Mugabe no lame-duck president

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THERE are exciting and excitable reports from Zimbabwe and beyond suggesting that President Robert Mugabe is losing control of Zanu PF and has become a lame-duck president.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Mugabe is hardly a duck, let alone a lame one. Mugabe is totally in charge of Zanu PF and his word is law in Zimbabwe.
The term lame-duck is commonly used to describe political leaders who are not able to exercise full control over their party or country, and it is usually leaders in their final term of office. Essentially what happens is that their colleagues and supporters begin to look for direction from the successor. The term can also be applied to a leader who has lost an election but has not yet vacated office. Mugabe handsomely won the election last year and the next election will be in 2018, what’s more there is no clear successor in Zanu PF. It could be Joice Mujuru, it could be Emmerson Mnangagwa, it may yet be Sydney Sekeramayi. Joseph Chinotimba is also an ambitious man, but his name does not yet feature in the Zanu PF succession matrix.
A keen observer of Zanu PF politics in general and Mugabe in particular will understand that watching Mugabe in action is akin to what a colleague calls watching the local traditional Jerusarema dance: two steps sideways, another  two steps sideways, and one fake thrust forward. In Zanu PF as in Jerusarema, unotamba wakachenjera (be careful) and Mugabe is the dance master.
Zanu PF’s elective congress in December this year has seen the intensification of jostling for positions. There are two factions, one reportedly led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and the other by Vice-President Mujuru. In the recent Youth and Women’s League Conferences gloves seemed to be off as the two factions threw the kitchen sink at each other. Pasi nevanopisira varume mudzimba (Down with those who burn their husbands) chanted Oppah Muchinguri the outgoing Women’s League boss in remarks that were said to be directed at Vice President Mujuru who husband died in a fire blaze.
Determined to have the last word, Mujuru is said to have rose and sang: “Party iyi pane achaipandukira, dairai” – (Someone will rebel against this party). These scenes at the women’s league elective conference as well as at the chaotic youth conference a week earlier have been interpreted to mean that President Mugabe is losing his grip on Zanu PF and has become a lame-duck leader with no power to control what is happening within the revolutionary party.Advertisement

If there is one thing that came out clearly in both the youth and women’s conferences, it is that much as there were factional fights and divisions, the one uniting factor for both factions is that they want to retain Mugabe as President of Zanu PF at the December Congress. Indeed the resolution from the women’s league could not be much clearer as it states that Mugabe should be the sole candidate for the presidency. We will in the next few months, if not weeks, witness the provinces falling into line and declaring their support for Mugabe’s sole candidature.
The provinces and Zanu PF supporters may argue about other things, but not about Mugabe’s candidature and with it comes power. The president will be 94 years old in the next general elections. That all the provinces are, in fact, prepared to back him without so much as a whiff of a challenge is hardly the stuff of lame-ducks. It speaks of a battle-hardened veteran who will only leave the political stage when it suits him.
No one dare challenge Mugabe in Zanu PF and it has always been like this. Yes, you can have the odd “Mugabe must go” by a Zanu PF parliamentarian which is nothing more than just farting in the wind (no effect whatsoever). When crunch time comes, none is willing to take on the veteran leader. Even the inimitable and erudite late Eddison Zvobgo who was no pushover in Zanu PF politics seemed to speak in tongues when the question of challenging Mugabe for leadership was posed. His standard reply was: “I will challenge anyone for the leadership of Zanu PF.” He would then wait for five seconds for dramatic effect and then add “except if it’s President Mugabe.”
The media has regaled us with stories of certain characters challenging Mugabe during politburo meetings. I would take these with a pinch of salt because in Zanu PF circles, Mugabe is generally addressed as Baba (Father) or as H.E (short for His Excellency). Ministers have been known to kneel when they give him files or documents. It is a sight to behold and, make no mistake, this is no lame-duck president.
Zanu PF has a strong 245 member central committee which is elected and a politburo of 49 members who include the party leader, two deputies and a chairman as well as heads of departments with deputies, and finally 10 committee members. The president appoints the politburo which then acts as the secretariat of the central committee. It is really a powerful secretariat and President Mugabe as the sole candidate for the leadership of Zanu PF will appoint individuals once more to this secretariat in December. A lame-duck leader would not have powers to make such appointments.
In the past few months Mugabe has been quoted refusing to back any particular candidate saying the people will decide. A few years back when Mujuru was elected to Vice-President Mugabe said: When you choose her as vice-president you don’t want her to remain in that chair, do you?” This seemed to be an endorsement of Mujuru then, but there is no such endorsement from the president today giving oxygen to the dictum that: “since a politician never believes what he says, he is quiet surprised to be taken at his word.”
It seems to me that Mugabe has been able to play each faction against each other. So year-after-year they tear into each other and grab each other in an almost mortal embrace.  It is Mugabe who can give them life, who can guarantee their survival, who can make the appointments in the politburo, who basically can reward or punish them. He can lay down the law. This is no lame-duck leader; this is the master of balancing acts, this is a political survivor. If a cat has nine lives, Mugabe has eleven.
His words in the key note address to the Women’s League are telling:”Ndinoda kukutendai zvikuru neresolution yamapasisa, the resolution whereby you state that I should be the sole candidate wenyu for the presidency.” The voice is almost that of an oracle, who will stand up to challenge it? It is almost as if when you challenge this voice you will turn into a pillar of salt.
Zanu PF factions can dance around each other, and even try to dance around Mugabe, but the truth of the matter is that he is deeply ensconced in the leadership of the party. The life presidency is his for taking if he wants it. Indeed it would be much easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mugabe to be a lame-duck leader.
Makombe is a development worker based in South Africa and can be contacted at