As President Robert Mugabe starts a new five-year term to rule Zimbabwe until he’s 94, his party faces a succession battle between his vice president, whose nom de guerre was “Comrade Spill Blood,” and a former spy chief known as “The Crocodile.”
The contest pits Vice President Joice Mujuru, who took the name of Teurai Ropa, or “Spill Blood” in the Shona language, when as a teenager she joined the fight for independence, against Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who at age 19 led a sabotage unit known as the “Crocodile Gang.”
“The succession issue remains a challenge to the party,” Patrick Chinamasa, a politburo member of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National-Patriotic Front and the justice minister, said in Aug. 7 interview in Harare, the capital. “We are fully cognizant of the divisive nature of the succession issue. We need to deal with it without losing cohesion.”
With the backing of many in the armed forces, intelligence and police chiefs, Mnangagwa would probably focus on keeping military leaders in control of diamond fields and some of the country’s best farmland, according to analysts including Mark Rosenberg of Eurasia Group and Gilbert Khadiagala of South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. Mujuru may seek to repair relations with the international community to boost her faction’s investments in banking and retail, Rosenberg said.
“Mujuru and her allies are vested in industries like finance, retail and hospitality that demand more rational policies to grow,” Rosenberg said.
In 2000 Mugabe started a program of seizing white-owned commercial farms that led to a decade-long crisis in which the economy slumped 39 percent and inflation soared to an estimated 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Mugabe won the July 31 president race with 61 percent of the vote, which his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, described as a “farce” because of alleged rigging.
The MDC on Aug. 9 submitted a court challenge in Harare against the results, saying 870,000 names were duplicated on the voters’ roll. It called for a fresh election within 60 days. In a speech in Harare today Mugabe said critics of the election win can “go hang.”
Mujuru would probably dilute Mugabe’s program known as indigenization that seeks to force foreign-owned companies such as Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. (IMP) and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (AMS) and banks including the local unit of Barclays Plc to cede 51 of the shares in their local operations to blacks or the government, Rosenberg said.
During his 33 years in power, Mugabe has controlled the internal struggles in his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party over ethnic rivalry and patronage. Mugabe, who has denied reports that he’s received treatment for prostate cancer, has had medical check-ups in Singapore several times.
After casting his vote in the election, Mugabe said he would serve out his term.
There are “too many tensions and divisions for Mugabe to step down,” International Crisis Group researcher Trevor Maisiri said in an Aug. 5 interview in Harare. “The succession battle is going to be more intense than it was before.”
Both Mujuru and Mnangagwa have been in Mugabe’s cabinet since independence in 1980.
Mnangagwa has served as head of the ministries of security, justice and rural housing and as the speaker of Parliament. He was the chief of intelligence when Mugabe ordered the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to crack down on rebels in the southwestern region of Matebeleland in the 1980s, resulting in the death of as many as 20,000 civilians from the Ndebele ethnic minority. The operation was known as Gukurahundi, or the early rain that washes away the chaff in Shona.
At 25, Mujuru became Zimbabwe’s youngest minister working her way up to vice-president in 2004. Her husband, Solomon Mujuru, led the main guerrilla army during the independence war and was the nation’s first army chief. He died in 2011 in a fire at his home.
Legally Mujuru, 58, is first in line to succeed Mugabe.
“She represents the gentler mode of contemporary politics -- unifying, motherly, compassionate and national,” Ibbo Mandaza, a former Mujuru adviser who’s the director of the Sapes Trust, a Harare-based political analysis group, said in an interview. “She’s the kind of person who would require and rely on a good team of advisers. She’s pragmatic, she listens.”
Mnangagwa, 66, is the chief of the joint operations command. He can draw on the support of powerful figures including Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga, Augustine Chihuri, the head of police, and Happyton Bonyongwe, who runs the Central Intelligence Organisation, Rosenberg said.
The military controls parts of the eastern Marange diamond field, according to non-profit groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch and Partnership Africa Canada. A Zimbabwean parliamentary committee said in June tens of millions of dollars in diamond revenue hasn’t been paid to the Treasury.
Mnangagwa is “the typical strongman and therefore likely to be very ruthless. He’s not given to entertaining debate,” Mandaza said. On the economy, he’s “pragmatic,” he said. “He’s never been part of the indigenization campaign.”
Mugabe’s choice of who sits in his new cabinet in the coming days should indicate which faction has the upper hand.
“We are waiting to see how the securocrats, who are responsible for the election outcome, will show their hand now,” Mandaza said.
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