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The infighting at the top of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party is spreading to elements of the bureaucracy and security establishment, and the harsh words being exchanged and the absence of democratic politics risk provoking a backlash that could bring great political instability and incidents of sporadic unrest, a respected think-tank has said.

With the two vice presidents at each other's throats while First Lady Grace Mugabe picked up where she left off in disposing of former Vice President Joice Mujuru and now targeting Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a succession free-for-all, the clashes have brought what NKC African Economics describes as a new, dangerous threat.

While the weak and sycophantic Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko joined the attack on his colleague in the hope of gaining some small favour from Mugabe and his "Lady Macbeth wife", who has now declared war on Mnangagwa, the open infighting was spreading down the ranks of the military and the security establishment, polluting the political environment and posing a significant stability threat, NKC analyst Gary van Staden warned yesterday.

Mugabe has done little to stop the shredding of his party's top leadership. In fact, he added some fuel to the fire himself in what has become a standard Mugabe tactic when succession talks erupt — confuse, divide and keep on ruling.

"It is going to become increasingly difficult to sort the political signals from the succession noise in the coming months as Zanu-PF continues on its fractious path: pitting the top leadership of the party against each other in a succession race that will ultimately be decided by one man — Mugabe," Van Staden said.

"His choices will be dictated by other issues, including the reaction of the military and security establishment to his plan, which ties his hands perhaps more than the succession rivals appreciate.

"Meanwhile, well-placed sources in Harare are concerned that the infighting at the top of the party could spread to elements of the bureaucracy and security establishment and create tensions that could easily lead to incidents of sporadic unrest and increased political instability.

"The economic woes besetting the country do not help the situation, and we have already seen incidents where the army and the police clash. Under similar circumstances one would expect the opposition to make some headway amid the growing chaos and disunity in Zanu-PF, but the opposition has troubles of its own which suggests it will not be able to take advantage of the situation."

Academic and analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said "the signs of authoritarian erosion and possible authoritarian breakdown of a competitive authoritarian regime are now as clear as a goat's behind."

He said the party was convulsed by "elite discohesion" with Grace taking them down one-by-one including the repressive State apparatus or coercive apparatus.

"We are in the midst of the foggy or grey zone of the political transition in Zimbabwe," Ruhanya said.

Van Staden said there is no doubt that Grace has now declared a fresh war against a sitting vice president, having successfully ejected Mujuru from the party in 2015 with a cocktail of deceit, manipulation and outright fabrication that she fed her doting husband who is no stranger to manipulation himself.

Piers Pigou, southern African director of the International Crisis Group, said: "I suspect we will see one of two things; either a serious push back against the VP and his support base  ... or something more ‘balanced' in the latest instalment of Mugabe's traditional modus operandi."

Pigou said Mugabe will have to calculate if it is in his interests to decapitate Mnangagwa's Team Lacoste.

Van Staden said Mnangagwa remains the most likely successor, "but Ms Mugabe will use her tried and tested political poison on him too."

"While he will prove far more resilient, Ms Mugabe has clearly decided he must go as he stands in the way of the succession narrative she favours. Mnangagwa, however, has powerful military and security sector allies and the support of the major military veterans' association which has already warned that it will not tolerate another bout of her dirty tricks.

"Also in the mix is the faction known as Generation 40 (G40) that implicitly supports Ms Mugabe's efforts because it suits their agenda of imposing a new, younger generation of leaders on Zanu-PF. The G40 is not a ‘Grace for president' fan club, and she would be seriously mistaken to believe it is."

The G40 under the leadership of Jonathan Moyo — among others — has its own agenda and ambitions and handing the presidency to Grace is not on it.

"While claims and counter claims of attempted poisonings and other shady back-alley politics make interesting, if distracting, media highlights, the real issue is the succession struggle," Van Staden said.

"All this assuming Mugabe will step down anytime soon."

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Zanu-PF infighting spreads to CIO, army and police
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