The demise of one of the most powerful men in Zimbabwe, Retired General Solomon Mujuru, in a mysterious fire at his Alamein Farm has triggered rumours of a conspiracy in the battle to succeed President Robert Mugabe (87).
The former military chief was “burnt beyond recognition” in the blaze at his farm in the early hours of Tuesday, police said.
Emotions have been running high in political circles since Mujuru’s tragic death. He was a key figure in the war of liberation that swept President Mugabe into power and became Zimbabwe’s first black military commander after independence.
Mujuru had been the most senior member of the military to sit on the Zanu PF politburo, the party’s supreme decision-making body.
The late former military commander was reportedly leading a faction opposed to Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also reportedly vying to take over the fractious former liberation movement leadership should President Mugabe retire.
But, has Mujuru’s death strengthened Mnangagwa’s hand?
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure believes with the death of Mujuru, the pendulum may in the short term swing decisively towards Mnangagwa’s faction.
However, he said in the medium to long term, Mnangagwa’s advantage would depend on whether the Mujuru faction would have a suitable replacement of their leader, who could match Mnangagwa, who has an impeccable liberation war record and is well connected in the security sector having been State Security minister before.
“It is difficult to say, but it’s reasonable to speculate that in the absence of the perceived leader of the Mujuru faction, this would make Mnangagwa stronger for a while. The balance of power will swing towards Mnangagwa in the short term though, while the Mujuru faction is still mourning,” Masunungure said.
“Politics is very dynamic and things can change very quickly. That Mnangagwa is well connected in the security sector is not in doubt, having been State Security minister for a long time and now Defence minister. He also has a long history with liberation war credentials.”
Another commentator Hopewell Gumbo told NewsDay: “The issue of factions in Zanu PF has been a subject of a lot of speculation by many Zimbabweans desperate for a change of the regime while at the same time the faction boundaries have not been defined by solid boundaries.
“The sad loss of General Mujuru will obviously shake the whole Zanu PF party and not only one faction, so there will be considerable realignment of factions while the party maintains a focus on the next election.
“Meanwhile, President Mugabe remains in charge of the party, which has been obviously on the decline in the last decade or so.”
However, another political analyst who refused to be named said it was too early to conclude Mnangagwa’s faction would have an edge over Mujuru’s faction.
“The death was too sudden. In many cases, Zanu PF gets united in a crisis than it gets divided.”
But, war veteran Dzinashe Machingura dismissed Mnangagwa as a non-entity, adding, the Defence minister did not have the support of the majority of members in the Zanu PF politburo.
“The fact that Mnangagwa has been repeatedly appointed a minister since independence does not make him popular, hence the so-called faction he’s supposed to be leading is a farce. Somebody who has repeatedly failed to win an election, can he manage to win the majority vote as a leader of the party? I wonder.
“He has survived on the benevolence of President Mugabe, who has repeatedly exercised his discretion. It was out of patronage and not popularity in the politburo.”
John Makumbe, professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said: “There is so much fighting in Zanu PF. Now that if it’s foul play, it’s anybody’s guess who might have done this.
“I think we are going to see a severely fractured party because there is going to be fingerpointing and allegations from one side against another. The two factions, Mujuru and Mnangagwa, have been fighting for crumbs from the rich man’s table. (President) Mugabe will not find it easy to handle. It will make him age a little faster again.”