President Robert Mugabe

As political tensions rise in Zimbabwe over President Robert Mugabe’s unresolved succession, the veteran leader has issued a stern warning to the country’s military commanders to stop plotting his ouster.

In strong remarks highlighting his growing unease over the military’s influential role in politics, Mugabe said the actions of meddlesome commanders were tantamount to a coup.

Commentators say his bitter fallout with the military – which has kept him in power for almost four decades – could have dire implications for Zimbabwe’s political and security stability.

Addressing a national assembly meeting of the governing Zanu-PF Women’s League in Harare, an increasingly frail Mugabe (93) complained that some top commanders were agitating for his removal from office. He said politics leads the gun and not the other way round.

“There are secret manoeuvres going on. The military has no right to be interfering with the political processes. Theirs is to support; they can give their own views within the constitution and according, also, to the principle that politics shall always lead the gun – and not the gun leading politics. That would be a coup,” Mugabe said.

The veteran leader, who has been at the helm since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, vowed to resist all attempts to oust him. Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga prefers Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, placing the military chief on a collision path with the long-time leader who appears to prefer Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi.

“Look at what is happening; top commanders are saying the President must now leave office. They want me to leave? Who is going to take my place? Who is their preferred leader? It’s disgraceful for anyone to say ‘I am the one now (in charge), the president must go’. Beating your own chest and declaring that yes you’re the one taking over? No, we don’t want that. We don’t want that,” Mugabe said.

The president’s warning to the military came a few hours after his wife Grace challenged him to openly name a successor to stem factional wars which have torn Zanu-PF asunder.

Mugabe’s wife, who holds the influential post of secretary for the Zanu-PF Women’s League, is spearheading a plan to oust Vice-President Mnangagwa, to pave way for Defence Minister Sekeramayi’s ascendance.

Grace told the women’s meeting that the party must re-introduce a quota reserving one of the two vice-presidential posts for a woman. Should this demand prevail, Mugabe’s wife will take over Mnangagwa’s post, sealing his fate in the vicious succession race.

But as Mugabe’s unresolved succession has a national security dimension, a leading think-tank, the United States Centre for Preventive Action (CPA), has warned that factional squabbles within Zanu-PF could soon escalate to violent conflict.

The CPA said there was diminishing likelihood that Zimbabwe’s neighbours will help prevent violence.