Zimbabwe: Mugabe Succession – Things Fall Apart? BY ELIAS MAMBO,

 IN the famous novel Things Fall Apart, renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe uses William Butler Yeats' poem as an epigraph, describing the chaos that arises when a system collapses.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed," reads the poem.

In invoking these lines, Achebe refers to both the imminent collapse of the African traditional systems, threatened by the rise of imperialist bureaucracies and the imminent disintegration of the British Empire.

The theme can also be used to aptly describe what is happening in Zanu PF which is mired in turmoil as the battle to succeed the soon to be 90 years old President Robert Mugabe boils over, with party heavyweights publicly clashing in unprecedented fashion in the acrimonious power struggle.

So brutal has been the fight that it has spilled into the state media, given to singing Zanu PF's praises, as reported faction leaders Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa battle to strategically position themselves to succeed Mugabe ahead of next year's elective congress.

Analysts say the open clashes over the chaotic Zanu PF provincial elections pitting Mujuru against Mnangagwa at the recent politburo and central committee meetings and the public clashes between Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba with Information minister Jonathan Moyo on the one hand and Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo on the other –themselves a manifestation of the broader factionalism in the party — showed the centre was beginning to crumble amid looming heightened chaos that could accompany the denouement Mugabe's long rule.

Zanu PF officials have been slamming each other in public and even attempts to invoke Mugabe's name as the "final executive authority" in Zanu PF has not struck the usual fear in the hearts of senior party officials. Mutasa and Gumbo have openly contested Charamba's version of events that results of the recent Mashonaland Central provincial elections are still not final pending a meeting of the politburo.

The Zanu PF politburo is going to have an extraordinary meeting tomorrow to deal with chaos unleashed by the hotly contested and disputed provincial elections in Manicaland, Midlands and Mashonaland Central provinces. The elections were marred by accusations of vote-buying, disenfranchisement and ballot-rigging — the very same allegations which have bedevilled Zimbabwe's national elections mainly since 2000.

The Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions are fighting for control of provincial structures crucial in the battle to determine Mugabe's successor. Provincial structures will play a pivotal role in choosing members of the presidium at the December 2014 elective congress. The two however insist they do not lead any factions even though it is actually common cause within their party that they actually do.

In a scathing editorial attack apparently on the Mujuru faction that won the controversial polls in the Midlands, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central provinces, state-controlled daily The Herald, now apparently mired in the factional battles, gave the clearest indication yet daggers are drawn in Zanu PF.

"On Saturday (tomorrow), Zanu PF needs to look itself in the mirror, warts and all. The party must act on the warts that threaten to make it politically ugly. The self-deprecating habit of pretending all is well when the house is on fire must be dropped like a plague, for fire once teased snarls all the way to ash," the Herald said in a Tuesday front page editorial which shocked many Zanu PF officials and its readers alike.

"There are some in Zanu PF who didn't want the chaos that ravaged provincial elections in the Midlands, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central exposed. They wanted the allegations of rigging and irregularities, the shambolic party registers and disenfranchisement of hundreds of party supporters to be hidden behind mouth-washed platitudes. But we are not in the business of public relations. Our duty is to educate, inform and entertain our readers."

As if that was not enough, the Herald even had the temerity to try to intimidate those it was attacking — showing the gloves are off in the Mugabe succession battle.

"That aside, we take this opportunity to remind all and sundry within Zanu PF that we hold no brief for anyone; aspiring or perspiring; for the party's leadership. To us journalism is as British writer George Orwell put it, writing what someone does not want written with everything else qualifying for public relations," the paper stated in a rarely bold editorial.

Analysts say this was no doubt in response to Mutasa, alleged to be aligned to the Mujuru faction, who in a withering attack on the paper said: "The Herald is not always right and we do not expect the editor (of that paper) to make announcements on behalf of the party.

"If the editor wants to speak on behalf of the party then he must join us and become an official. We make our announcements through our party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo."

Prior to that Mutasa had indicated there were also "mad people" at the Herald as part of the clashes over the provincial elections and the attendant succession war.

Gumbo, who has described some of his colleagues as "rebels", has also been fighting on another front, saying Zanu PF announcements come through him and not Moyo's ministry. But Moyo has fired back across the bows, insisting Mugabe is the ultimate authority in Zanu PF, while Charamba has tried to defend himself, whimpering under ruthless political attacks that he is merely a messenger.

Professor Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said the public spats between the party and information ministry officials show a political storm is brewing within the party.

"The public spat is an indication all is not well in the party and this affects even the functioning of government operations," Masunungure said. "This may also be Mugabe's tactic to let rivals fight and then come out to quench the fire, a move that helps him to hold on to his power."

Analysts say while factionalism is generally viewed as a threat to the cohesion and unity of any political party, Mugabe has time and again deftly played the two Zanu PF factions against each other in order to hold on to power, but events unfolding since the controversial provincial elections were held in three provinces suggest the situation may now be spinning out of his control.

Up to now Zanu PF had repeatedly denied the existence of factionalism within the party – even though senior party officials including Mugabe have occasionally condemned it – dismissing it as the machinations of the opposition and independent media, but such denials can no longer be sustained particularly in view of events within the party over the last few weeks.

The controversial provincial elections, marred by massive vote-rigging, intimidation and vote-buying, have laid bare the vicious factional fighting tearing Zanu PF apart.

So concerted has been the fight that Mujuru and Mnangagwa recently squared off in the politburo and central committee meetings in front of Mugabe as the fight to control provincial structures escalates. Local analyst Alexander Rusero said the succession debate raging on in Zanu PF serves the interests of Mugabe more than anyone else although it is damaging to the party.

"The discord between Mugabe's spokesperson and senior party officials shows that all is not well and that factionalism has indeed reached boiling point," Rusero said. "However, this serves Mugabe's interest ahead of the party's annual conference next month. If the succession issue is raised Mugabe will argue that he cannot leave the party that is rocked by power struggles," he said.

Rusero also said in as much as factionalism is a cancer that erodes the cohesion of any political party, in Zanu PF it has helped Mugabe as he always emerges as the lone unifier. Mugabe has previously claimed if he were to go Zanu PF would disintegrate, an assertion which might be true although clearly self-serving. But for now the question is: Will Mugabe stamp his authority in the politburo tomorrow or let things fall apart?