AT least 3 500 delegates attended the just ended Zanu PF congress in Harare, which overwhelmingly endorsed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s candidacy ahead of next year’s general elections.
But with Mnangagwa now 80 years old, delegates could have leveraged on the congress to deliberate on succession as a governance strategy to avoid the fate which befell his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who was toppled through a military coup in 2017.
There is no doubt that the coup left Zanu PF divided as the faction that prevailed in the deadly succession war chased their rivals out of town.
Some members of the vanquished faction are still exiled in countries such as South Africa and Kenya as they fear for their lives or being thrown into prison on trumped up charges.
Despite his documented failures, Mugabe could not hand over power and did not show any interest in a succession plan until his last days at the helm of Zanu PF and the country.
His disastrous record started from the 1980s during the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and the Midlands in which about 20 000 people were killed.
It can be argued that his unclear succession plan contributed to the instability in Zimbabwe that weighs heavily on the economy, hence the absolute necessity to avoid having the country going down a similar path.
Zanu PF should start to recognise the value of organised and properly managed succession planning.
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It appears that some party members are realising how important succession planning is to the long-term viability of any political party.
Political parties can be guaranteed a pipeline of leadership talent with enough depth and experience to take over the leadership of a party when the incumbent departs with the help of structured succession planning.
However, the transition is rarely easy when a new leader is needed for many political parties.
Many negative effects result from improper succession planning execution and management. There are numerous instances of this negative impact both within and outside of our borders.
For a very long time, Mugabe avoided addressing the question of succession despite that he was in his 90s.
It is common for some people to have confidence in electing young leaders.
It would be very challenging for Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the Citizens Coalition for Change, to have a better chance of winning the election if someone of Fortune Chasi’s age ran for president on the Zanu PF ticket next year.
Failure to develop a suitable succession plan could result in factionalism, which could give rise to another “bhora musango”, in which members of the ruling party vote for the opposition in the expected general elections next year.
No political party can completely avoid the difficulties of leadership succession.
Conflicts arose within the Mugabe-led Zanu PF in 2016, with two factions vying for control of the party in the event that he had made a decision to leave politics voluntarily.
Mugabe could not imagine himself outside of the presidency office despite the mounting pressure on him, hence addressing the issues of succession was another story.
The Generation 40 (G40) faction was then led by former first lady Grace Mugabe and included notable individuals like Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere, and Ignatius Chombo, among others.
If Mugabe, a seasoned nationalist, had decided to leave politics, G40 was vehemently opposed to Mnangagwa taking Mugabe’s place.
At the ruling party congress, Mnangagwa was re-elected.
In 2028, he will be 85 years old and with the military backup Mnangagwa might not be pushed to address a question of a succession plan.
When holding elections for the national congress, the Zanu PF leadership must prevent the military from interfering in political party affairs.
The majority of party members support the current leader presumably out of fear.
There is a need for leadership renewal in Zanu PF.
In the aftermath of the coup there were reports that Mnangagwa and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, came to an informal understanding or “gentlemen’s agreement” that Mnangagwa would serve one term before handing it over to his deputy.
That does appear to be the case any more as Mnangagwa is definitely running for a second full term next year.
Chiwenga might have his time after five years.
Some political analysts have expressed concern, particularly as political violence is on a dramatic rise, about a line of succession that runs to a deputy leader who is particularly old with the same mentality and might be a favourable choice during a national crisis.
It has always been the case in Africa that political party leaders refuse to resign under the guise that their departure would cause instability.
This is an indication that the leader has failed to fulfil the critical leadership responsibility of grooming talent.
Proper succession planning reduces and eliminates the bloodletting that has come to characterise political leadership changes.
Even well-managed succession planning is still relatively new in many developed countries.
Political party leaders must recognise that failure to plan for succession is irresponsible leadership.
As part of their leadership responsibilities, progressive political leaders work hard to ensure proper talent identification and development.
Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his capacity. For feedback email: [email protected] or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19