Senior Zimbabwe leader's death could spark infighting

Some speculate that the death of retired Zimbabwe army Gen. Solomon Mujuru in a fire was no accident, but rather a political 'hit' due to his willingness to challenge President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
A poster of the late former Zimbabwean army supreme General Solomon Mujuru is held at his burial in Harare, Saturday, Aug, 20. Mujuru, who died in a fire at his farm, was laid to rest with full military honors.

The death of Zimbabwe’s retired Gen. Solomon Mujuru, widely regarded as the kingmaker in the former ruling party Zanu PF and a potential successor to President Robert Mugabe, has changed the political landscape in the troubled southern African country.

General Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joice Mujuru, was a senior behind-the-scenes leader for politically connected officers in Zimbabwe’s army, and a fierce rival of defense minister and former intelligence chief Emerson Mnangagwa, who now appears to have an upper hand in succeeding the aging President Mugabe.

Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, when the white minority leadership of a country then named Rhodesia lost elections to Mr. Mugabe’s black majority party.

Mugabe’s rule is credited with wholescale reform of the education system, making Zimbabwe one of the most literate countries in Africa, but also condemned for its disastrous economic policy of business and agricultural expropriation, which have made Zimbabweans among the continent’s poorest citizens.

Mujuru was a senior commander of the Zanu PF fighting force that brought the Rhodesian government, under Prime Minister Ian Smith, to the negotiation table in 1979. The late former guerrilla died in a suspicious inferno at his farm, about 60 kilometers to the south of capital Harare on Aug. 15. Police investigators claim the blaze was accidental, started by a candle lit by household staff following a power cut.

Political observers have dismissed the police claim, saying there is high suspicion that Mujuru was assassinated by state security agents for his outspokenness and willingness to challenge Mugabe. The former commander of the army was said by analysts to be the only person senior enough in Zanu PF to face up to Mugabe and to Mr. Mnangagwa, the leader of the rival faction that was competing to succeed Mugabe.

His death, analysts have said, could be the harbinger of a violent power struggle within the liberation struggle party.

“A close analysis will show you that the death of Mujuru has changed politics in many ways,” says political analyst Takura Zhangazha in Harare. “Firstly, the faction he used to lead has been weakened because he was the power behind it because of his history. The fact that he played a pivotal role in the liberation of this country gave him special powers. (Now) his faction is exposed. Vice President Mujuru is not that powerful.”

“In the same vein, the faction led by Mnangagwa is now in the picture and coming out strongly because the head of the other faction is no longer there,” Mr. Zhangazha adds. “They clearly have an advantage over of the other faction of Zanu PF.”

Mujuru’s death is likely to result in “instability” within Zanu PF, says University of Zimbabwe lecturer John Makumbe, since one powerful faction within the country’s security cluster is now without a protector and advocate within senior Zanu PF leadership. Talk of a succession battle after Mugabe’s death, he adds, is premature, since Mugabe’s health appears to be strong.

“Politically, the death of Mujuru is significant in that he was one of the two leaders of known factions in Zanu PF and his passing on means the other faction has been robbed of its leader, but this has serious implications,” says Mr. Makumbe. “The development might signal the beginning of instability in Zanu PF because the other faction thinks Mujuru did not die accidentally.”

“All kinds of suspicion exist, but President Mugabe is not prepared to step down and pass on the baton,” says Makumbe. “He firmly believes that there is no one except him who can stand shoulder to shoulder with [opposition leader and current coalition goernment Prime Minister Morgan] Tsvangirai in any election. In the final analysis, the ongoing factionalism benefits President Mugabe, but Zanu PF needs a new unifying man now for them to stand the test of time.”

Political analyst Eldred Masungure warns against making predictions in the murky world of Zimbabwean politics.

“It’s too early to tell what impact the death of Mujuru on national politics,” says Mr. Masungure. “But in Zanu PF, yes, although it’s speculation at the moment but other parties think the former ruling party is at its weakest following this death.

“People might think the Mujuru camp in Zanu PF has been dealt a blow,” he adds, “but it should be noted that this death will inspire them to have a greater resolve than before. The situation at the moment is unpredictable.”

Our reporter in Harare could not be named for security reasons.

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