August 5, 2009 / 2:45 PM / 8 years ago

Zimbabwe's Msika dies, raising Mugabe succession issue

* Msika dies after long illness

* Death likely to reignite debate on Mugabe successor

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By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's veteran Vice-President Joseph Msika died on Wednesday, state broadcaster ZBC reported, and his death is likely to reignite debate over who will eventually succeed President Robert Mugabe.

Msika, 85, was on life support when Mugabe visited his loyal ally on Tuesday night, ZBC reported the president as telling a meeting of his ZANU-PF party's politburo.

"He (Mugabe) announced to the members of the politburo the passing on of comrade Msika this morning. He said some of his organs had stopped functioning," a ZBC reporter said.

Msika was also deputy president of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and one of the founding leaders of Zimbabwe's nationalist liberation movements.

The post of deputy president in ZANU-PF has always been seen by the party's two main factions as a stepping stone to succeeding the 85-year-old Mugabe and the vacancy is sure to spark intense lobbying.

The elderly vice-president remained Mugabe's loyal deputy and a figurehead of a political elite that was once influential in the southern Matabeleland provinces.

But Msika, known for his outbursts against Mugabe's critics, lacked a power base of his own and many inside and outside ZANU-PF said he had reached the peak of his political career.

He largely owed his position to the 1987 power-sharing accord which merged Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the late Joshua Nkomo's PF-ZAPU, to which Msika belonged.

ZANU-PF holds its five-year congress in December this year, when it will choose new party leaders.

Analysts say Mugabe's position is secure as shown by ZANU-PF provincial officials who have already lined up to endorse him as leader for another five years and as the party candidate in the next presidential poll.

But ZANU-PF politicians in Matabeleland are seen positioning themselves to replace Msika, although the post is likely to go to John Nkomo, current party chairman and one of the few remaining senior former PF-ZAPU figures in government.

John Nkomo is a long serving government minister and former Speaker of Parliament, often touted by local media as a possible Mugabe successor.

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