With the Congress only days away, there is an inevitable tension between the need to show unity in the face of threats to the party's dominance in the political life of our country and the need to face up to the long-term problems facing us. The sad truth is that we find ourselves in this situation precisely because we have avoided addressing the long-term problems for so long we have agruably left it too late to salvage anything from the consequences.
What are the long-term problems we have failed to address? First and foremost, it is the succession issue. Arguably it is our failure to address this issue that has led to all our other problems. In President Mugabe we had a leader who stood head and shoulders above all his counterparts in Africa - at least until Nelson Mandela became President in South Africa in 1996. By this time of course, President Mugabe had already been in power for sixteen years. If there had been a mechanism, expectation and inclination for a change of leadership then, Mugabe's own legacy and the future of ZANU (PF) would both be looking much more secure today than they are.
So why has it been so difficult for us to change our leader in time to secure our party's future? There are a host of reasons but the biggest has probably been fear. No-one who has ever presented a serious challenge to Mugabe's pre-emininence has ever prospered. Whether the challenge has come from outside the ranks (as with Joshua Nkomo), or within (as with Sithole, Tongogara, Tekere, even Simba Makoni), it has invariably failed - sometimes with very unpleasant consequences for the challenger. At best a challenger could expect to lose any prospect of future political power, more often he is consigned to the political wilderness or worse still killed. The only way round this problem is to make the Presidency largely ceremonial and put a limit on not only the term of the President but on the number of terms he can serve.
If the President is ceremonial and is only in power for a limited period of power and the Prime Minister is leader of a party that has to be re-elected every four-five years, it is impossible for either to wield the long-term powers of patronage that inevitably corrupt the political process and those vying for power within it. Of course, such changes will not prevent the factionalism that has torn the party apart so much over the years but they would remove the need for so much of the factional warfare to be waged covertly.
Political parties will always contain within them individuals and groups with differing views and conflicting ambitions. Provided these can be aired, such differences should energise debate and with it the party. It is when different factions plot behind the scenes to destroy their rivals that the party gets damaged. This is what has happened to ZANU over the last 10-15 years and has been so much in evidence this year in the build-up to the party congress at the party provincial level.
This is why it is so important that we put the factionalism behind us now and focus on addressing the long-term issues. However uninspiring the nominees for the top posts may be, we will only tear ourselves further apart if we try to change them now. We must unite around them and require them to unite around a new way forward.