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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 14:58 GMT
Zanu-PF - more than just Mugabe
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe
Zanu-PF will survive the post-Mugabe era
Joseph Winter

People close to President Robert Mugabe say that he is the only person capable of holding the ruling Zanu-PF party together.

This is because it is not - contrary to what many assume - a homogenous grouping happy merely to act as a vehicle for Mr Mugabe to stay in power as long as he wants.

Like political parties throughout the world, it is riven by ideology, method, ethnicity and, above all, personal ambition.

For at least a decade, Zanu-PF heavyweights have been vying with each other to take over when the 77-year-old steps down.

But Mr Mugabe has so far managed to play them off against each other and remain on top.

Dissent

During the debate on the controversial media bill, some of these internal tensions came to the fore.

Young Zanu-PF supporters
Zanu-PF's 'young turks' are biding their time

Ruling party MP Eddison Zvobgo said the original bill was "the most calculated and determined assault on our liberties guaranteed by the constitution".

Using his influential position as chairman of the parliamentary legal committee, this Harvard-educated lawyer succeeded in delaying its passage by two weeks and wringing some minor concessions from the government.

Unlike others, Mr Zvobgo has never hidden his ambition to succeed Mr Mugabe.

One of his closest allies, Dzikamai Mavhaire, then a Zanu-PF MP, told parliament in 1997 that "the president should go". He lost his senior position in the party, as have other Zvobgo allies in his home area of Masvingo.

Mr Zvobgo himself was sacked from the cabinet in 2000 and then also lost his place in the Zanu-PF politburo.

Gravy train

With the Movement for Democratic Change proving itself to be a credible challenger, Mr Mugabe felt he had to be able to focus his energies on the opposition, without being worried about which of his supposed allies might be stabbing him in the back.

But Mr Zvobgo is not alone.

Just after the 2000 party congress decided that Mr Mugabe would be its candidate for these elections, I met a depressed Zanu-PF MP complaining of a missed opportunity to "get rid of the old man".

So why hadn't he spoken up during the congress? "The place was crawling with war veterans," came the reply.

These so-called "young Turks" do exist but they are not ready to take the risk of openly defying Mr Mugabe.

They know that doing so at the moment would certainly mean internal discipline - losing their seats on the political gravy train - and possibly worse.

Socialism

While some oppose Mr Mugabe on personal grounds or because they feel his star is waning, others have ideological differences or feel that the use of violence is wrong.

Finance Minister Simba Makoni
Makoni does not agree with Mugabe's socialism

On several occasions, ministers and even the vice-president have announced that illegal occupations of white-owned farms would cease, only for the president to over-rule them.

Mr Mugabe has spent his political life espousing socialism. He is currently imposing price controls on a variety of staple foods and taking land from rich whites to give to poor blacks.

But his Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, is a firm believer in the free market.

He once said that Zimbabwe needs the rest of the world but the rest of the world does not need Zimbabwe - something his fiercely proud president would never admit.

His understanding and belief in the global economy was intended to persuade international donors to resume their aid, suspended because of concerns over corruption and the land reform programme.

But they knew that real power was concentrated in Mr Mugabe's hands and that however amenable and well-meaning his finance minister was, the president viewed the world through different eyes.

Heir-apparent

While Mr Makoni is well-respected outside Zanu-PF, the man currently best-placed to succeed Mr Mugabe is Emmerson Mnangagwa, the speaker of parliament.

Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa
Mnangagwa hopes to succeed Mugabe

He was state security minister in the early 1980s, when the army killed thousands of Mr Mugabe's ethnic Ndebele opponents.

Some see his hand behind the current campaign of violence against opposition supporters.

But many Ndebeles with bitter memories of the 1980s, even within Zanu-PF, would not welcome him becoming president.

When the Mugabe era does finally come to an end, it will not spell the end of Zanu-PF.

But the divisions and personal rivalries which are largely being suppressed for the moment will come to the fore and it may not be a pretty sight.

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