HomeOpinion & AnalysisMugabe's ethnic jigsaw puzzle deepens

Mugabe’s ethnic jigsaw puzzle deepens

Dumisani Muleya

THE ruling Zanu PF’s convoluted succession struggle has dramatically shifted to another level of intensity after the nomination of a new set of leaders to a somewhat repackaged pecking order, analysts say.


s has set the stage for a fierce showdown for President Robert Mugabe’s plum position, which could be sooner rather than later if this week’s events are anything to go by.

Political analysts think the bruising succession battle showed, more than anything else so far, that the contours of Mugabe’s regime, its substance of power and authority, as well as leadership continuity, are difficult to define or take for granted.

Mugabe got a clean sweep by securing 100% of the provincial executive councils’ votes without any challenge, his first vice-president Joseph Msika 70%, second vice-president Joyce Mujuru 60% and chairman John Nkomo 60%.

Mujuru — who had the backing of the powerful Women’s League and her influential husband, retired General Solomon Mujuru — shocked Zanu PF secretary for administration Emmerson Mnangagwa, until now widely regarded as Mugabe’s heir apparent, when she came out on top.

Analysts say the outcome of last weekend’s Zanu PF selection process — which changed the direction of the succession plot but not the matrix of power — proved that ruling party politics are currently in a dangerous state of flux and thus unpredictable.

They say the succession issue is still yet to be resolved as the current fight was largely over crumbs from Mugabe’s table and not the real substance of power.

University of Zimbabwe political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the power struggle in Zanu PF was far from over. He said it would continue until outstanding political, ethnic and regional issues were adequately resolved.

“Definitely the political complexion of the Zanu PF succession struggle has changed but the issue still remains unfinished business. Notwithstanding Mujuru’s nomination, the succession issue still has to be resolved,” he said.

“We may well be seeing the beginning and not the end of the issue.”

Another analyst, Professor Brian Raftopoulos, said although Mujuru’s nomination was a “masterstroke” by those who wanted to shut out Mnangagwa, the succession crisis would for sometime remain simmering.

“For now Mugabe’s position still remains unassailable because he is not under open challenge and no one has the capacity to do so, but the question of who will take over from him still lingers,” he said.

“The nomination of Mujuru was a masterstroke for Mnangagwa’s rivals but those who lost, including the Young Turks such as Patrick Chinamasa and Jonathan Moyo, might still want to fight back to recover lost ground.”

Zanu PF, which its critics say presides over an authoritarian political system, has been grappling with the succession problem for a long time now.

Mugabe seems unable or simply unwilling to disentangle the issue. His critics say he is using it as part of his flimsy explanations to cling onto power.

Authoritarian regimes have generally been considered to be fragile in that they are unable to cope with adversity, resolve internal conflicts, respond to shifting interests and demands, and to ensure a smooth succession in leadership.

Zanu PF fits this description except that it has always worn a democratic mask, which has however now fallen irretrievably.

Masunungure said although Mnangagwa, who is also Speaker of parliament, was outmanoeuvred by his rivals, the succession fight would still rumble on.

“Mnangagwa was outmanoeuvred but he might still attempt to regain lost ground maybe through irregular political machinations. So Mugabe now has to manoeuvre fast, carefully and craftily to ensure cracks in his party which were widened due to the nominations do not continue widening,” he said.

“The resolution of the issue of one of the vice-president’s positions has created others problems around the succession struggle which is a continuation of past power struggles dating back to the liberation war.”

Masunungure said the Zanu PF nominations created other problems with an “ethnic character”.

“Problems with an ethnic character have emerged due to changes in Zanu PF’s arithmetic. The ascendancy of Mujuru who hails from the same Mashonaland region as Mugabe sharpens ethnic contradictions in the party,” he said.

“The implications and repercussions of this might create a resurgence of other problems. A Pandora’s box has been opened and a fluid situation created. So before Mugabe quits he has a lot of homework to do if he wants to leave Zanu PF at peace with itself.”

Masunugure said the exclusion of the Karanga and Manyika people from the Zanu PF presidium might create a groundswell of tribal and regional discontent.

“In terms of ethnic representation at the top the Karangas might feel injured about what appears to be marginalisation of a large ethnic bloc,” he said. “The Manyikas who have been longing for recognition and the need to rise to the apex of power for a long time might think they have again been left on the periphery of the political kingdom. They might feel aggrieved.”

Ethnic friction has been existing for sometime before and after Independence in 1980 but suppressed through various methods, including violent ones.

But now times have changed and sophisticated ways have to be found to deal with the problem before it becomes unmanageable.

Mnangagwa’s group was said to have factored in this ethnic consideration in its masterplan which accommodated four major groups, Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Ndebele.

Insiders claim that the camp wanted Mugabe to represent Zezurus, Women’s League chairperson Thenjiwe Lesabe to stand for Ndebeles, Mnangagwa to represent the Karangas and Chinamasa, Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs who lost to Nkomo, to stand for the Manyikas.

Moyo, who is Zanu PF deputy secretary for information, who was reportedly aligned to the Mnangagwa camp, was earmarked to become secretary for administration, July Moyo secretary for security and Shuvai Mahofa secretary for commissariat in the politburo.

However, Mugabe appears to still value the Unity Accord as opposed to the delicate ethnic balancing arrangement. He said in August that he still wanted two vice-presidents to honour the agreement.

Analysts say the crash by pretenders to the throne and opportunists riding on Mnangagwa’s bandwagon showed that Zanu PF was still firmly in the grip of the old guard.

The nominations also showed, they say, no one in Zanu PF is guaranteed of a position, except Mugabe himself, at least in the meantime. They further indicated that seniority and experience in the hierarchy might in the future not be the only decisive factors in the contest for power.

Credibility and leadership qualities, which are terribly lacking in most Zanu PF politicians, may become the crucial prerequisites.

The cliché that there are no permanent friends and enemies but only permanent interests in politics was also proven true by the outcome of the Zanu PF polls as some officials joined hands with their hitherto adversaries — for instance Mnangagwa and Moyo — to achieve a common objective, which was to win power.

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