PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has effectively ruled out his two deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, from the succession race, declaring in excerpts of a yet-to-be-aired interview to mark his 93rd birthday, that he would rather cling onto power for now until an “acceptable successor” has been identified.
“The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor, who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” he said.
The remarks effectively shut the door for Mnangagwa, who until recently was touted as the front runner and Mugabe’s heir apparent.
Mugabe’s statement also corroborated his wife, Grace’s rant on Friday at a Zanu-PF campaign rally in Buhera, where she declared that the Zanu-PF leader was irreplaceable and his corpse would win the upcoming 2018 presidential elections.
Mugabe said his Zanu-PF party, which under normal circumstances should have led the call for him to step down, recently gave him a fresh mandate to contest the 2018 presidential election, despite his advanced age in an apparent show of no confidence in his deputies.
“The call to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at central committee. But then what do you see? It’s the opposite,” he said in an interview published by Sunday Mail.
“They want me to stand for elections. Of course, if I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But, for now, I think I can’t say so…”
Zanu-PF has been divided along two distinctive factions, with the First Lady and Mphoko on one hand together with a number of youthful politicians, while Mnangagwa is backed by war veterans.
Mnangagwa is reportedly locked in a fierce succession battle with a faction of Zanu-PF Young Turks, believed to be led by Grace, who are fighting to block his ascendancy to power.
Both Grace and Mnangagwa have publicly denied harbouring ambitions to succeed Mugabe.
Turning 93 this week and battling ill-health, Mugabe has kept an iron grip on power since the country’s independence in 1980, and has repeatedly denied reports of frailty.
Grace, on Friday, told a Zanu-PF campaign rally in Buhera that no one among the ruling party’s bigwigs had the capacity to succeed her husband.
“There are people, who know that if they stand for election, even with a chicken, they will lose,” she said.
“A cock can win against a person, who was given dominion over everything and lose. That man is irreplaceable. That is the truth, whether we like it or not.”
Grace challenged unnamed politicians, who have been in government since 1980, who are pushing for Mugabe to retire, to also step down with him.
The jibe appeared aimed at Mnangagwa, long considered as Mugabe’s political confidante since the liberation struggle and has remained a constant figure in the successive Zanu-PF governments since 1980.
State broadcaster, ZBC is set to air Mugabe’s interview today and tomorrow.