Major General Engelbert Rugeje will play a leading role in organising internal party elections, district affairs and the national election. Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said the move was concerning, as Rugeje was among the top military figures who allegedly backed former President Robert Mugabe‘s campaign of intimidation in the June 2008 presidential runoff that left dozens of opposition supporters dead.
“Basically, we have a military man in charge of the party’s elections, so in 2018, we can expect a militarised campaign so people will vote for ZANU-PF. It may not be violent, but … people will be scared to go against ZANU-PF because they won’t feel safe if they don’t vote for them,” Zhangazha told Al Jazeera.
Mnangagwa has come under fire from the public for his appointment of several army officials into cabinet posts.
Other key party appointments announced on Friday included Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, who currently serves as environment minister, as the party’s first female chairperson. Muchinguri, who said she felt “humbled” by the appointment, is a strong ally of Mnangagwa.
The president has said he will announce the national vice presidents, who will serve as his ZANU-PF deputies, in the coming days.
‘Never lower our guard’
Addressing delegates at a special extraordinary congress on Friday, Mnangagwa called for the country’s ruling party to protect itself against factional divisions, after tension within ZANU-PF reached its peak last month just before the resignation of longtime leader Mugabe.
“We must never lower our guard again. We must defend and protect our party and remain genuine to the founding principles … against people with very little history,” Mnangagwa said, referring to the events that led to Mugabe’s removal in November.
Over 7,000 delegates from across the country attended the congress, which was organised to confirm Mnangagwa as the party’s first secretary and its presidential candidate ahead of 2018 elections.
Mnangagwa told the crowd the elections would take place “on schedule” and expressed his hope that the polls would respect “the rule of law”.
Internal rivalries were heightened within the party last month amid speculation that Mugabe was grooming his wife, Grace, to succeed him.
The situation worsened when Mugabe purged former Zimbabwean liberation fighters from key positions in his government, a move that prompted Mnangagwa, then acting as vice president, to flee the country.
A long-running power struggle between Mnangagwa, 75, and Grace Mugabe ended with her expulsion from the ZANU-PF, which Mugabe led for 40 years.
This week, Mnangagwa said he was eager to build new relations with the international community, as he called for the “unconditional lifting” of Western sanctions against senior members of ZANU-PF.
Travel bans and asset freezes were placed on top party officials at the height of political violence and state-sanctioned land-grabs of white-owned farms in the early 2000s.
While the US maintains sanctions on several ZANU-PF party figures and some government-owned companies, the European Union has kept a travel ban and asset freeze on both former president Mugabe and his wife, Grace.
Mnangagwa said his administration would do its best to ensure Zimbabwe was on the path to free, fair and credible elections in 2018.
Shortly after taking his oath of office, Mnangagwa reversed the seizure of a white-owned commercial farm that was taken over earlier this year.
He has also pledged to compensate thousands of white farmers who were evicted from their farming estates by landless black Zimbabweans as part of a fast-track land-reform programme.
Focus on economy
During the congress, Mnangagwa reiterated his inaugural promise of a new era of racial and tribal tolerance as well as prosperity for ordinary Zimbabweans.
He urged the party to shift from an overtly political agenda to one that would also focus on the economy.
“We must not be about politics only but economy also,” he said.
“The best politics emerges from the marketplace where livelihoods are made.
“I did not rise to the presidency to be a president of one tribe or to benefit one region; my presidency is about acting on the values of ZANU-PF with a national outlook. I am a president of all people, of all tribes,” he added to cheers from the crowd.
Follow Tendai Marima on Twitter and Instagram @i_amten.