Joyce Mujuru was sworn in as Zimbabwe's first woman vice president on Monday.
Her path to the vice presidency was cleared by a ZANU-PF congress resolution at the weekend, which stated that one of the party's two deputy presidents had to be a woman. Mujuru, a liberation war hero, was picked for the post.
President Robert Mugabe reportedly said, "When you choose her as a vice president, you don't want her to remain in that chair do you?" - a suggestion that Mujuru, a long-standing cabinet member, was in the running as his successor when he retires in 2008. Joseph Msika, his other vice-president, turns 82 this week.
But Mujuru's nomination has generally not been viewed as paving the way for her to become Africa's first woman president, more a means of blocking other powerful individuals for the deputy post that fell vacant with the death last year of Simon Muzenda.
Led by First Lady Grace Mugabe, the ZANU-PF Women's League proposed earlier this year that one of the three senior positions in the ruling party should be allocated to a woman. The president backed the move.
However, six of the party's 10 provincial chairmen and a militant war veterans leader opposed Mujuru's elevation and were suspended on Wednesday.
Mugabe and Mujuru both belong to the Zezuru subgroup of the majority Shona people and are from Mashonaland in the north of the country.
The biggest casualty at the ZANU-PF congress, which takes place every five years, was Jonathan Moyo, minister of state for information. Moyo was publicly reprimanded by the party leadership for calling an unauthorised meeting of the six provincial chairpersons to lobby in favour of the speaker of parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former security chief.
Mugabe was reported as saying, "When Moyo came he worked hard towards improving people's lives, helped develop some schools in the constituency, and we all liked that. What is frightening now is the meeting of six ZANU-PF provincial chairpersons he allegedly convened without the mandate of the people."
Moyo found himself expelled from ZANU-PF's powerful Central Committee, despite having been elected by his province, Matabeleland North, last week.
Moyo, a former University of Zimbabwe professor and critic of ZANU-PF and Mugabe, was the surprising choice of spokesman for the government-appointed Constitutional Commission in 1999. The following year, despite the reported disapproval of the ZANU-PF 'old-guard', Moyo was appointed as the party's campaign manager for the June 2000 general election and allegedly soon became a Mugabe confidante.
Moyo "is very likely to lose his position in the cabinet and probably will not be asked to stand in the elections next year - Mugabe is not a forgiving person," said political analyst Johan Makumbe. "Not many people would like to tamper with Mnangagwa, who is a very powerful figure, but he is likely to lose the speaker's position," he added.
Since his appointment in 2000, Moyo has presided over the formulation of controversial media laws, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which have led to the detention of journalists working for the private media and closure of the anti-government Daily News, which had become Zimbabwe's biggest-selling daily paper by 2003.
"No true Zimbabwean is likely to feel any remorse for Moyo because of the way he single-handedly changed the country's political and media landscape," the Standard newspaper said in an editorial at the weekend.
But government critic and constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said there could still be a future in ZANU-PF for Moyo.
"Moyo is only being removed from the party's formal political structures because the old guard of ZANU-PF do not want him to build a political base - they want him to do the dirty work of propaganda and oppression - ZANU-PF cannot do without Moyo," Madhuku told IRIN.