JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Zimbabwe's ruling party on Tuesday expelled former Finance Minister Simba Makoni because of his bid to unseat President Robert Mugabe, whom he blames for the country's economic collapse.
Simba Makoni announced his bid to challenge President Robert Mugabe on February 5 in Zimbabwe.
"Any party member, Simba Makoni included, who decides to stand as a ZANU-PF candidate after this due process stands automatically expelled from the party," the party's information secretary, Nathan Shamuyarira, said Tuesday at a news conference in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.
Makoni announced last week that he will try to unseat Mugabe in the March 29 election to "clear the air of speculation and rumor."
His campaign marks the first public challenge to Mugabe's grip on power from within his own party. But many analysts say Makoni needs the support of heavyweights within ZANU-PF who believe it is time for a change. It is unclear if he can get that support after being expelled from the party.
Mugabe, who turns 84 next week, has been Zimbabwe's only ruler since it achieved independence from Britain 28 years ago.
Under Mugabe's rule, once-prosperous Zimbabwe has suffered an economic crisis, with routine shortages of food, electricity and foreign currency.
The most recent estimate of the nation's inflation rate said it exceed 24,000 percent, but economists say it is much higher.
While there is no official figure, unemployment among Zimbabweans is estimated at 80 percent. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Robyn Curnow and Kim Norgaard contributed to this report.