President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has fired several senior members of the ruling party as political factions maneuver for influence ahead of a party congress next month.

A disciplinary committee of the ruling ZANU-PF party on Thursday announced the removals of the party officials, including party spokesman Rugare Gumbo. He was suspended from the party for five years.

The committee accused the ousted officials of plotting against 90-year-old Mugabe on behalf of Vice President Joyce Mujuru. Another senior party member, Jabulani Sibanda, was expelled after speaking out against the increasing political influence of Mugabe's wife, Grace.

Grace Mugabe, who is set to take a top leadership post at the congress in early December, has been a harsh critic of Mujuru in recent months. Analysts say Mujuru will struggle to remain in the party leadership as her power base dwindles.

Mugabe has a history of manipulating party groups to maintain a firm grip on power, said Gabriel Shumba, a human rights lawyer and political analyst

"He plays one faction against the other and at the end of the day it is him, the puppet master, who wins," Shumba said.

Mugabe has been president of the southern African country since independence in 1980. Zimbabwe is suffering low investment, company closures and political uncertainty over who will eventually succeed Mugabe.