Chinhoyi - Zimbabwe's ruling party opens its annual conference on Thursday with the twin spectres of the moribund economy and infighting over veteran President Robert Mugabe's succession casting long shadows.
The three-day conference is Zanu-PF's last before its elective congress next year and comes against the backdrop of renewed clashes among contenders to succeed Mugabe, who at 89 is Africa's oldest head of state.
“The conference is an opportunity to heal the rift between the main factions in the party and to craft a post-election message,” said Rushweat Mukundu, a political analyst with the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute.
“There is a lot of despondency and uncertainty over the economy. Zanu-PF is confronted with a huge challenge on the economic front. They will make resolutions on these issues but we should not expect anything major in terms of policy.”
Divisions over Mugabe's succession cost Zanu-PF the 2008 election when it lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence in 1980 and Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential elections to opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
Independent political analyst Takura Zhangazha said internal party politics were likely to dominate the conference agenda at the expense of burning national issues.
But a Zanu-PF party official said Mugabe's succession was not on the agenda.
“Those who are talking about the president's succession are misguided. This will not be discussed,” said Zanu-PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa. “The president has just won an election and according to the new constitution he can stand for another term.”
Political commentator Zhangazha suggests it is “least likely” that Zanu-PF “will be able to transcend their internal factional fighting and address key national issues”.
“Evidence of this is the electioneering stunts where we have seen party policy contradicting national policy.”
He says the party will seek to “manage” the factionalism and present a face of a strong and united movement.
“They will try to paper over the cracks and rest in the luxury that they don't have serious opposition at the moment.
“But their major challenge is the economy. They have to deliver on their election promises,” Zhangazha said.
Zanu-PF won disputed general elections in July on promises of jobs, the re-opening of companies that folded as the economy went into a downturn and to repair damaged road and rail networks.
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Shakespeare Hamauswa, says Zanu-PF is under pressure and will use the conference to announce policies that seek to win back a populace disillusioned by the party's failure to deliver on its promises over the years.
The venue is in Mugabe's hometown of Chinhoyi in north-western Zimbabwe which was also the scene of the first battle that marked the beginning of the liberation war that led to independence in 1980.
Five months after winning the election, the government appears out of sorts with the economy continuing on a slide and 700 companies having pulled down their shutters from January to August. An estimated 300 people are laid off every month according to the main trade union federation.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa deferred presenting the annual budget amid reports that state coffers were dry and could scarcely cover government programmes. The official line was that the delay was to allow wide consultation on the budget.
The party is also riven by factionalism, with Vice-President Joyce Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa seen as the main contenders to succeed Mugabe - who however is serving a first five-year term under a new constitution and has not ruled out running again when he will be 94.
Last month, Zanu-PF held provincial elections which were seen as a battle between the two factions and were marred by allegations of vote-rigging and arguments that sometimes ended in fisticuffs.