Crowds went wild with support when Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa took to the podium at the Zanu-PF congress to announce changes to the party’s constitution. The changes mean Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will appoint two vice-presidents and the chairman of the party.
Mnangagwa, Zanu-PF legal secretary, said one of the vice-presidents would be from the former Zapu opposition.
But the ululating and applause made it clear that the most important vice-president would be Mnangagwa himself if the delegates have their way.
Mugabe was the only candidate for the party’s position of president and as a result Zanu-PF resolved therefore he would stand as the presidential candidate in elections in 2018, when he would be 94.
Grace Mugabe, tipped by some to succeed her husband, was the only candidate to be secretary of the women’s league and therefore earns a place in the politburo. But insiders at the congress said she was never on the list to inherit the top post from her husband.
“She will only be the women’s boss, not a VP,” said a senior member of Zanu-PF from inside the congress tent.
Mugabe paid tribute to his wife and thanked her for her work. He said some in Zanu-PF, presumed to be former vice-president Joice Mujuru, had strayed from the party’s rules and therefore had to go.
But he was moderate in his criticism. “They have to follow the rules,” he said. “They must not act in an irregular way, and some of them are here today,” and delegates fell about laughing.
Mugabe previously accused Mujuru of plotting to assassinate him. He was given this information by his wife, who embarked on a series of provincial rallies to support her own political rise, which insiders say was to support Mnangagwa against Mujuru
Mujuru, still national vice-president, is reportedly watching the congress at home in Harare on television.
During the Zanu-PF congress this week, Zimbabwe’s privately owned Independent newspaper recalled the party’s extremely violent history, particularly during the 1970s when hundreds of party loyalists were killed in internal fights in Mozambique.
The fear of violence has been on many minds in Harare during the event as insults and threats against the faction loyal to Mujuru escalate.
Recalling the congress that brought Mugabe to power in the party, The Independent said on Friday: “Just before the Chimoio congress in August 1977, there were mass denunciations, torture and beatings leading to more than 300 junior members of the liberation struggle being purged or executed in what is known as the Vashandi Rebellion…”
Rugare Gumbo, former Zanu-PF spokesman, who was expelled from the party this week, was part of that 1970s internal rebellion when he and others tried to stop the violence, including the abuse of women.
He said this week he didn’t know whether the rumours that Mujuru and some of her supporters had fled to South Africa this week were true.
“I am out of touch with them, and I don’t know where they are. I am watching the congress on television which is very interesting,” he said.
But one senior delegate to the congress said on Friday: “Don’t listen to this rubbish. There is not going to be any violence. This is just talk. We needed to get rid of her. She was so corrupt. Wait and see. Zimbabwe will improve now.”
Inside the well-organised and vast congress tent it has been unusually hot as the sun is beating down on the vast plastic roof and the air conditioners cannot cope. There is also no rain, and people and crops are wilting.
But the delegates are resilient and well-behaved. For many, especially from the deep rural areas, travelling to the capital is a rare moment.
Among the 12 000 attending (according to Zanu-PF statistics) are some “new” farmers, beneficiaries of the post-2000 Zanu-PF-led land grab which devastated the economy but delivered land to more than a million people.
One of them, Douglas Vambe, 68, who says he farms near a crumbling town about 80km south-east of Harare, was determined to play drums at the congress and so had created a feathered headdress for the event. He said he formerly worked for a catering company in Harare.
“I worked for Mr Bedford for many years, and we made many cakes. Now I am a new farmer with 105 ha near Marondera. This is land I share with Mr Stockhill, as it was his farm. I have been there for two years but it is very difficult. I’ve no money for seeds and fertiliser and this year there is no rain, and I was going to plant tobacco for the first time. I don’t want to think of that because I am at congress now.”
Zanu-PF, like most of the rest of the country, admits it is broke, and owes creditors about $11 million (about R125m), but despite that it managed to deliver an expensive congress.
Each province had to raise money and the major South African company, Tongaat Hulett, which grows sugarcane in south-eastern Zimbabwe, contributed more than $20 000 to the congress.
It didn’t comment when it learned this week that the government has confiscated about 20 000ha of its land.
One of the largest beneficiaries of white-owned land is the first lady.
She and her husband are Zimbabwe’s largest farm “owners”, with about a dozen farms which they have taken since 2000, of which they only paid for two.
Publicly at least, Grace led the charge for Mujuru to be ousted, denouncing her at a series of rallies in all 10 provinces recently.
“It doesn’t matter any more what Grace Mugabe says about anything. She was just a device,” said a prominent Harare businessman.
“Emmerson Mnangagwa has returned from the cold. He will be promoted to second secretary in Zanu-PF, which will make him one of two vice-presidents. He is going to be Mugabe’s successor. He will be good for business.”
But others shake their heads in dismay at what is happening. Mnangagwa was minister of state responsible for the Central Intelligence Organisation in 1983 as violence was launched against Zapu in Matabeleland. About 20 000 people died.
Mnangagwa was also Mugabe’s election agent in the post-election violence in 2008 when the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) narrowly won the elections.