Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe will run again for the top seat at the ripe age of 94 in 2018 Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Zimbabwe's military has claimed it has no hand in the ruling party's internal political problems and will not get involved in succession struggles between rival factions vying for the top post when President Robert Mugabe finally steps down.

The battle to succeed Zimbabwe's 92-year-old president may be decades in the making, but its outcome is far from settled. The situation is further complicated by the incumbent's refusal to publicly identify a favoured replacement, instead opting to hang on to power indefinitely, and keep his potential successors guessing.

With the 2018 general election rearing its head, tensions have been rising as a progressively tense fight over who will succeed Mugabe intensified within the ruling Zanu-PF party ranks between his 50-year-old wife Grace and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who are at the centre of ever-deepening faction fights for the top position.

Mnangagwa, a liberation war hero known as the "Crocodile", has enjoyed strong backing among the security forces because of his career in the defense ministry and is supported by a faction called Team Lacoste.

While the G40 backs the president's wife, Mnangagwa's allies within Team Lacoste have made no bones about the fact that the president should retire to make way for his vice president – something that has not escaped the notice of the first lady who in February suggested that she is out to get Mnangagwa.

Sibanda: Army has 'no role' to play in politics

Zanu-PF and the military may be fracturing along generational lines but the country's army commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda said the army should have no power over who succeeds Mugabe, Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).

"In Zanu-PF the military has no role to play in terms of succession politics, and that is the long and short of it," the army commander told the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper. This is the first time Sibanda has commented about Mugabe's succession, less than a year after the president warned against the army and other security forces supporting different candidates, claiming it could wreck Zanu-PF.

Members of the opposition, such as former Minister David Coltart, believe that the military will ensure Zanu-PF remains in power, come 2018. "In the past we have always underestimated the determination of the military in particular to hold on to power. The division between the military hierarchy and Zanu-PF hierarchy has always been very difficult to differentiate," Coltart exclusively told IBTimes UK.

"There has been so much fusion between the two. Even if Mugabe retires or dies, I still think that you're going to have this streak of former war veterans – and now we also see this in people within the military –they will do anything in their power to hang on."

In a landmark move on 21 July, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), which had supported the long-serving leader since he came to power in 1980 and was known for responding violently to those who oppose his government, released a statement explaining why it was withdrawing its backing for him.

The association, which blames Mugabe for the poor economy, said its members would not longer support the president in elections in 2018.