The subject supposed to be misunderstood: Of eponymous power plays and elite negotiations

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IT IS quite interesting to note that Grace Mugabe has been able to present herself as the proverbial ‘dumb’ soothsayer who warns Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, of the intemperate nature of the ‘Julius Ceasar’ moment he seems to be enjoying. The only difference this time around is that Grace Mugabe is not as ‘dumb’ as people want to believe. Also, her soothsaying antics are not acts of foretelling; they are hinged on a clearly predetermined agenda and game plan. In other words, Grace is in it too.
She knows what is at stake, including the benefits thereof, given that her husband is already one foot in the grave. Whether she likes it or not, she knows that her husband might have been a strongman, but the corporeal nature of his being makes it an obligation for her to join the political fray, and allow herself to be part of the ‘key drivers’ in the game of ‘elite negotiations’.
It is here that we must locate the contours of the background which generates her ‘whistleblowing’. As students of political science, we all know that the elite only give way to other elites. Also, as the sociologist Wright Mills, in his thesis on ‘power elite’ put it that members of one elite group always recognise the exalted position of another elite group, hence power becomes a game of ‘elite transitions’. This also explains why we have seen political groupings and factions within Zanu PF that bear eponymous characteristics of the elite – i.e., ‘the Mujuru camp’, the Mnangagwa camp’, etc.
In essence, what we are seeing here is a clear case of ‘elite transition’ grounded in deep forms of ‘elite negotiations’. Grace’s statements must be read within the context of ‘elite transitions’ in which, stratagems of negotiating are tossed like kites in the air. Not in board rooms!!
The First Lady’s recent utterances should be placed within the pragmatic stratagem of negotiating, in which the normative gets arm-twisted – thanks to her proximity to the presidency, notwithstanding the fact that her hubby is already ‘one foot in the grave’. Even her rhetorical question – “Where have you ever seen a 91 year old who can stand for 2 hours?”, speaks of her acknowledgement of the inevitability and her husband’s frailties.
It is clear that within Zanu PF there have always been more than two camps; i.e., the G40 group which only a fool would brush aside, the so-called Mnangagwa camp, which has been over-celebrated and the ‘dark camp’ whose features keep emerging though Grace’s utterances and is likely to be a product of ‘elite negotiations’ but is composed of some members of the G40 group, those who are not entirely satisfied with Mnangagwa as heir apparent and some members of the military.Advertisement

This ‘dark camp’ is a creature of the over-celebration of the Mnangagwa camp as it continues to be subsumed within the broader camp. Probably owing to the character and stature of the man heading the broader camp, Emmerson Mnangagwa – especially, that he plays his cards close to his chest all the time.
This has earned him the negative stigma of being ruthless, which he has been able to turn into a positive political vibe, of course, most of it owing to the unfounded allegations that most unexplained, and quite mysterious accidents and deaths can be traced to his door-step. The only clear case of Mnangagwa’s ruthlessness that stands as an exception, is the case of Matebeleland’s Gukurahundi. But so is Sydney Sekeramai, and many others. And so the latter should be read and placed within the broader prism of the banality of evil. 
It is highly likely that the Mnangagwa we know from the media is a merely hyped individual whose fortunes emanate from the mythical figure he has been made to be. If that is true, then what we have is an overly valorised ordinary man who runs a loose faction – with a weak ‘blunt object’ in the form of some idiotic ‘Justice Wadyajena’ – (ironically, Mnangagwa is also heading the Justice Ministry (of course, don’t read too much into that).
The camp that enjoys Grace Mugabe’s sympathies is obviously aware of Mnangagwa’s weaknesses and that he is an overly celebrated character. This forms the premise of my thesis that what we are seeing are clear signs of ‘elite negotiations’. Make no mistake about it, Zimbabwe is not destined for ‘elite transplacement’. We should brace ourselves for a proper ‘internal elite transformation’, whose genesis can be traced to the removal of Joyce Mujuru as a form of ‘internalised regime change’.
As I have always argued, regime change is always a violent process – but the strictures and magnitude of violence differ with contexts. However, for all liberation winning movements, it tends to be overt violence, in which mobilisation cuts across the army, the police and other arms of the oppressive state apparatus or genuine vigilante, in the form of party youths. In the case of Zanu PF’s ‘internal regime change’, the youths and a hoard of rag-tag war veterans were mobilised as vigilante in the ouster of Mujuru.
Mujuru’s demise was predicated on her naïve pandering to the seemingly pedestrian view that Grace Mugabe is ‘dumb’ and that she is merely a ‘stooge’. The Mujuru camp failed to clearly identify the actual faction that enjoyed Grace’s sympathies; thus preferring to label everything that opposed them as the ‘Mnangagwa camp’. In any political setting, failure to clearly identify your adversaries leads to disaster.
Even worse, the Mujuru camp failed to understand the simple logic that says, ‘winners tend to be consumed in celebrating their victories, while losers lick their wounds as they prepare for a major showdown in the future’. So it must be understood that the typhoon that swept the Mujuru camp had its roots in the Tsholotsho Declaration, with those in the Tsholotsho group preferring to temporarily coalesce despite their clear ideological differences.
Also, owing to the uncritical nature of the Zimbabwean media, people failed to understand that the Mnangagwa camp was never a monolithic group. The G40 group which strongly believes that power needs to be transferred to an even much younger generation took advantage of the misleading media-generated characterisation of the Mnangagwa camp. They preferred transmutation from within. It is here that we locate the emergence of different forms of ‘elite negotiations’. But these are never in the form of gentlemen’s agreements.
Dr Brilliant Sigabade Mhlanga is a human rights activist and an academic based at the University of Hertfordshire, UK.