PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday made his most unequivocal response yet to growing calls within his Zanu PF party to hand the baton to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, saying he will not choose a successor in a thinly-veiled attack on his long-time associate.
Mugabe last week told ZTV in an interview to mark his 93rd birthday that at the moment, there was no suitable candidate to take over from him if he were to finally retire after 37 years in power.
Celebrating his birthday in lavish style at the Rhodes Estate Preparatory School in Matobo yesterday, Mugabe said his successor would also not be chosen at a beer party in an apparent jibe on Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa caused a stir early this year when pictures of him drinking from a mug inscribed “I am the boss” during a controversial New Year party at his Zvishavane home leaked.
“There are people who must say Mugabe must go,” Mugabe said. “Where do they want me to go?” People who are busy forming their own groupings saying Mugabe must go; I ask myself where?
“It’s about the constitution, not buying beer somewhere at a hotel or at some houses forming groups discussing succession.”
He declared he will only step down when the ruling party orders him to.
“If Zanu PF says I should go I will sit down. For your own information I never canvassed for any position I rose up to my position. This is not about canvassing or buying beer,” Mugabe said to applause from invited guests.
“Let the people judge for themselves. No imposition, we don’t want imposition at all. People have said that I should choose a successor, but that is what is called imposition. I don’t want and will never impose.”
He added: “This is the job of congress to decide. Those who want will then come up and the party will elect as the constitution states. We can have an extra-ordinary congress if the President retires, but we must be together.”
Controversial businessman and Zanu PF member Energy Mutodi who appeared with Mnangagwa in the controversial pictures and war veterans are some of the people that have publicly called on Mugabe to hand over power to the VP.
Mnangagwa has tried to distance himself from people calling for the president to step down but Mugabe’s spokesperson believed to be in the VP’s camp in January wrote that the succession issue had long been decided.
He told Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo to stay away from the succession debate as he was not among those who will choose Zimbabwe’s next president.
Moyo is linked to the G40 faction and has publicly declared that he would support a Mnangagwa presidency. Mugabe also decried growing factionalism in the ruling party.
“Let me refer now to the unending problem of division within the party. We want a party that is well united,” he said.
“Let’s have the unity that binds us at heart and also intellectually. “The party has a program that is based on a party constitution which provides how people can get elected from one position to the other,” Mugabe said.
“So why why why do you want to try to circumvent the constitution? Whatever position you seek must be a position you get upon a proper election.
“People whether they are to be chairpersons or whatever positions have to be chosen by the people of the particular organic framework.”
Mugabe said only “the congress will decide” his fate at the appropriate time.
Earlier on, Zanu PF youth league political commissar, Innocent Hamandishe and youth league secretary, Kudzai Chipanga said the youths stood ready to “deal with those agitating for leadership renewal,” adding Mugabe is Zanu PF’s life president.
“We will die with you. As youth, we have agreed that you are our only candidate for the 2018 elections.
“We will not allow anyone to challenge you. If there is anyone who wants to challenge you to step down, we are going to deal with them,” Hamandishe said.
Chipanga added: “The youth will ensure the victory of Zanu-PF in the morning 2018 general elections by forwarding our youth agenda of endorsing you as our life president.
“We want congress to be just a formality where we deal with issues of VP’s and politburo members, but your candidacy should not be touched as you are our life president.”
Meanwhile, Mugabe pleaded with Zimbabweans to accept bond notes, saying they were a temporary measure to ease the cash crisis.
“Bond notes are just a temporary thing and we want you to bear with us because we had to adopt them for a shorter period,” he said.
Mugabe’s birthday celebrations were spared the heavy rains that have been pounding the city and Matobo the whole week.
There were fears the rains will disrupt the celebrations, resulting in the Zanu PF youth league also pitching tents for ordinary people.
The venue, football field, was muddy, making movement almost impossible.
Some people had to wear gumboots, while others walked barefooted.
Ordinary people also had to walk several kilometres to the venue due to lack of parking.
The Bulawayo-Kezi road was crowded with cars, forcing many to leave their vehicles kilometres away from the venue.-amh