While on the surface this might look like a show of support for Mujuru, it is in fact Mugabe’s latest attempt to undermine her presidential ambitions.

In recent months, the governing ZANU-PF party has been torn apart along factional lines. The division is defined not by ideological differences, but rather by the personal rivalry of two principal leaders, Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. These factions have been working arduously to outmaneuver each other and position themselves to take control once Mugabe, who turns 91 in February 2015, passes from the scene.

The ZANU-PF infighting will come to a head when the party holds its elective congress in December. While Mugabe will be unchallenged as the party’s leader, he will likely have to do everything in his power to ensure that the congress produces the leadership structure he prefers, which would include removing Mujuru as the party vice president—an office that positions her well to succeed him as the president of both party and state.

Today, the most likely scenario is that Oppah Muchinguri, a close Mnangagwa ally who currently serves as minister of women’s affairs, gender, and community development, will replace Mujuru in her party post with the blessings of both the president and the first lady, Grace Mugabe. Mnangagwa, meanwhile, would emerge as the party chairperson, hoping to succeed Mugabe in the near future. In order to protect Mugabe’s personal interests, Grace Mugabe would be appointed as chair of the ZANU-PF women’s league.

For this scenario to become reality, Mugabe needs Mujuru to remain in place as state deputy president. This will ensure that she is both constantly bogged down by government business and vulnerable to blame for the government’s failure to address the people’s needs. She can then be sidelined on those grounds, just as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was discredited and defeated in 2013 after serving as prime minister in a unity government.

Consequently, Mujuru’s attempt to resign from the state deputy presidency is the only action that can keep her hopes of succeeding Mugabe alive. She could frame the resignation as a protest against Mugabe’s failure to improve the country’s governance and economic conditions. The move might also allow her to expose corrupt practices within the government and turn both the public and ZANU-PF delegates against Muchinguri, Mnangagwa, and Grace Mugabe. More importantly, it would give her the freedom to campaign, adopt a reform agenda, and portray herself as a prodemocracy figure to attract civil society and opposition party support, guaranteeing her another shot at the presidency in the 2018 election even if she is outmaneuvered at the forthcoming ZANU-PF congress.

Given that both ZANU-PF factions are highly ambitious and engaged in a winner-take-all contest, political violence could erupt during the period surrounding the party congress. State security institutions, which are also divided along factional lines, may be used to carry out most of the dirty work in this struggle, perpetuating antidemocratic practices in Zimbabwean politics.

Whether or not Joice Mujuru succeeds in her attempt to become Mugabe’s successor, one thing is clear: Zimbabweans who are yearning for change are unlikely to get a true political champion out of any succession process within the ZANU-PF ranks. The party’s current elites, with their personal quests for power and entrenched authoritarian mentality, would never submit themselves to the rule of law or a genuinely democratic process.

Photo Credit: Richter Frank-Jurgen

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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