DIVIDED as never before over ageing leader Robert Mugabe’s succession, Zimbabwe’s ruling party opens its key leadership congress Tuesday, with a host of heavyweights sidelined by a major purge.
The elective congress — to be attended by some 12,000 delegates — is expected to endorse the 90-year-old Mugabe as party chief and his wife Grace as women’s league boss.
But several major players are unlikely to retain their posts after a purge in recent weeks targeting Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies.
This marks a major turning point in the fortunes of Zanu PF,” Ibbo Mandaza, head of the think tank Southern African Political and Economic Series Trust, told AFP.
“We don’t even know what Zanu PF will look like after the congress. It’s a different ballgame altogether.”
The party meets behind closed doors on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the congress moving into open session from Thursday to Saturday.
But with the ruling party set to approve amendments to its constitution to allow Mugabe to personally appoint his deputies, business was already as good as done, said analyst Rushweat Mukundu of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.
“Much of the congress business has been completed as Mugabe will have the power to choose who he wants to work with,” Mukundu told AFP.
“If there is going to be any competition, it will be among bootlickers fighting to earn the favour of the president.”
One of the victims of the purge, suspended party spokesman Rugare Gumbo, said the congress was a sham.
“If Mugabe is given the power to appoint then it ceases to be an elective congress,” he said.
“The whole congress is a non-event because the constitution has been manipulated and violated. So where is democracy? It is not a congress at all. It is a charade.”
Long a front-runner to succeed Mugabe, Mujuru’s future now hangs in the balance after she failed to make it into the party’s central committee.
Zanu PF rejected Mujuru’s election papers last week after Grace Mugabe accused her of corruption and fomenting factionalism within the party.
She has also been accused of plotting to assassinate the president.
Mujuru’s only hopes lies in a direct appointment by Mugabe — improbable due to pressure from his wife.
Grace Mugabe, 49, won a surprise nomination in August to lead the powerful women’s wing of Zanu PF in August and has made no secret of her ambition to clinch the country’s top job.