Serious divisions have emerged in the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe over the succession to the late Vice President Joseph Msika, setting the stage for potentially bruising battles at the party's December congress.
ZANU-PF sources say two rival factions - one led by Retired Army General Solomon Mujuru and the other by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a close Mugabe associate – have stepped up a long-running struggle to control the party in an uncertain future.
The Mujuru faction is said to back ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo to fill the vice presidential slot. But this would leave the chairmanship vacant, setting up another succession fight.
Mnangagwa lost the chairmanship to Nkomo in 1999 and is said to be interested in it now.
Political sources say the Mujuru faction's strategy here is to block Mnangagwa by arguing that Msika's position, which Mr. Mugabe controls, must filled by a former member of the PF-ZAPU party of liberation leader Joshua Nkomo, who preceded Msika in the vice presidency.
Some argue this is necessary if ZANU-PF is to stanch defections by historical members of PF-ZAPU to a revived ZAPU led by former Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa.
Following bloodshed in the mid-1980s between ZANU and PF-ZAPU - with most of the blood shed by PF-ZAPU members at the hands of the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade - the two liberation formations merged with the 1987 Unity Accord to form ZANU-PF.
Sources say Mr. Dabengwa was approached recently about the vice presidency, but rebuffed ZANU-PF over what he termed the intransigency of President Mugabe.
Others seeking the post include Bulawayo Governor Cain Mathema, Ambassador to South Africa Simon Khaya Moyo and Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, though considered long shots.
Harare-based political analyst Charles Mangongera told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that if ZANU-PF does not handle the Msika succession properly, the fallout could damage the party severely and even spell its demise.
Elsewhere in the former ruling party, lobbying is under way to ensure that Mr. Mugabe is re-elected party president at the upcoming December congress.
There is little doubt Mr. Mugabe will be re-elected. But the ZANU-PF provinces of Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo, Midlands and Manicaland are taking no chances and have already endorsed President Mugabe's reaffirmation in the post.
Insiders say some ZANU-PF officials are less than eager to re-elect Mr. Mugabe because of his advanced age but are afraid to openly challenge him. Mr. Mugabe turned 85 in February. He has ruled as prime minister or president since independence from Britain in 1980.
London-based political analyst Brilliant Mhlanga told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that it is inconceivable for any ZANU-PF official to stand against Mugabe to head the party.