President Mugabe's exit plans are prompting unrest ahead of the ZANU-PF party congress
History is catching up with President Robert Gabriel Mugabe as he prepares for the party congress in Masvingo next month. Even political allies concede that Mugabe is well into extra time and must use the congress to set out his exit plan. First, he must find reliable candidates for two key posts: the vice-presidency of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to replace Simon Vengesayi Muzenda, who died on 20 September, and a Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Force to replace 60-year-old General Vitalis Zvinavashe, who retired this month. The appointments are not entirely in Mugabe's gift but unfriendly occupants could sabotage his efforts to secure legal protection and an acceptable successor in State House. Opposition optimists are convinced that Mugabe will use ZANU-PF's congress in Masvingo to announce his retirement. Yet that would leave a lame-duck leader presiding over the world's fastest shrinking economy: not an appealing prospect for Mugabe and his shrewd political planners. Sending the riot police to break up anti-government and anti-poverty protests was vintage Mugabe, as was the arrest and brutalisation of more than 100 demonstrators. There is no sign that Mugabe is tiring of wielding the rungu (big stick, as brandished by chiefs). If Mugabe does decide to cut and run at Masvingo, he looks unprepared for the aftermath. As soon as he lost presidential immunity, as military commander-in-chief Mugabe would face legal suits holding him responsible for torture as well as for his alleged role in commissioning the Operation Gukurahundi massacres by the Fifth Brigade in Matebeleland in the early 1983.
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