‘Cultural revolution’, Robert Mugabe style

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THE ten years between 1966 and 1976 saw China plunge into a very grave social and political upheaval since the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong in October 1949. This period dubbed the “cultural revolution” left countless numbers of people dead and survivors traumatized beyond recovery that it is considered one of the bloodiest times in Chinese modern history.
Around 1966 Mao launched the “cultural revolution” which was aimed, ostensibly, at deepening the revolutionary process and purging the Communist Party of ‘counterrevolutionary’ elements that were infiltrating it. Many moderate politicians, intellectuals and those suspected of diverging, even slightly, from Mao’s ideas were branded “capitalist-roaders” and faced persecution from Mao-led gangs of indoctrinated young people who considered him a deity.
Chinese author Jung Chang who at one point was part of the Communist party youth leadership but whose family also suffered immensely during the “cultural revolution” reveals that even Mao was not sure of the exact people he stripped of humanity and called “capitalist-roaders”. It later turned out however, that there was nothing ‘cultural’ or ‘revolutionary’ in all this. This was how Mao consolidated personal power and tried his ideas on people, through perpetual chaos.
Even as senility was taking its toll on Mao Zedong, the purge was taken up and expanded by his overzealous wife Jiang Qing. Qing led the notorious “gang of four” that included other zealots like Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan. But as fate would have it, Mao succumbed to old age and sickness in 1976 leaving his wife and her accomplices to face trial for their role in this unfortunate phase of history that left not only China, but the rest of the world shaken.
History has a funny way of repeating itself and can repeat itself where we least expect it to. For many observers today, Zimbabwe’s ruling party Zanu PF party may appear to be haunted by a spectre of confusion that is threatening to leave Mugabe’s creaking wagon without its wheels and in a spectacular fashion. True, the party might not be at its best, but that is no reason for those fighting to bring democratic change to let their guard down.
Remember this is Mugabe, a man who has survived election defeat, not once but twice since year 2000. Indeed Mugabe learnt something from Mao, and he learnt it well; perpetual chaos in the country and within his own party, “perpetual struggle” in Maoist parlance, as a way to consolidate power and neutralize potential opposition. The ‘chaos’ in Zanu PF is not fortuitous, it is by design. In recent months some party stalwarts and even those considered to be the aged leader’s close confidants have endured the political ignominy of public censure by him, his wife and their allies.Advertisement

In a ‘cultural revolution’ style insults have been hurled back and forth at ‘unlucky’ members of the fractious party. The kind of tongue-lashing that was once reserved for Western politicians and those in the opposition is now directed toward Mugabe’s hapless subordinates and is disturbingly reminiscent of the unforgiving purge that Chinese people went through. In Mao Zedong style Mugabe’s opponents, real or imagined, are first deprived of their humanity, reduced to good-for-nothing “weevils” that deserve to be doused with the lethal chemical Gamatox or bestial ‘hubby-burners’ that deserve to be put down.
With Robert Mugabe having seen better days the task of chucking his victims into a den full of propagandized youths, who, like hounds, are always baying for blood has been left to the excitable First Lady, Grace Mugabe. Through a combination of political naivety, vanity and ‘devil on the shoulder’ voices that have been telling her that she is made of “sterner stuff”, she has taken the “cultural revolution” to another level.
While Mao might have consolidated his power in order to protect his ideology, party and probably something else which we may never come to know of, Mugabe has neither an ideology nor a party to defend. That which is left of Zanu PF is a platform to defend his personal and ill-gotten wealth amassed throughout the three decades of his rule. The ‘party’ or that which still exists of it can still be used to amass more. That the party’s website still presents to the public eight dead people on its list of current members of the Politburo; the supreme policy-making body of the party tells its own tale.
Zanu PF is a Mugabe project and whatever happens to its members does not bother him even an iota as long as no one questions him about his wealth and dream to turn Zimbabwe into a fiefdom similar to North Korea. Grace Mugabe made this quite manifest during a recent address to some party youths at her Mazowe ‘orphanage’ where she admonished one Fortune Chasi, a junior minister in her husband’s government for daring to keep her insatiable appetite for anything and everything under check. Her avarice has seen her seize the biggest slice of the fertile Mazowe valley just north of Harare for herself. During the speech Grace professed ignorance of Chasi, called him insane and cast doubt on loyalty to the party thereby leaving him at the mercy of the blood thirsty youth.
What is happening in Mugabe’s party today may indicate instability of some sought but it is nothing to be carried away with yet. Mugabe, a student of Mao, has always been sneaky and ever ready to sacrifice even his own people for personal aggrandizement – there are ample examples to this. There is no reason for those fighting to bring democracy in Zimbabwe to blink even a little bit because of what is happening in Zanu PF. It is a ploy to undergird the process of turning Zimbabwe into a Mugabe fiefdom and that is why any other member of the party who does not carry the ‘Mugabe’ name is expendable.
Melusi Nkomo is based in Switzerland. He can be reached at