Joice Mujuru, Zimbabwe’s vice-president, has seized pole position in the race to succeed the ageing Robert Mugabe after her faction of Zanu-PF emerged victorious from the weekend’s provincial party elections, securing her almost unassailable support as leader-in-waiting.
In a blow to her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the feared justice minister, Mrs Mujuru’s supporters won internal elections as chairmen in eight out of nine of the country’s provinces.
The result means she will be unchallenged as senior vice-president at Zanu-PF’s elective congress next December – and, therefore, as heir apparent to the 89-year-old president should he die or retire before the 2018 elections. According to Zimbabwe’s new constitution, the 58-year-old Mrs Mujuru would then also lead Zanu-PF into those elections, smothering the presidential aspirations of Mr Mnangagwa, the former defence minister known as “The Crocodile” for his role in the massacre of thousands of political opponents during the 1980s and the violence of the disputed 2008 election.
“Joice Mujuru has won overwhelming support from the provinces, even though this is not said in public by Zanu-PF. She will be the transition, when Mugabe goes, hopefully to a better Zimbabwe,” said a Zanu-PF insider who asked not to be named.
For decades all senior party leaders, including vice-presidents, routinely denied that they had presidential ambitions. Any who did so felt Mr Mugabe’s wrath. But Mrs Mujuru broke that code of silence when she told the Telegraph: “If the chance comes, then no one will refuse.”
Many inside Zimbabwe and in the region will be celebrating the success of Mrs Mujuru’s supporters in the elections. She is seen as more democratic and compassionate than Mr Mnangagwa, who has heavy backing from the security sector. She became junior vice-president of Zanu-PF in 2004, helped by the backing of her powerful husband, Gen Solomon Mujuru, a popular former army chief who died in a mysterious fire at his farm two years ago.
He was one of only a handful of politicians who stood up to Mr Mugabe and wanted him to step down ahead of the 2008 election. Many, including some in Zanu-PF, believe that Gen Mujuru was killed to prevent him helping his wife’s political advancement.
Colleagues of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who was Zimbabwe’s prime minister until the position was abolished this year, say he developed a friendly and constructive working relationship with Mrs Mujuru during the uneasy coalition government that ended in July. Paul Themba Nyathi, a member of one of the two Movement for Democratic Change factions in Zimbabwe, said Mrs Mujuru was a good compromise if Zanu-PF stayed in power. “I have seen a lot of humanity coming out of her. I got on well with her in parliament,” he said.
Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwe political analyst, said the outcome must make Mrs Mujuru feel “pretty confident”, but added: “We should not rule out that Mugabe may continue to play off one Zanu-PF faction against the other as he has done in the past.”
Piers Pigou, International Crisis Group’s Southern Africa project director, said: “If this represents a shift towards moderation and pragmatism by Zanu-PF, we will expect to see implementation of policies that reflect this.”