(Adds detail on John Robertson in fourth paragraph.)
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwe’s military and state security agencies plan to install the head of the armed forces as president should Robert Mugabe become too ill to rule, three officials familiar with the situation said.
Constantine Chiwenga will take over as national leader, sidelining Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, 64, and Vice President Joice Mujuru, 56, as potential presidents, according to the plan discussed by Mugabe loyalists who control the army, police, secret police and prison services. The officials, a military officer and two members of the highest decision-making body in Mugabe’s party, spoke over the last week and declined to be identified because the plan is secret and they fear reprisals for giving out the information. The military is concerned by Mugabe’s repeated trips to Singapore for medical treatment.
Zimbabwe is in the third year of an economic recovery after a decade-long recession caused by Mugabe’s policy of seizing white-owned commercial farms and distributing them to black subsistence farmers, which caused a collapse in export income and shortages of imported goods ranging from gasoline to corn meal, the country’s staple food. The stability brought by a coalition between Mugabe’s party and the Movement for Democratic Change has prompted investment in mining and agriculture.
Installing an army official as president would “send the few investors we have running,” said John Robertson, an independent economist who advises international companies with assets in Zimbabwe, in an interview from Harare, the capital. “There would be very considerable worry in the business community.” Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest reserves of platinum and chrome after South Africa as well as significant deposits of coal, gold and iron ore.
Mugabe, 87, has been in power since the country won independence from the U.K. in 1980 and has traveled to Singapore for treatment several times, according to the state-controlled Herald newspaper on May 19 and Zimbabwe’s Daily Mail on May 31.
He says the trips are for cataract operations and follow-up treatment, the Herald reported.
“I want to live to over 100,” Mugabe said, according to the newspaper. “For now I am as good as my age says. It is not an ailment.”
Zimbabwe has a number of eye surgeons including Solomon Gurumatunhu, who has treated Mugabe in the past, NewsDze - Zimbabwe, a website that publishes news on the country, said today.
In May ANC Today, the official newsletter of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, said negotiators from the Southern African Development Community, which stretches from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo, said they were concerned about leadership succession in Zimbabwe should Mugabe die before a new constitution is put in place.
The military is concerned that competition for the leadership of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front will split the party and weaken its chances of keeping power if Mugabe’s health deteriorates, the officials said.
Mujuru, as vice president of the party, is next in line as Zanu-PF’s candidate, John Makumbe, political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe, said from Harare today. Mujuru, a former guerrilla known by the nom de guerre of “comrade spill blood,” is the wife of Solomon Mujuru, the former head of the Mugabe’s liberation army in the 1970s.
“Zanu-PF rarely shifts from its protocol and Joice Mujuru is the most likely successor to Mugabe, ahead of Mnangagwa or anyone else.” Mnangagwa has served in Mugabe’s cabinets since the early 1980s.
Mugabe wants elections to be held before the end of the year while Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC and prime minister in the coalition government, has demanded a new constitution be put in place first. Leaders of SADC agreed in Johannesburg on June 12 that a new constitution must be in place before the vote, the group’s Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao said.
The MDC won a majority in parliamentary elections in 2008 and Tsvangirai boycotted the second round of a presidential election that year, saying his supporters were being attacked and killed by ruling party loyalists. Tsvangirai garnered more votes than Mugabe in the first round.
Chiwenga, who would quit the army to become president, will fill his cabinet with military officials, the army general said. The plan has the backing of Zimbabwe’s police chief, Augustine Chihuri, prison service commissioner, Paradzai Zimondi, and army and air force generals, some of whom fear prosecution if Zanu-PF loses power because of their participation in violent election campaigns over the last decade, the officials said.
Calls to the Harare office of Chiwenga, who was born in 1956 according to the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, weren’t answered today. George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, didn’t answer calls made to his office or mobile phone.
--Editors: Gordon Bell, Antony Sguazzin
To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Latham in Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at email@example.com.