Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe faced increased personal attacks at the weekend from former vice-president Joice Mujuru, who is bidding to succeed the leader to become the new head of state.

War veterans, his once loyal power base, also engaged in personal attacks against the president.

As Zimbabwe's 2018 election draws near, Mugabe's long-time ally, Mujuru – who launched her new party, Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) on 1 March - has declared she is to be the next president, and urged youths to register and vote during the upcoming vote.

"I am the bridge towards a better future, a better life for all. Mugabe is 92, I am 61, and we have a 31-year age difference. Mugabe represents the past, represents failures, whereas I, Mujuru, am the bridge to forming the next government that will bring change to Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans," she told ZimPF youths in Bulawayo.

Mujuru also urged the young attendees that they should not be 'used' by politicians to commit rights abuses.

"I urge you to refuse to be used by politicians to commit whatever crimes, as we head towards the elections. You should unite and mobilise each other to go and register to vote in the next elections to be able to remove this government that has caused immeasurable damage to this country," Mujuru is quoted as saying by NewsDay newspaper.

"Things will remain the same if you do not register to vote. Change will never come through attending rallies and sloganeering but registering to vote and voting on the polling day."

The presidential hopeful's comments came after the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) dismissed Mugabe's meetings with former combatants over the weekend as a "desperate" attempt for the leader to rally support ahead of 2018.

After a July announcement that the ZNLWVA was withdrawing its backing for him, other war veterans also threatened to sever ties with Mugabe if he did not get rid of ruling party faction G40, which backs his wife, Grace Mugabe in the succession race. The G40 is opposed to current vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa's faction Team Lacoste, which is backed by the war veterans.

Douglas Mahiya, spokesperson for the ZNLWVA, said factions with liberation war credentials should be wary of being used by a "desperate" Zanu PF regime. "They should ask themselves why they are being remembered now after 36 years and what has happened that Mugabe now wants to meet them and discuss what concerns them. That's a question any reasonable person should ask," Mahiya said.

During the meeting attended by about 400 non-combatant veterans, Mugabe apparently mentioned possible retirement, adding that he should be allowed to do so "properly", according to the Sunday Mail. During his speech, Mugabe also criticised some Zanu-PF leaders for apparently wishing him dead and trying to "bewitch" him.

Zanu-PF nominated Mugabe to be its candidate in 2018 elections. But some commentators doubt that he is seriously considering retiring.