Since the death of former army commander and Zanu PF kingpin retired General Solomon Mujuru, President Robert Mugabe has been having an easy ride in the party as politburo members have no guts to openly confront him over the succession issue.
The situation has been made even worse by the departure of former politburo guru Dumiso Dabengwa who together with Mujuru could stand up to Mugabe, demanding to know when he would relinquish power and usher in leadership renewal.
Mujuru and Dabengwa forced Mugabe to call for an extraordinary congress in 2007 where they plotted to replace him with former politburo member and ex-finance minister Simba Makoni.
The late Vice-President Joseph Msika also used to intervene at critical moments like when he blocked suggestions by Zanu PF officials in 2007 that Mugabe be declared life president.
Ironically, it was Mujuru who was instrumental in helping install Mugabe as Zanu PF leader in Mozambique in 1976 when guerrilla fighters were resisting his ascendancy.
Before his death in a mysterious fire in 2011, Mujuru had become a thorn in Mugabe’s flesh.
Mugabe has been at the helm of Zanu PF since 1977 after seizing its leadership from founding leader Ndabaningi Sithole in a prison coup in 1974 and has ruled Zimbabwe uninterrupted since 1980.
With the departure of Mujuru and Dabengwa, Mugabe has been having it easy. At the party’s Goromonzi conference in 2006, Mujuru and his allies blocked Mugabe’s attempts to extend his presidential term by two years outside an election from 2008 to 2010. He had been controversially re-elected in 2002.
Mugabe’s six-year term was due to end in 2008 while parliament’s five-year term was to run until 2010 following parliamentary polls in 2005. So in a bid to ensure the presidential and parliamentary terms ran concurrently, Mugabe and his loyalists tried to extend his tenure by two years but Mujuru and others rejected that.
After blocking Mugabe, Mujuru’s faction, which had triumphed during the 2004 congress, gained momentum in the run-up to the 2008 elections and forced an extraordinary congress in December 2007 as the internal power struggle reached its zenith.
Their plan was for Makoni to challenge Mugabe for the presidency with Dabengwa as his deputy, but this was blocked by presidential loyalists, including Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
After this, Mujuru and his allies tried to fight Mugabe from outside. Makoni sensationally quit Zanu PF with a plan to register himself as the party’s candidate on nomination day just before the 2008 elections supported by Dabengwa. Mujuru and the rest would then leave to urge Zanu PF supporters to back Makoni in a bid to stage a palace coup against Mugabe.
Dabengwa confirmed this in a recent interview with the state-owned Sunday Mail, although the Zimbabwe Independent extensively reported on this at the time.
However, Makoni lost the plot and the entire plan was thrown into disarray.
After the departure of Dabengwa and Makoni, and the subsequent death of Mujuru, Mugabe virtually has no challenger in Zanu PF.
No one has the courage to confront him anymore and that is why before party conferences in Mutare, Bulawayo and now Gweru he easily retained his position.
Before Mujuru and Dabengwa emerged as firebrands, Mugabe used to have problems from the late Edison Zvobgo, Edgar Tekere and Enos Nkala, among others.
After Tekere was expelled from Zanu PF and Nkala fell by the wayside following the Willowgate scandal, Zvobgo became the main voice of dissent within the party.
Zvobgo gave Mugabe problems until his death in 2004, just before the explosive congress that year.
Current actions by the party’s factional leaders Joice Mujuru, widow of the late General Mujuru, and Mnangagwa show Mugabe is no longer under any challenge.
All Zanu PF structures have endorsed Mugabe to continue leading the party and stand for re-election next year when he would be 89 years old ahead of the Gweru conference next week.
When Mujuru was still alive and Dabengwa in Zanu PF, Mugabe was always forced to sweat to retain the party leadership and remain as the uncontested candidate in presidential elections.
Although senior party leaders believe Mugabe is no longer a viable but risky candidate given his advanced age and health problems, they are unable to mobilise to force him out because of the party’s strict disciplinary codes, hierarchical arrangements, patronage and internal rivalry which allows his divide-and-rule tactics to thrive.
Mugabe survived spirited attempts during the recent constitution-making process to bar him from standing in the next elections on term limits and age grounds.
Senior Zanu PF and MDC party officials, working in cahoots, recently tried to insert in the draft constitution clauses to render Mugabe ineligible for re-election but the veteran ruler viciously fought back to defeat the plot.
Joice Mujuru and Mnangagwa have been locked in a protracted battle to succeed Mugabe despite their recent official denials for fear of a backlash.
Denials they are interested in succession even when their supporters confirm it show how much fear Mugabe has instilled in them and why he is once again the undisputed Zanu PF leader even though he lacks popular support and legitimacy.