By Trevor Ncube
NEVER since Independence has Zimbabwe needed President Robert Mugabe as much as it does now. The country, the ruling party and the opposition are all in a shambles and only he can get us out
of this mess. Zimbabwe faces an acute leadership crisis that only Mugabe has the capacity to resolve if he so decides.
And this is exactly how Mugabe wants it. He has run Zanu PF and the country in a manner that renders him indispensable. While he has indicated from time to time that he wants to retire to do other things, such as writing his memoirs, he has not put in motion a succession plan. He has invited the nation and his colleagues in the party to engage in a debate on who will succeed him but has dealt ruthlessly with those showing any ambition to take over.
At times he has indicated that the people will decide who should succeed him and yet he has not offered them any such opportunity. The Zanu PF national congresses at which this matter should be deliberated have been manipulated to ensure that delegates simply rubber-stamp what Mugabe and his select inner circle decide. And this is an inner circle that is both scared and beholden to Robert Mugabe.
Thus, Mugabe’s leadership of the party and hence the government has never been put to the test, except once when his proposal for constitutional reform was rejected in a national referendum. Nobody has been bold enough to challenge him in the party structures.
There is no doubt many would rush for the throne were Mugabe to step aside or nature take its course with disastrous consequences for the party and the nation.
The late Eddison Zvobgo suffered political ostracism when he positioned himself as Mugabe’s heir apparent. The latest victims of Mugabe’s wrath are Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current Speaker of parliament, and Jonathan Moyo, who until recently was Mugabe’s spin-doctor.
Mnangagwa has been quarantined while Moyo has been sent into political exile.
Mugabe’s swift and decisive attack against those responsible for the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration will go down as a fatal blow to the longevity of Zanu PF. The move sends an unambiguous message to those harbouring presidential ambitions. The initiative would have resulted in a younger and rejuvenated Zanu PF ready to take over from Mugabe and the geriatrics around him. But this was not to be, and those responsible have been punished through suspension or expulsion from the party.
The experience of the abortive Tsholotsho challenge has shown that Mugabe is not prepared to countenance the renewal of the party and has treated this as a personal threat instead. Indeed, Mugabe’s response to Tsholotsho confirms that he is only comfortable surrounded by subservient personalities. The appointment of Joyce Mujuru as the second vice-president has little to do with a principled gender agenda but all to do with a strategy to sideline a potent political threat from the young Turks in the party. These young Turks, who are now engaged in collective wound-licking after being dealt a fatal political blow by Mugabe are, in addition to Mnangagwa and Moyo, six provincial chairpersons, namely July Moyo, Daniel Shumba, Jacob Mudenda, Lloyd Siyoka, Themba Ncube, Mike Madiro and Phillip Chiyangwa.
Mugabe’s reaction to the Tsholotsho challenge has resulted in unprecedented divisions within Zanu PF. As a result of this action the Karanga ethnic group has been purged from the higher echelons of the party. The Karangas, who have featured prominently in the liberation struggle and history of Zanu PF, have been marginalised and are justifiably peeved. They are seething with anger and don’t have any reason to help Mugabe campaign for the March 31 election. Indeed, there is speculation that some are engaged in low-level campaigning for the opposition MDC.
The flip side of this is that the Zezuru clique in Zanu PF is now fully in control. Mugabe is Zezuru and so are his two deputies. The army commander and the commander of the Air Force are both Zezuru. The commissioner of police is also Zezuru.
Whether by design or default, this does not augur well and has further weakened the party’s appeal outside Mashonaland. Correcting this ethnic imbalance will require the skills that Mugabe evidenced after the 1987 Unity Accord with Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu, the first casualty of his quest for unfettered political power, but time might not be on his side. This factor has the potential to spiral out of control with dire consequences for the nation.
The departure of Moyo from Zanu PF has exposed the bankruptcy of the people around Mugabe. For the first time in the history of the ruling party Zanu PF launched its election campaign with a draft manifesto. It is clear that Zanu PF’s campaign lacks focus, passion and a purpose. Mugabe has no point man this time round and he is obviously too old to run a sleek and energetic election campaign.
That political violence is at its lowest level in six years could be due to political incompetence rather than a sudden commitment to a peaceful election. Either that or Mugabe is convinced that the intimidation and violence over the past six years have sufficiently softened Zimbabweans beyond recovery — unless he is also confident that the disaster that is the voters’ roll will hand him the two-thirds majority he wants. Whatever the reason for this change of tactic, there is no escaping the fact that this is the most divided Zanu PF to face a national election.
Mugabe desperately needs a two-thirds majority to allow him to change the constitution. He could then empower himself to hand- pick a successor without having to call for a fresh presidential election. If he used this window to good effect he could usher in a fresh leadership and call it a day and save face.
Mugabe’s strategy to go on a selective purge of allegedly corrupt politicians within his party has further divided Zanu PF. The arrest and long detention without trial of Finance minister Chris Kuruneri, former Zanu PF Mashonaland West chairman Phillip Chiyangwa and James Makamba has eaten away at the cement that held Zanu PF together. Kuruneri has been detained since last year.
Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, the MDC is not much better . An insider MP recently remarked to me that “only God could save the party from itself”.
The trade unionists within MDC claim the party as theirs and are battling to marginalise other factions such as civil society organisations, the student movement and intellectuals. There are also forces ranged against what is perceived as Ndebele influence in the MDC which has wreaked havoc and paralysed it.
Party activists speak softly about these issues and supporters and analysts are reluctant to discuss them openly for fear of further weakening the party. There is widespread concern in and outside the party that the MDC has long ago lost the passion and drive for a people’s revolution.
The facts on the ground show an ineffective opposition party that lacks vision and strategy. To be fair, years of violence and intimidation, a slew of repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the NGO Bill have all conspired to undermine the party’s effectiveness.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s treason trial, together with other numerous acts of harassment of party activists, have further reduced its effectiveness. But then the MDC is yet to earn its laurels in Zimbabwean politics. It owes what it is today to a combination of political chance and the public’s anger against Zanu PF.
But the possibility of an MDC victory at the polls cannot be totally discounted. The fact that Zanu PF is weak and divided means that it is possible to mobilise the people’s anger against the ruling party to deliver a victory to the MDC. For this to happen, the MDC would have to deal with a rigged voters’ roll and the fear caused by years of brutal force and intimidation. This is a tall order but cannot be completely ruled out.
Could this be Zimbabwe’s version of the election that saw the back of Kamuzu Banda in Malawi or Zambia’s election that saw the departure of Kenneth Kaunda?
If this were so, herein lies the frightening prospect for Zimbabwe. To a large extent Malawi and Zambia were much worse off after the departure of Banda and Kaunda respectively than during their tenure. Zimbabwe would then be faced with the prospect of a hugely divided and inexperienced group coming in to try and sort out the mess of more than two decades of misrule. This is a tall order and one which the MDC is not yet prepared for.
This is where Mugabe becomes critical for the country, assuming, as is largely expected, Zanu PF steals the election again. Mugabe could bequeath to Zimbabweans a stable, patriotic and purpose- driven ruling party.
Mugabe would ensure that the top three of this party are dynamic people who truly understand the challenges facing Zimbabwe. This would be a visionary leadership that will focus on a huge national reconstruction project that will require massive national and foreign resources. Such a leadership would need to have the capacity to build international friendships and alliances that would exploit opportunities necessary for reconstruction and development.
As currently constituted and led, both Zanu PF and the MDC don’t have what it takes to extricate Zimbabwe from its present quagmire. Were anything to happen to Mugabe now with the infighting in Zanu PF I fear instability that would be harmful to the nation in the long-term.
The possibility of a third way is something worth contemplating, but time and effort required to put this together could make it a long-term project. I truly believe that if he set his mind to it Mugabe could undo some of the damage he has inflicted on Zimbabwe and lay the foundation for a stable political dispensation that would deliver economic development and growth.
*Trevor Ncube is executive chairman and publisher of Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard