The ‘Chaos Theory’ in the Zanu PF succession race

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CURRENT debates on succession in Zimbabwe are based on the assumption that the matter will be settled by an agreeable elective process which will usher in a new leadership to replace President Robert Mugabe as leader of both Zanu PF and Zimbabwe. Less considered, however, is what might happen in the event of the legitimacy of the elective process being highly contested.
It is in this context that I introduce the Chaos Theory, which ushers in a new variable characterised by panic, confusion, conflict and general chaos which will profoundly affect the elective process. The Chaos Theory is more likely to apply in the event of death of the incumbent, that being the circumstance which creates a void, panic, confusion, unbridled contestation, conflict and therefore, chaos.
The Chaos Theory postulates the existence of what may be called a Chaos Faction within Zanu PF which is waiting in anticipation of conditions of confusion, conflict and chaos, which, it believes, present it with the best opportunities for success.
This faction, hitherto, less considered in the context of succession dynamics has little chance in the two better-known routes of succession, but believes it would be better-placed than the others to take advantage of chaotic conditions. This article discusses the possible existence of this Chaos Faction, and the implications for the nation.
At present, there are two main mechanisms through which succession may be facilitated: first, by way of guided democracy and secondly, by way of an open election. The Chaos Theory is based on an assumption of the existence of confusion, conflict and chaos in the open election route, in particular, if that election is prompted by the death. Let us look at each of the routes in turn.
Succession by Guided Democracy
The Guided-democracy route, which might also be called the Organised Succession route, is where the succession process is controlled by the leader or a core group of the Zanu PF leadership. There would be an election but it will be a mere formality to endorse the choice made by the leadership. In the case of Zanu PF, the guided democracy route would be controlled by President Mugabe as he is the only person who commands authority and respect sufficient enough to perform such a role in the party.Advertisement

If that route is applied, it wouldn’t be the first time that Zanu PF or Mugabe have used it. At the 1984 Congress, when party heavyweights faced certain defeat in open elections for positions in the newly created Politburo, Mugabe had to intervene to save them. An example that is often given is that of Maurice Nyagumbo who had to be persuaded to stand aside and give way to Simon Muzenda. Nyagumbo, a popular man at the time, had received an overwhelming number of nominations from the provinces, leaving Muzenda in danger of losing his Vice Presidency of the party at a time when he was the Deputy Prime Minister.
At that same Congress, in order to prevent future embarrassment in open elections, Mugabe was given complete powers to, in future, appoint all Politburo members. This process was completed at the 2014 Congress when, to avoid the open election route and potential embarrassment, the Zanu PF constitution was amended to give Mugabe the power to appoint both Vice Presidents.
Further, in 2004, when Vice President Simon Muzenda died, his replacement, Joice Mujuru was installed via a similar route of guided democracy. Mnangagwa, who had carefully laid out a plan to succeed Muzenda at the time, having gained control of the party structures that formed the electoral college for the election of the Vice President, did not even contest in the end. The Zanu PF constitution was quickly amended to provide that one of the Vice Presidents must be a woman. This blocked Mnangagwa’s path and ensured Mujuru got the post ahead of him.
Ironically, when Mugabe wanted to get rid of Mujuru in 2014, that clause prescribing mandatory gender balance was deleted from the Zanu PF constitution, thus opening the way for Mnangagwa’s appointment. The appointments of Joseph Msika as Vice President in 1999, to replace Joshua Nkomo after the latter’s death and the further appointment of John Nkomo to fill in the same vacancy when Msika died, also followed a similar path of guided democracy. There were no electoral contestations. Congress simply approved by unanimity a decision that had been made from the top.
The point here is that guided-democracy is not an unfamiliar path in Zanu PF politics. Since guided democracy is normally (although not always) in accordance with a hierarchical system, the older, more senior aspirants in Zanu PF are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries if it is used. The rise of Mujuru to the Vice Presidency ahead of Mnangagwa in 2004 was the exception since, at the time, she was actually lower down the pecking order in the Politburo. In all other cases, vacancies have been filled in accordance with seniority in the party structures.
It is for this reason that the so-called Young Turks or the G40 of Zanu PF would be uncomfortable with the route of guided democracy unless they are sure Mugabe would spring a surprise and back a candidate from outside the senior citizens of the party. If seniority is used, then Mnangagwa would likely be the biggest beneficiary of guided democracy in the succession race. The bid to stop this explains the emphasis being placed on open elections by members of the G40.
Succession by Open Election
The second is the Open Election route without the guiding hand of the party’s patriarch. It might also be called the Free Election route since everyone is free to contest. This route has the backing of the party’s constitution, which provides that the President must be elected by Congress. The national constitution also provides that when the seat of the President becomes vacant, the party that was represented by the departing President is entitled to choose a successor. How the selection takes place is entirely up to the party. In the case of Zanu PF, this would probably mean an election by special congress.
In an open election, anyone has a chance to become President, regardless of their rank in the party. This route is probably the one that is most favoured by the younger generation of leadership aspirants in Zanu PF who would otherwise be disadvantaged by the rules of tradition and seniority if guided democracy were applied as before.
The G40 group has also been keen to underscore the importance of the open election route in the succession race. From the very beginning, just after Mnangagwa’s appointment as Vice President in December, when everyone was claiming that the Presidency was now his to lose, Prof Jonathan Moyo was quick to scoff at the idea, remarking that being an appointed Vice President was no guarantee that one would become President. Since then, Moyo has been very critical of Mnangagwa and his allies, making use of social media to take shots at them.
For his part, Mnangagwa has had little choice but to play along, also repeating the same lines in his interview with the New African magazine that a leader would have to be elected and that being Vice President means little in the succession race. The conduct of his allies however, suggests that they expect him to be the next in line, a position that has drawn the ire of Moyo and others in the so-called G40 Faction.
The open election advocates have probably assessed and formed a low opinion of Mnangagwa’s electability and think their own candidate would stand a good chance of winning. Apart from the Gukurahundi baggage that is hard to shift, Mnangagwa does not have a good record in elections and his opponents sense an opportunity.
Twice, in 2000 and 2005, he has lost elections to a hitherto little-known MDC candidate, Blessing Chebundo, regarded as a political lightweight in the context of Zimbabweans politics. These defeats forced Mnangagwa to take flight and find an easy rural constituency, Chirumanzu-Zibagwe where, at long last, he found success in 2008. But those losses hurt and are a severe dent on his electoral record. They probably give confidence to his opponents.
Besides, the election would be done by Congress, which means members from the party structures, which means candidates’ chances will depend on how much of the party structures they control. This is why there are and will continue to be turf wars over provincial and district structures.
Succession by anarchy: The Chaos Scenario
The above scenario of an open election is based on the assumption that there will be a peaceful, free and fair election whose outcome will be uncontested. Nevertheless, there is a high possibility that this assumption may be false, particularly if Mugabe’s departure is of an abrupt nature, such as in the event of death.
As we have observed in previous articles, Mugabe has been such a dominant and omnipresent figure within Zanu PF that his death is likely to create a huge chasm that could precipitate panic, confusion and chaos within the party. Being the glue that holds the competing factions together, Mugabe’s death would take away this cohesion and lead to open confrontation and conflict between the factions. The signs are already ominous while he is alive and it can only get worse when he is out of the picture. Thus, the open election described above is unlikely to be free of confusion, conflict and chaos.
It is in this chaos and confusion that an election to choose a successor would have to be conducted. It is in this context of confusion, conflict and chaos that other groups with a remote eye on the throne, quite likely with a military background, or civilians who have the backing of the military might step in, ostensibly to ‘restore order’, in defence of the ‘national interest’ and with a promise to ‘clear the path for a return to democracy’. Precedents elsewhere show that when the military intervenes their justification is usually that the civilian politicians would have failed.
Strange and alarming as it might seem, such a scenario is not at all far-fetched. The Chaos Faction, which would exploit this scenario is unlikely to be interested in the guided democracy route, because it does not offer them a chance, unless they are doing the guiding. Since it knows that its chances are enhanced in an environment of chaos and confusion, the Chaos Faction has no interest whatsoever in Mugabe’s departure other than by death.
It will thus be seen to be vociferously supporting Mugabe to rule for life because the faction does not want him to have any role in choosing a successor. They will say such a route is undemocratic and will condemn anyone who shows any ambition to succeed Mugabe during his lifetime. In all this they pretend to support and protect Mugabe, yet in fact, they will be advancing their interests, which are better served when he is out of the way, in conditions of chaos and confusion.
It remains to be seen how Zanu PF will handle the succession question, a matter that now defies avoidance. Reluctant as he is, Mugabe can only have influence in the succession process by way of guided democracy, which he has deployed before, to his advantage. His apparent lack of interest in guided democracy in the choice of his successor is not a sign of discovering the virtue of open democracy but indicates his ambition to remain in charge for life. What happens thereafter does not seem to be of interest to him.
The open election in the event of death is unlikely to be controversy-free. In fact, death is likely to spawn confusion, conflict and chaos within the party. However, this Chaos Scenario is not a problem for everyone within the party. In fact, there could well be a faction, which we have called the Chaos Faction, which is anticipating and would only be too pleased with such a scenario, because it offers them the best opportunity. And it is those who have might that are likely to favour this Chaos Scenario.
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