According to state media reports last week, the Zanu-PF party decided to “defend” President Robert Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, by rejecting Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru’s bid for a seat on the powerful central committee after she was accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe.

The central committee is Zanu-PF’s most powerful organ outside congress and consists of members drawn from the party’s 10 provinces. It acts on behalf of congress when it is not in session. Among other things, it implements all policies, resolutions, directives, decisions and programs enunciated by congress.

A provincial executive committee refused to accept Mujuru’s election papers ahead of a key Zanu-PF party congress next week following a campaign against her, which was led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace. The power struggle began after Grace Mugabe’s surprise nomination to lead the powerful women’s wing of the Zanu-PF, prompting speculation that she wanted the top job herself.

Mujuru’s home district “rejected her application in elections that saw a number of other Zanu-PF bigwigs linked to her nefarious activities to oust President Robert Mugabe also failing to make it,” reports say. Mujuru and powerful Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa were seen as the leading contenders to replace Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe is expected to be confirmed as the party’s leader early in December, but the fight for positions on the powerful politburo could be decisive for the campaign to succeed him. Mujuru’s failure to win a place in the central committee means she ceases to be in the party’s top leadership even before the congress starts Dec. 3.

Other politburo members who suffered the same fate include Cdes Dzikamai Mavhaire in Masvingo, Tendai Savanhu in Harare, Francis Nhema, Flora Buka and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi in the Midlands and Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu in Matabeleland South.