Robert Mugabe’s former Local Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, says he will challenge for the presidency in 2023 due to popular demand.

“People want me to be the leader in leadership renewal, particularly the young people,” the 49-year-old said this week from exile in South Africa.

Initially he had been reluctant to challenge President Emmerson Mnangagwa, he said. But disgruntled members of ZANU-PF and opposition parties had urged him to “take the bull by its horns”.

“People know that I stood by Mugabe,” Kasukuwere said. “As former ZANU-PF political commissar, I am deeply respected within and beyond Zimbabwe.

“I interacted with former [South African] presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. They know me. I have links with business people with regional interests too.”

There has been widespread speculation that Kasukuwere will challenge for the presidency and his comments are the clearest indication yet that he is ready to do so.

His spokesperson, Ntokozo Msipa, said Kasukuwere’s 10 years in Mugabe’s cabinet meant “he now knows the mistakes that need to be corrected”.

He added: “There’s a need to find a solution to the tough economic and political experiences. The youth comprise about 60% of the total population, and we have been subjected to much suffering.”

Kasukuwere’s political career was cut short by the military coup in November 2017. He and his ally Jonathan Moyo plotted an escape via Mozambique.

Kasukuwere said this week there was international support for his leadership challenge from “friends of Mugabe”, most of them high-ranking politicians, who were also helping him financially.

Kasukuwere has interests in the oil, farming and property sectors in Zimbabwe. But he said living in exile meant he had no direct control of his businesses, and he feared political persecution and attempts on his life if he returned home.

He and Moyo were the leaders of the G40 faction in ZANU-PF, which was fronted by Grace Mugabe. Two months before the coup, Mugabe publicly challenged Kasukuwere to drop his leadership ambitions.

He told a rally at the Chipadze Stadium in Bindura in September 2017: “It [G40] was started by Kasukuwere after the election of Barack Obama as the American president. Obama was in his 40s and Kasukuwere said we also want a leader in his 40s, and they called themselves G40.

“But now Obama is gone, that should end. We have a history and processes to follow.”

ZANU-PF commissar Victor Matematanda said this week that Kasukuwere was “all foam and no beer”.

But in an interview last week with the state-controlled Chronicle newspaper, he claimed Kasukuwere and his team had held a series of meetings to discuss how they could end Mnangagwa’s leadership.

The ruling party’s spokesperson, Simon Khaya, appeared to take the campaign backing Kasukuwere more seriously, describing it as a threat to national security.

Professor Philani Moyo, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, said it was understandable that voters wanted a fresh start that did not involve ZANU-PF or the opposition MDC Alliance, but Kasukuwere was not the man to provide it.

“Had his faction in ZANU-PF won the internal power struggle, he would have been one of those to continue with Mugabe’s bad legacy,” he said.

“Now that he’s in the cold he has an affinity for power again, so the only way for him and his allies is to try to charm the masses. But that won’t work.”

ZANU-PF sources admitted fissures in the party had at times left Mnangagwa at odds with Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is related to Kasukuwere. But a leadership challenge would unite them.

“The President and his deputy are brought together by a brotherhood. They might rub each other the wrong way from time to time but power is their bond,” said one source.

“If there’s a threat … they will come together like they did against Mugabe.”

The MDC Alliance said it had never had a “working” relationship with Kasukuwere.- Sunday Times