Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa set to strengthen grip at party meeting

Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is expected to use a conference of the ruling ZANU-PF party on Friday to consolidate his grip on power after Robert Mugabe’s shock ouster last month.

Mnangagwa took office after the military forced Mugabe to resign, ending a 37-year reign marked by brutal repression and economic collapse.

The new president will address a one-day extraordinary congress in Harare, where he will be confirmed as the party’s presidential candidate in next year’s general elections.

The military stepped in to clear Mnangagwa’s route to the presidency after a long-running struggle with supporters of Mugabe’s wife Grace, who had emerged as Mugabe’s chosen successor.

“The purpose is to consolidate President Mnangagwa’s position within the party and to ensure that (Grace’s supporters) are put firmly in their place,” lawyer and opposition politician David Coltart told AFP.

“Many people see this administration as a thin veneer over a military junta and the question is whether the veneer is going to get thinner.”

Mnangagwa, 75, has appointed military officials to key government positions, and has pledged to revive the shattered economy by boosting farm production and luring foreign investment.

He is expected to soon appoint his two deputy presidents, but party spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said this key announcement may not be made on Friday.

“The president will use his discretion whether to appoint his deputies at the congress or not,” Moyo told AFP.

“We have a new dispensation and naturally the main item on the agenda is that new president is going to be endorsed as president of the party and as our presidential candidate for the 2018 elections.”

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The nationwide ballot, which will vote in both the president and lawmakers, is expected to take place before August.

ZANU-PF has been riven by division for years over Mugabe’s succession. The 93-year-old leader had been widely expected to rule until his death.

Mugabe abroad

Former first lady Grace Mugabe lost the power struggle with Mnangagwa -- he is now expected to use the ZANU-PF conference to sideline her support group within the party Former first lady Grace Mugabe lost the power struggle with Mnangagwa — he is now expected to use the ZANU-PF conference to sideline her support group within the party

Mnangagwa is referred to as “The Crocodile” for his ruthlessness, while Grace’s younger supporters were known as the “G40” (Generation-40) group.

“The congress signifies his triumph over G40,” Takavafira Zhou, a political scientist at Masvingo State University, told AFP.

“It’s a show of force, and we will also see more people with a military background within the ZANU-PF structures.”

Speaking ahead of the conference, Mnangagwa vowed to create much-needed employment and to tackle graft, as well as calling for remaining international sanctions to be lifted.

“The corrupt tendencies that had in the recent past gripped our nation will not and cannot be allowed to continue,” he said on Thursday.

“We cannot afford divisions which… dissipate our collective energies in wasteful intra-party conflicts.”

Mugabe and Grace, 52, have not been seen in public since his resignation was announced on November 21 to lawmakers who had convened to impeach him.

The former president this week flew to Singapore for a routine medical check-up, government spokesman George Charamba told AFP.

Charamba said that the new government was keen to show respect to Mugabe.

“There is no quest to humiliate or ostracise him,” Charamba said. “His legacy comes out shining.”

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Mnangagwa was formerly one of Mugabe’s closest allies, and is a long-time ZANU-PF loyalist with reputation as a hardliner.

He used his inauguration speech to pay tribute to Mugabe, describing him as one of the “founding fathers of our nation”.

Many Zimbabweans took to the streets to celebrate the end of Mugabe’s long rule, but have expressed fear that Mnangagwa could also oversee an authoritarian regime.

Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe from its independence from Britain in 1980, is in increasingly frail health and has reportedly battled prostate cancer.

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