President Robert Mugabe. File picture: Mujahid Safodien/AFP

Harare - There will be no national celebrations when Robert Mugabe’s celebrates his 92nd birthday today as most of his supporters are locked in fights about who will succeed him when he dies.

At present his wife, Grace Mugabe, 50, is leading the pack either to inherit the top job herself or ensure one of her favourites has the inside track to become the second president of Zimbabwe since independence from the UK in 1980.

But many detest Grace, and she held a rally last week to protest against vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, 74, who has support from many veterans of the liberation war of the 1970s as well as sections of the armed forces. One of her supporters took the microphone and told thousands that Mnangagwa “should die”.

A few of Mnangagwa’s supporters took to the streets in Harare on Thursday and demonstrated against Grace: “Grace is not this country’s leader. We only listen to Mugabe,” shouted some war veterans as the police hammered their batons, mostly on the pavement, and turned the Chinese-made water cannon on full blast, then hurled a South African-made tear-gas canister at the group of about 300, mostly women and a few, largely old men, protesting in the city.

Although Mugabe’s official birthday party is scheduled for next weekend, he addressed the nation on TV on Friday night and criticised veterans who demonstrated, and singled out Chris Mutsvangwa, his War Veterans Minister, who is also a supporter of Mnangagwa.

“Mutsvangwa did not inform me, the VPs or security ministers about the war veterans' meeting. We take exception to that. He has acted in a manner we describe as completely irresponsible,” said Mugabe in an unscripted speech.

“People were hurt or at least they had this water from cannons come on their bodies and tear gas as well. Mutsvangwa bears responsibility for inviting war veterans to an illegal meeting. He abused his authority as minister in the gravest way possible. We take exception to that,” Mugabe said.

Grace is supporting a political unknown, Saviour Kasukuwere, 45, who told at least one cabinet colleague during the post-2009 inclusive government that he hoped to be president when the “old man dies”.

Insiders say he is “quite an efficient” minister and is also political commissar of the Zanu-PF, and is currently studying for a law degree.

He and co-plotters within the party have staged many rallies for Grace where she donates government tractors and other goods to thousands of poor people who show up at a time when Zimbabwe’s economy continues to shrink and drought has wiped out most of this year’s food crops.

But many others detest her: “She should ship out and go home to cook for her husband instead of meddling with the army, war veterans and the party,” said senior veteran Frances Zimuto this week. “We all know what is killing our party, but most are afraid to say it. But some of us are war veterans and will say it as it is.”

The Zanu-PF Youth League said it was celebrating Mugabe’s birthday as if he was Jesus Christ, claiming both were sent to “free” the people.

Youth league secretary Pupurai Togarepi said Mugabe’s birthday will be celebrated even if there is war in the country.

Independent Foreign Service