PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe recently felt sufficiently miffed by the increasing speculation over his health that he took the unusual step of granting an extensive interview to specifically address and hopefully dowse the rumours.
Images of a frail looking Mugabe walking with the assistance of aids, compounded by claims he was fighting a losing battle against advanced cancer, had generated considerable excitement among those keen to be rid of the man.
And in a deliberate and strategic move Mugabe’s media handlers chose Reuters for the interview ahead of either ZBC or The Herald.
Reuters’ respected man in Zimbabwe, Cris Chinaka, wrote that he found Mugabe in fairly good nick for a man his advanced age.
The President “appeared fit and lively for his age … clapping his hands loudly, laughing and rocking in his chair,” Chinaka reported.
Such statements would have been received with howls of derisive and dismissive laughter had the interview been conducted by one of those good chaps at Herald House or the ZBC.
Still, Mugabe conceded to Chinaka that his “time will come” but stated quite emphatically that he expected (not hoped) to be around for a while yet.
Even so, it is ridiculously idle employ to wonder whether or not an 86 year-old has health issues.
Most people that age either sleep or sit through what remains of their lives in the manner of Wilkie Collins’ Mrs Versy.
In truth, it is a wonder Mugabe is yet to engage the aid of a Zimmer frame or one of those mobility scooters common on the streets of Western towns and cities.
Nonetheless, it is understandable that the certain intervention of providence in ending Mugabe’s lengthy political career should enthuse those who have abysmally failed at the task over the last 30 years.
In fairness, they should be allowed to savour the prospect; God knows they have waited long enough.
That said, the accompanying claim oft-made that Mugabe’s mortal expiration will trigger serious, and quite possibly bloody, political turmoil in the country necessarily invites challenge.
The prediction was repeated by The Times of London in an editorial published on Wednesday with the usual entreaties for regional powerhouse South Africa and the rest of the region to ready for the bloody fall-out.
The problem with such predictions is not only that they are evidently mischievous and scurrilous. More significantly, they deliberately project long-held (and frequently disappointed) hopes as absolute certainties.
It is worth recalling that the people making these claims also frequently tell us that Zimbabwe has been under a military dictatorship since Mugabe lost the 2008 presidential election.
Indeed, all manner of analysts insist a security services cabal led by the Joint Operations Command (JOC) has been running the country, having ably but objectionably ensured MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai did not take over power after trouncing Mugabe at the polls in 2008.
Assuming that were the case, one cannot but struggle to understand why Mugabe’s mortal demise should portend bloody turmoil for the country if he is no longer in charge anyway.
Surely, if a JOC-led military cabal has since taken over the country then it matters not whether Mugabe dies or lives. Unless the suggestion is that the Zanu PF leader intends to drag all of JOC with him to his designated grave at that shrine of disputed heroes just outside central Harare.
Again, we are told that Emerson Mnangagwa and either Joice Mujuru or her husband, Solomon, or both of them, so want to succeed Mugabe that they are prepared to violate and vandalise each other over the job.
The received maxim in the opposition lobby is that Zanu PF is only being held together by the fact Mugabe still lives. It is further claimed Mugabe’s supposed failure to foist his preferred successor on the party (invariably suggested as Mnangagwa) is certain to see Zanu PF destroyed by a fratricidal conflagration when he is gone.
The trouble with the anti-Mugabe lobby is that it often gets inordinately exercised over what may be referred to as the narcissism of small differences and ends up making too much of the factionalism in Zanu PF.
There is, of course, no disputing the fact Zanu PF is riven by serious factionalism. But what political party anywhere in the world is not?
Even the so-called mature democracies are not immune to this malady. Tony Blair’s recently published memoirs make explosive revelations about his power struggles with Gordon Brown and how the Labour Party ended up (and still is) divided between Blairites and Brownites.
Across the pond in the US, the so-called Tea Party movement is rocking the Republican establishment.
Factionalism is, therefore, the native province of political life.
Nevertheless, it obvious that after Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda and Mugabe (when his time does come), there is no clear succession hierarchy in Zanu PF. John Nkomo’s bitterly contested rise to the Vice Presidency of the party attests to that fact.
Consequently, if the question is whether or not Mugabe’s succession within Zanu PF is likely to be a messy affair, then the answers is YES!
But to suggest the chaos could engulf the whole country, possibly leading to a bloody conflict is a bit of a stretch.
The argument discounts the importance of two significant variables that could provide a formidable fail-safe mechanism against any bloody fallout.
In the first instance, the last decade has shown that, however much the factions in Zanu PF despise each other, they will work together in the face of a threat to the party collective.
Indeed, and quite paradoxically, Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have tended to force a union or working together of sorts among those the Prime Minister is sworn to remove from political office.
Ever since Tsvangirai emerged as a potent political force capable of removing Zanu PF from power, the question of who takes over from Mugabe has become a “small difference” between the party’s rival factions.
This is because to Zanu PF’s reckoning, the MDC poses a threat that is both political and (more dangerously) personal.
The anti-Mugabe lobby never tires of telling us how those around him have fabulously but criminally enriched themselves during his 30 year incumbency.
In addition, there is the unending cry for justice by victims of the various political pogroms unjustly visited on thousands over the last three decades.
Add to that, the presence of a powerful and influential lobby for dispossessed white farmers in the MDC whose overriding interest (ignore what they say in public) is the return of the expropriated farmland to former owners.
Tsvangirai has been understandably ambivalent regarding the possibility of a blanket amnesty for those accused of corruption and rights abuses were he to assume office.
Rightly or wrongly, therefore, the rival Zanu PF factions believe they could all lose their farms and what riches they accumulated and possibly spend the rest of their lives as guests of the state in the filth of Chikurubi if the MDC were to win power.
As such, both Mnangagwa and the Mujurus would have to be absolute imbeciles if they didn’t realise that any bloody fight between them over Mugabe’s succession would weaken or even destroy Zanu PF leaving Tsvangirai to happily pick up the pieces.
Again, in the unlikely event Mugabe’s would-be successors do prove to be imbeciles and the succession turns into a nasty, bloody scrap, then we should expect the security services to step into the breach.
Service chiefs have as much to fear from an MDC takeover as their political counterparts in Zanu PF. And they have shown over the last decade that they are willing and ready to risk domestic and international vilification if only to keep their plumb backsides out of jail.
So Tsvangirai’s cheer-leaders would do well to calm down.