“From what we discussed, Mugabe said he is tired and wants to retire but he cannot do so now because ZANU-PF would die,” Enos Nkala, a former minister of defence in Mugabe’s late-1980s government, told The Standard newspaper after meeting with the 88-year-old president on Friday.
“He cannot leave when the party is in such a state. What is holding him now is managing and containing ZANU-PF to prevent it from disintegrating,” Nkala added.
Mugabe’s spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on Nkala’s statements.
Nkala, who has been a staunch critic of Mugabe in recent years, met with him privately for an hour in Bulawayo, 430 kilometres (270 miles) southwest of the capital Harare, The Standard said.
Nkala warned that Mugabe’s succession remains a delicate issue that if not handled carefully might result in “chaos or civil war”.
“It’s easy for people to say Mugabe must go, Mugabe must go, but most don’t know that he is the glue that has been holding this country together,” he said.
Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since independence in 1980, has already been endorsed by his party to stand as a candidate in elections expected after the end of a power-sharing government formed in 2009 in the wake of disputed elections.
He and his top rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, have been haggling over when new elections can be held. Mugabe wants to exit the power-sharing deal as soon as possible, while Tsvangirai insists key reforms be implemented first.
Mugabe has been at the centre of a swirl of reports that he is in failing health.
Mugabe and his top officials have repeatedly denied that he has prostate cancer following a leaked 2008 US diplomatic cable in which Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono said he had the disease and that it had spread through his body.