Death of Army General Solomon Mujuru Ends Struggle Over Mugabe's Successor

Solomon Mujuru, husband of Zimbabwean Deputy President Joyce Mujuru and a major power player within the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), died Aug. 16, reportedly in a house fire. The Mujurus’ rivals within the ZANU-PF, a faction led by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, now have clear control over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe.


Solomon Mujuru, husband of Zimbabwean Deputy President Joyce Mujuru, apparently died in a house fire Aug. 16. Solomon Mujuru was a former Zimbabwean National Army commander and a major force within the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). His death clears the way for the Mujurus’ top rival, Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, to control the selection of President Robert Mugabe’s successor.

Solomon Mujuru was at his farm in Beatrice some 38 miles south of Harare when he died. Reportedly his house caught fire and he was unable to escape before the roof collapsed on him. However, his death likely was not an accident, and fire is an effective way of destroying evidence of foul play. Solomon Mujuru, with his experience in the power politics of ZANU-PF, would be familiar with the Zimbabwean ruling party’s ability to kill, maim or “disappear” rival politicians. Being the deputy president’s spouse, he likely would have been surrounded by a private militia along with state agents assigned to him for security. He would have this protection not because of concerns about the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) but because of the tensions and hostilities within ZANU-PF.

ZANU-PF is preparing for national elections. Zimbabwe’s last elections were held in 2008, and the ruling party would have lost to the MDC if not for a campaign of violence and intimidation to overturn popular support for the MDC. The date for the upcoming elections has not been set yet because of struggles within ZANU-PF and tensions with the MDC over the implications of holding an election.

Concluding an election resets the government’s term for another five years, so ZANU-PF wants to hold elections as soon as possible. There are concerns about Mugabe’s health, and if he were to die in office the ruling party would be entitled by the constitution to retain control of the presidency through the end of his term. Elections are not required until 2013, but if Mugabe were to die before then, ZANU-PF would only retain the presidency until then. If elections are held this year, however, a new term would start and would last until 2016, giving ZANU-PF more time in power should Mugabe die in office.
A Zimbabwean policeman walks past the burned home of retired army general Solomon Mujuru in Beatrice Farm on Tuesday

The MDC is still a vocal opposition party, but ZANU-PF has learned from its mistakes in 2008 and has already deployed government officials and agents to the Zimbabwean countryside to ensure that the grassroots population is sufficiently intimidated into voting for ZANU-PF whenever elections are held. The MDC will find it very difficult to replicate the gains it made in the 2008 elections.

Zimbabwe Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa

The real struggle over presidential succession was between two factions within ZANU-PF: the Mujuru family, with Joyce Mujuru at the head and Solomon Mujuru as the power behind her, and Mnangagwa and his supporters in the Joint Operations Command, the security authority comprising the heads of Zimbabwe’s security agencies and armed forces branches. Both factions had been engaging in activities, such as selling diamonds from areas under their control, to get the advantage in the succession struggle, but until Solomon Mujuru’s death neither faction had made definitive gains. With Solomon Mujuru now dead, the support Joyce Mujuru had received (though her husband’s machinations) is likely to drift steadily to the Mnangagwa-led faction. There is no sympathy vote within ZANU-PF that Joyce Mujuru could hope to gain.

Though it is not certain that Mnangagwa himself will become Zimbabwe’s next president (he faces other political obstacles, such as being under U.S. and EU sanctions), his faction of ZANU-PF has benefited from Solomon Mujuru’s death. Whether or not Mnangagwa’s faction had a direct hand in it, Solomon Mujuru’s death means the defense minister’s only other rival power bloc within ZANU-PF has been eliminated. This faction can now stand behind Mugabe’s re-election, whether that happens in 2011 or later, knowing with confidence that they now control the presidential succession.

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