HARARE – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday accused unnamed officials of his own party of trying to push him into retiring and likened them to the biblical betrayer Judas.
The 93-year-old Mugabe, one of the world’s oldest leaders, has been in power since Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, gained independence from Britain in 1980. He intends to seek another five-year term at elections due next year.
In public, his party, ZANU-PF, has rallied behind its ageing leader. But in private its members are deeply divided over his continued leadership and who will eventually take over from him.
Mugabe, who has repeatedly said his party will choose his successor when the time comes, said he was going nowhere and accused some party officials of supporting him during the day while plotting against him behind his back.
“Others are like those that Jesus spoke about during his last supper, when he said ‘some of you eating with me here shall betray me’. The Judas Iscariot. They are here among us,” Mugabe said during the burial of a party member.
“They want to cause leadership change … for the president to step down. I did not grab power. I was chosen by the people. It’s the people’s throne, so I don’t want with it,” he said to loud cheers from some party members.
ZANU-PF is divided into two factions. One backs Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to immediately succeed Mugabe. Another is rallying behind Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and also want the ageing ruler to be president for life.
“When the day comes I will say thank you to my Zimbabwean family and I will step down so you can choose my successor. But for now I am the one in charge,” Mugabe said.
The southern African nation is gripped by a shortage of foreign exchange that has forced some businesses to buy U.S. dollars on the black market, a situation blamed for a recent spike in prices and shortages of some basic goods.
But Mugabe, without giving evidence, accused some people of manipulating the currency to “trigger inflation and cause panic buying.”