Veteran ruling Zanu PF politician and nationalist John Nkomo says he is prepared to succeed President Robert Mugabe when he retires. For VOA, Peta Thornycroft reports that although there is much behind the scenes battling for the top post, Nkomo is the first to come into the open and say he is willing to take on the job.
Seventy-two-year-old John Nkomo is national chairman of Zanu PF, and speaker in Zimbabwe's parliament. He Has been a member of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF for nearly 20 years. He told a gathering of journalists in Bulawayo over the weekend that he had come through the ranks of Zanu PF and was available for the top job at elections due in March 2008, when Mugabe has previously said he would retire.
Whether the election will be held in 15 months time is uncertain. Several Zanu PF officials have been telling the state controlled media for several months now, that the presidential election would be merged with the parliamentary poll in 2010. This would give Mugabe an extra two years in power.
To do that, Zanu PF would have to change the constitution for the 18th time since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980.
Although Nkomo is the first to say on the record he was available, several other top Zanu PF members are battling behind the scenes to be chosen for the job.
The most prominent is vice president Joice Mujuru, the first woman to rise so high in the ruling party's ranks. She is backed by her husband, former defense force chief, Solomon Mujuru, who analysts have long dubbed the "king maker" for having wielded so much power in the military, government, business and political spheres of Zimbabwe.
Joice Mujuru has been named recently for involvement in an alleged scandal at the state owned steel company. A rival camp is lead by rural housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was for years tipped as Mugabe's automatic successor, but he fell out of favor among allegations, which he denies, that he was plotting against Mugabe.
Another man said to be running for the top job, is controversial and powerful central bank governor Gideon Gono, who has a close working relationship with Mugabe. Gono has been accused by the Mujuru camp for allocating scarce foreign currency to import sub-standard fertilizer, a charge he denies.
Former finance minister and ruling party insider, Simba Makoni, is also tipped by many analysts as the dark horse of the race for the presidency. He is liked by some in the private sector, but is unknown in many parts of the country outside his home district.
Nkomo is part of the top five in Zanu PF, and has had 40 years experience in Zimbabwe's pre and post independence politics. He has little appeal to voters in his home area, in southern Zimbabwe, because he joined Zanu PF. In his home territory many people are fiercely anti Zanu PF because of massacres committed by the army in the 1980's.