Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu PF party has split into factions after President Robert Mugabe removed Joice Mujuru, his vice president and a front-runner to succeed him, from power.
Mrs Mujuru, 59, fought for independence alongside Mr Mugabe and spent 10 years in the second most powerful political office in the country.
She is widely believed to have been removed after Mr Mugabe’s wife Grace launched a surprise political career and formed an alliance with the other pretender to the presidency, the shadowy former defence and now justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Analysts say Mr Mnangagwa, who is locally nicknamed The Crocodile and thought to have masterminded a massacre of tens of thousands of Mr Mugabe’s political opponents in the 1980s, has made a deal with Mrs Mugabe to take over and protect her family and the sizeable assets it has built up after the nonagenarian leader dies.
Mrs Mujuru was popular within the party and along with her senior leaders, including at least six government ministers, have been purged, with others still vulnerable in a cabinet where an estimated half openly supported the former vice-president.
Mrs Mujuru sent a message saying she was too “unwell” to attend the politburo meeting late on Wednesday where, state media reported, the constitution was rewritten to take powers away from delegates to vote for the party’s senior leaders at the forthcoming party congress and allow for President Robert Mugabe to unilaterally appoint them.
Her removal is the culmination of a three-month campaign by first lady Grace Mugabe, 49, and the state media run by information minister Jonathan Moyo, a Mnangagwa supporter, who accused her and loyalist colleagues of corruption and plotting to assassinate Mr Mugabe.
Mrs Mujuru, thought to be the West’s preferred candidate to succeed the president, has denied the charges, saying she remains a loyal “servant of the people.”
Rugare Gumbo, Zanu PF’s long-time spokesman who was himself sacked from his post ten days ago over alleged involvement in the assassination plot, said: “Fundamentally the party has split. They are changing the party constitution. This is therefore not the Zanu PF of which we were members. That party is now gone.”
One part insider said Zanu PF might as well cancel its congress next week.
“It is not necessary. Who will be there?” he said. “Most of the rest of the party seniors have been sacked.”
Ibbo Mandaza, a senior Zanu PF member before he left the party some six years ago said: “Mugabe knows everyone everywhere wants him to leave. He can’t imagine a life out of power, so he manipulated all of this.”
Others say that in Zimbabwean terms, Joice Mujuru is still quite young and could return to politics when Mr Mugabe dies.