COLUMN: DR ALEX T. MAGAISA
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
As he departs, members of the Corleone Family make a procession to kiss the ring on the hand of Vinny Mancini, the traditional salutation to the new Don Corleone.
When Mwalimu Julius Nyerere realised that he, too, was tired and could do no more, he took the Don Corleone way and handed over to Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Today, in Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania has a new Mwalimu, a leader to whom power has been handed over the Tanzanian way.
President Robert Mugabe could have done the same. He could have done a Don Corleone; he could have performed a Mwalimu. He could have said, ‘I am tired; I have done my part but I can’t do it anymore’. Because, plainly, there is nothing more he can do to save Zimbabwe. He could have handed over the reins to a new Don. We could have called it the Bob way. But he rejected it and now he faces a challenge from one of his Family and a potentially ignominious end. It didn’t have to be that way.
Last year, this column featured two articles (part I, part II) which attempted to explore the workings of Zanu PF using the image of the Mafia. Readers called for a third part, in line with the sequence of The Godfather Trilogy, from which the articles borrow the title. Recent developments in Zanu PF, characterised by the emergence Simba Makoni as a contender for presidential office provide the perfect background for the sequel. This is it.
We have here, in Mafia vocabulary, an indirect challenge by a young Don against the authority of The Godfather. We have here, the classic case of an embattled the head of the Family struggling to maintain his traditional grip on the Family due to his own failure to recognise when to hand over the reins to a successor.
As the Capo di tutti Capi (the Boss of all Bosses), Mugabe has maintained command of his Zanu PF Family through a composite system of patronage, fear of the unknown and respect for seniority. In Mafioso parlance, Zanu PF is a family, complete with its own set of ‘made’ men and a system of "making men" through structures such as the Central Committee and the Politburo. As with the Mafia, to become a ‘made’ man, one has to meet specific criteria, chief of which are liberation war credentials.
Becoming a ‘made’ man carries expectations of privilege, command and, ultimately, ascendance to the highest-rank of being the Capo. Yet the path to becoming the Capo is a maze; a road filled with landmines; a terrain full of shadowy figures, conspiratorial whispers and lurking hazards.
The Makoni challenge is a manifestation of the frustration that the ‘made’ man and women of Zanu PF have endured under a Capo who refuses to acknowledge that his continued presence is detrimental to the collective interests of the family. But as with the Mafia, challenging the Capo is a hazardous undertaking, regardless of the legitimacy of the grievance.
But what of those within the family, rumoured to be backing Makoni but, as yet, unable come out publicly? Again this behaviour resembles that of the underworld. Each member of the family has interests to protect and will, therefore, engage in hedging tactics so as not to expose himself to failure.
The greatest instrument available to the Capo is information. Mugabe is supposed to know everything about everyone in the family. His influence over the family lies in his ability to use or misuse this information whenever convenient. In this respect, the failure to come out openly to back Makoni by those members of the family is a function of self-preservation more than allegiance to the Capo.
But the biggest problem for the Capo is that his greatest asset now appears to have become his greatest weakness. It is no longer clear-cut who exactly are his friends and enemies plotting for his downfall in the family. Even those that are making fervent declarations of loyalty cannot be trusted. After all, it was just hours after his lieutenant, Msika, vouched for Dabengwa, that the latter came out in support of Makoni.
It is also notable that unlike in 2002, the statements of support by the security forces were not synchronised. There is a temptation to think that they may have merely damage-limitation statements by these men. Zimondi might simply have come out to pre-empt any indications of links with Makoni. And after Zimondi came out, how could Chiwenga and Chihuri possibly remain quiet without being accused of being complicit in the Makoni project?
It is especially telling that the Capo has been reduced into an embarrassing position of having to declare allegiance to himself on behalf of others like General Solomon Mujuru, who have been rumoured as Makoni backers. Surely, if Mujuru wanted to declare allegiance he could have easily done so personally? When the Capo takes it upon himself to do it, plainly, something is not quite right. In fact, that Mujuru himself has not said anything direct on Makoni’s candidature reveals more than it conceals.
This lack of clarity has clouded the politics of the Zanu PF family, leaving the Capo in a vulnerable position. Even Oppah Muchinguri, of the powerful Women’s League, who has previously threatened to remove her garments in symbolic defiance should anyone dare to challenge Mugabe have yet to fulfil their threats now that there is a clear challenge.
What then are we to make of the Makoni’s group in this Mafia dramatisation? Pentito is a term used to describe he who has repented. It is often used to designate former members of the Mafia who have abandoned it to collaborate with the authorities. The plural is Pentiti. Pentiti receive favourable treatment by the authorities in return for assistance in the war against the Mafia.
In Zimbabwe, the opposition is fighting a Mafia-type organisation. What role can the Pentiti play in this regard? In Part II, we argued that it would be useful if the opposition were able to find Pentiti from the leading members of the Zanu Family because clearly, in order to stand a chance in breaking the compromised electoral system, those with inside knowledge and influence in the system may be useful. Perhaps then, the Makoni group represents this Pentiti phenomenon.
There is nothing unusual or wrong with making use of Pentiti. It is pragmatic and practical to embrace Pentiti. In justifying the use of Pentiti, former President of the Italian Antimafia Commission, Luciano Violante once remarked, “We do not find information about the Mafia among nuns” a clear indication of their utility in breaking the Mafia. There are many people that feel strongly against Zanu PF leaders but arguably, the opposition needs the cooperation of Pentiti.
Of course, it is understandable that there is a desire to have a complete break with the Zanu PF machinery and way of doing things. But, however, desirable this is, it is not entirely practical. There is too much invested within the current system by the Zanu Family to expect them to give up completely without a long-drawn and detrimental fight. What the Makoni group seems to represent is that there are people in the Zanu Family who would prefer change from the status quo. To that extent there is common ground with most of the opposition on that point.
This was an opportunity to forge those links and fight the common battle with the Pentiti to achieve the initial goal. But one fears that this will be lost. The ideal outcome of complete change may seem to be within grasp but could be lost because of forces beyond the ballot box. The opportunity presented by the Pentiti will also be lost because of the pursuit of pure change from Zanu PF. And The Godfather will have outwitted everyone again ... Who knows, there might yet be another chapter beyond March 29.
is based at Kent Law School, UK and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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