WHEN South African Opposition Economic Freedom Front (EFF) leader, Julius Malema, described ruling ZANU PF party leaders as cowards last month for allowing President Robert Mugabe to continue in power despite his advanced age, he got a serious backlash.
Malema said Zanu PF should not have endorsed Mugabe as its candidate for next year’s crunch elections as he no longer had the capacity to discharge his duties as head of state and government. At age 93, Mugabe is the oldest president in the world.
"The Zimbabwean situation is bad... President Mugabe could not even handle a spade when he tried to plant a tree just recently; that is how old he is.
“He is no longer capable of discharging his duties, and then they nominate him for presidency again in 2018," Malema told reporters in Johannesburg.
He added; “"We do not hate Mugabe, they can respond and insult us however they want... but those comrades in Zanu-PF are a group of cowards for not being able to tell an old man like Mugabe to go,”
Led by Information and Broadcasting Services Minister, Christopher Mushohwe, Zanu PF officials responded by taking turns to hurl insults at the firebrand South African opposition politician, an erstwhile chairperson of the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) a fellow liberation war movement.
South African opposition leader Julius Malema
Although all the ruling party’s 10 provinces have already “unanimously” endorsed Mugabe, who turned 93 this year, as their 2018 presidential election candidate despite his advanced age and health concerns, those within the higher echelons of power in Zanu PF say they no longer wished him to continue, adding that, if they had their way, he would be stop him.
Bhora Musango 2
They accused Mugabe, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980, of using fear and intimidation tactics to maintain his grip on both the party and country and fueling factionalism, which they said was working in his favour in the power dynamics of the party.
“There is a high risk that the 2008 ‘bhora musango’ campaign will repeat itself if Mugabe remains the party candidate. Quite a number of people in the party know that he (Mugabe) is too old to run in 2018 but most are afraid of saying that in the open, hence his endorsement.
“A lot of people would rather vote for an opposition presidential candidate than vote for President Mugabe because we all know the implications for both the party and the country,” said a politburo member who requested not to be named.
Another Zanu PF member said the escalating factional fights in the ruling party were a sign that party members were preparing for life after Mugabe, adding that both the Lacoste and G40 factions were hoping that the aging leader would change his mind about contesting the 2018 election.
“No one wants Mugabe anymore, but no one wants to be the one to say it out because people that are angling to take over from him are afraid of being booted out of the party and risk their chances of being the next President.
“But the truth of the matter is that Mugabe’s endorsement was not out of genuine love for him,” he said.
While senior officials in Zanu PF reacted angrily to Malema’s remarks, his utterances ring true especially considering that Mugabe, the only ruler the country has known since independence from Britain in 1980, has succeeded in blocking any discussions on his succession.
Expelled over succession row ... Ex-minister Chris Mutsvangwa and wife Monica
Those that spoke openly on the need for the veteran ruler to step down, such as Dzikamai Mavhaire, have found themselves at the receiving end of Mugabe’s wrath.
So afraid are the people in Zanu PF that even the man who is highly tipped to take over from President Mugabe, Emerson Mnangagwa, still pretends like he has never harbored any presidential ambitions when he speaks in public.
Just recently, Mnangagwa, believed to be the leader of Team Lacoste, a faction within the ruling party angling to succeed the nonagenarian, said during a tour of a prison farm in Mutare that Mugabe would rule forever.
“There are these mad young people who move around saying they want Cde Mnangagwa to be President and I told them you are mad. We don’t want to hear that. We have our own father who has led us for over 60 years,” the government controlled daily quoted him as saying.
Political analyst, Fortune Gwaze, said there was an element of fear in the unilateral endorsement of Mugabe.
“There is also an element of fear. A lot of these people owe whatever they have to Mugabe, be it houses, cars, farms and others.
“Their lives are centred on Mugabe so the moment they want to differ or try to get out of the Robert Mugabe highway, they stand to lose everything,” he said.
Gwaze said most in Zanu PF were only interested in protecting their material benefits that came with supporting Mugabe.
Food aid as a weapon
“If you look at people like Kudzai Chipanga, he was a Joice Mujuru person and his sudden support for Mugabe now is some form of compensatory behavior,” he said.
He said others at the grassroots level were threatened with denial of drought relief and other government handouts if they did not support Mugabe’s candidature.
“For them (Zanu PF) Mugabe’s endorsement represents access to material things such as inputs and food handouts. The support he is getting yes, it might be genuine but there are also elements of issues of livelihood.
Another political analyst Earnest Mudzengi said Mugabe’s endorsement, through whatever means, had proved that he was an astute politician as what mattered in politics was the results.
“To me one would not qualify it, the fact is that they have endorsed him, whether it is a matter of fear or not is something else. This is a political game and if he has done what he has done, that is why he is called a veteran politician.
“You get endorsed through various ways; Donald Trump has not ethically risen, it is politics, that is the game,” he said.
Rejoice Ngwenya, another political analyst, echoed Mudzengi’s sentiments, saying Zanu PF was free to endorse whoever they wanted as it was up to the party to weigh its candidate against their competitors.
“There is no way we can have universal methods (of endorsing candidates). It is difficult to measure because you do not put monitors for an internal party process,” he said.
Tsvangirai like Mugabe
He said using fear to silence dissent was generally accepted in Zimbabwean politics, giving the example of the expulsion of former MDC members, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma from the party for asking Morgan Tsvangirai to step down and pave way for new leadership.
“How many people have been expelled from the MDC? I don’t look at democracy with the prism of Zanu PF but look at it globally,” he said.
Professor Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst, said President Mugabe had created a cult of invincibility in the party and amongst his supporters and it had become treasonous for anyone within the party to nominate another candidate besides him or to want to contest against him.
He said because the cult had been established and institutionalized, there was no way people around him could think about an alternative leader.
“In a way, it becomes treasonous for a member to offer himself as a candidate or for a party member to nominate anyone else other than Mugabe. But that itself begets the question why they think the way they do.
“They have established that if you leave Zanu PF it is cold out there; everyone who has left has suffered the consequences of deprivation of the benefits gained in the Zanu PF government.
“So, anyone who is smart would stay clear of attempts to stand against Mugabe or appear as not supporting him,” he said.