By MacDonald Dzirutwe
MASVINGO, Zimbabwe (Reuters) – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe accused some younger members of his ZANU-PF party on Friday of disrespect and indiscipline, acknowledging rumbles of discontent with his leadership but telling his critics they were in the minority.
Even though the ruling party is preparing to re-endorse him as its 2018 presidential election candidate, the 92-year-old leader is facing unprecedented protests over falling living standards, high unemployment and corruption.
Leaders of the war veterans association, which has supported Mugabe in previous elections, have boycotted the party’s annual conference in the drought-stricken southern province of Masvingo, saying they no longer feel welcome.
“There has been emerging into our party now a culture of indiscipline … by the young ones who think that they can do what they want,” said Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader and the only one Zimbabwe has known since independence from Britain in 1980.
Addressing 7,000 party supporters, he attacked war veterans who earlier this year accused him of being a dictator. “It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are a former detainee or a war veteran, you should always know how things are done,” Mugabe said, to applause.
The president’s advanced age and rumors about his health have prompted factions in ZANU-PF to start positioning themselves for a post-Mugabe era.
“Others were saying ‘we no longer want Mugabe’. So if you don’t want him, what will you yourself do about it when the majority in the party want him?” he asked.
Mugabe will be reconfirmed as the ZANU-PF presidential candidate for the next vote in 2018, his last under a charter adopted in 2013, according to the conference agenda.
The veteran leader was re-elected party president for a five-year term at a congress in 2014, and this year’s gathering will seek to endorse that decision.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)