Zimbabwe’s first lady has urged 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe to name his choice for a successor.
Grace Mugabe, who is widely believed to harbor presidential ambitions, made her comments Thursday while addressing the ZANU-PF party's women's league in Harare.
According a report from the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the first lady, 52, said "there is nothing wrong with Comrade Mugabe naming his successor, adding that the move will enable all [party] members to rally behind one candidate."
ZBC reports that the first lady also said "the president has the right to be involved in naming his successor," and that "the president’s word is final.”
President Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has so far refused to say who should replace him despite increasing divisions in his party.
On his birthday in February, he told ZBC: “If I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I’ll say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think, I can’t say so. The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, actually. No successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am.”
Last year, ZANU-PF confirmed Mugabe will be its presidential candidate for the 2018 elections. But given his age, factions within the party are jostling for the top spot in the party.
There are two camps openly vying for the presidency: Generation 40 and Team Lacoste. Generation 40 — which refers to the party’s young Turks — is allied to Grace Mugabe. Team Lacoste backs Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who is widely known as "the crocodile."
President Mugabe has acknowledged the existence of the two rival camps and their feuding, and has ordered them to “stop it.” But the infighting has only worsened with reports of his deteriorating health and age.
Mugabe has travelled to Singapore three times this year for what his office says are “routine medical checkups.”
Last month, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo endorsed Defense Minister Sydney Sekeramayi to succeed the president. The endorsement drew a strong rebuke from army chief General Constantino Guveya Chiwenga, who labeled Moyo "an enemy of the state."
Dumisani Muleya, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, told VOA Zimbabwe that the first lady may be paving the way for Sekeramai.
“I think what she is trying to do now, realizing that Mugabe is increasingly getting frail, largely because of old age and health complications, she wants to be a catalyst to the process to resolve the succession conundrum ... Our understanding is that she wants Mugabe to put in a process that will support Defense Minister Sydney Sekeramayi to take over."
That move would be opposed by many veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war, who say Mnangagwa is the natural successor to Mugabe because is a veteran of the war and is the second most senior ZANU-PF leader, after the longtime president.
ZANU-PF deputy legal affairs secretary Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana says the party’s constitution is clear on the issue of succession -- and it does not give the president the power to anoint a successor.
"Ordinarily we hold our congress every five years and the last congress was held in 2014 so the next one will be held in 2019," he told VOA. "In the event if a vacancy arises in between those congresses, a special congress will be called within three months of the event, and then those who are interested in succeeding will have to file nominations and then they will be elected in the special congress.”
Mangwana said the president has no veto powers in the matter.
“No, he has no say whatsoever. Anyone who wants to become president must submit his or her nomination. They stand up and say I want to lead this party. And anyone who wants to contest them can contest them. So, the president has one vote like any other member of the party," he said.
Secretary general Obert Gutu of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai said, “Those remarks she is just grandstanding because you would actually appreciate that she is one of the people who is very much urging the president to hold onto power until he dies. We all know that.
“And so it comes as a very, very big surprise when she says the president must name a successor when she knows that her husband has been on record to say ‘no’ I don’t choose a successor, the successor will be chosen by the people of his party at a congress. We see this as a fishing expedition. She is grandstanding, she is actually trying to find out who is going to back her and find out who exactly are the people that would want Mugabe to step aside and for a successor to take over. With respect she should not be taken seriously on this at all.”