THE Zanu PF national congress is here, probably the last congress for the party’s first secretary Robert Mugabe. The much awaited congress which had been viewed by many as not just a congress, but a transitional congress (though not elective) is likely to seal Zanu PF’s succession battle.
The road to this congress has been boisterous, melodramatic coupled with shocks and surprises as, and since the beginning of the year, it had seemed that the embattled vice president Joice Mujuru was tipped to succeed Mugabe. With the backing of nine provinces, and the fact that she was the second secretary and vice president of the country, punters had already put their biggest bet on Mujuru to lead Zanu PF after Mugabe.
It is this false postulation or rather miscalculation on Mujuru that backfired on her after failing to understand the political dynamics in her party. The notion that she was going to be the automatic successor to Mugabe by virtue of being vice president and, possibly, the false assumption of popularity in the structures in Zanu PF was ill-informed.
Those who had put their money on Mujuru, including the privately-owned media had ruled out Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa in the succession race because his alleged backers had been thumped in the controversial elections that saw him losing control of nine of the ten provinces of Zanu PF.
Rekindling the Memory of 2004
Rewinding the clock ten years back, Mnangagwa, the preferred choice by the provinces in 2004, was made to eat a humble pie after Mugabe controversially amended the Zanu PF constitution to pave way for Mujuru. Six of Zanu PF’s provincial chairpersons aligned to Mnangagwa were suspended and equally accused of trying to topple the Zanu PF presidium.
In the process, Mnangagwa failed to get the vice presidency with Mujuru assuming the post at the benevolence of Mugabe. The biggest lesson that came out that time was that in Zanu PF, one does not necessarily have to be popular amongst the structures to get to the top but rather, it is one’s loyalty to the president that mattered. Almost ten years down the line, history has repeated itself and Mujuru, despite the backing of nine provinces has suffered the same fate. Her allies have been purged and now face serious treason charges.Advertisement
Interestingly, after the youth and women’s congresses held this year, it had seemed Mujuru was now a clear favourite with nine provinces in her bag. However as it stands now the writing is now clear on the wall that VP Mujuru’s borrowed robes have waned. Most of her backers have failed to make it to the Central Committee, and, like face powder, all the control she thought she had in the party has disappeared to the extent of even failing to secure a nomination from her home district. It’s now clear that most of her backers, especially the provincial chairpersons will be watching the congress with binoculars; they won’t be part of it.
Mujuru’s tragedy which she will live to regret is the failure to understand the undemocratic nature and character of the party and President Mugabe. Mujuru learnt nothing from Mugabe and the Zanu PF system of patronage and also forgot that the party’s supreme decision making is embodied in the president. Here is a party and a president who has used patronage, corruption, the state machinery and dictatorial tendencies to intimidate perceived enemies to stay in power at whatever cost.
Mugabe thrives on fanning factionalism in the party. He has used patronage systematically to an extent that most leaders in Zanu PF are where they are because of Mugabe’s benevolence and not necessarily about their capabilities. He knows who has been doing what and how they have all acquired quick riches. The balancing act for Mugabe’s power has been the absence of a united voice within Zanu PF calling for him to step down to an extent that factionalism has maintained his grip on power.
Mujuru’s greatest blunder was the failure to locate where power resides in Zanu PF. In a dictatorship like Zanu PF, power resides not in the people but in the leader who happens to be Mugabe. So the thinking by Mujuru that she would have a majority of votes at congress was not only wishful but rather foolish and misplaced. They thought Mugabe was going to act by the rules but alas he has shown them that he is the master and what he says carries the day and not otherwise. On the 8th September 2014 Mujuru, during a politburo meeting boastfully challenged Opah Muchinguri to the ballot at congress as she thought her perceived control of the structures was sufficient to retain her post and subsequently succeed Mugabe.
Unfortunately Dr VP, it does not happen that way in the revolutionary party. The bark starts and stops with Mugabe. Zanu PF is not a democratic party, and Mujuru herself was catapulted to the vice presidency through dictatorial means, something she has easily and quickly forgotten. And as in 2004, the constitution has now been amended again, making this congress ‘selective’ rather than elective because the president has been given sweeping powers to choose the team he wants to work with.
In all this drama, there are some who think Zanu PF is heading for a split, possibly being orchestrated by the Mujuru faction which I believe will not happen anytime soon. The view that a post Mugabe Zanu PF is headed for a split is misplaced and fails to understand that the dominant centre of power in Zanu PF relies on patronage and the control of state power and machinery to thwart dissenting voices or rebellious elements.
Those who have fallen by the wayside including Mujuru herself will either remain in Zanu PF or, if they so wish, die poor because most of them are products of a patronage system and corruption. Any attempts to defy the status quo will result in some of them being persecuted or dying poor, a compromise non amongst them is willing to undertake. The current expose’ on corruption and underhand dealings by the VP is a clear reminder to her that if she decides to go against the wishes and decisions of the ‘Prince’, her actions will be complemented by serious ramifications to her person, family and business empire.
Postulating the Congress
The outcome of the congress is almost predictable and the Zanu PF presidium will have new faces after the 7th of December. It will be dominated by Mnangagwa loyalists namely Oppah, Mphoko and Mudenda. Mnangagwa is the front runner to succeed Mujuru in line with the recent amendments of the Zanu PF constitution.
Apart from these changes in the Presidium and Politburo respectively there is a likelihood of a cabinet reshuffle. Most Ministers who were fingered in the plot to assassinate Mugabe will face the boot, and the list has Goche, Bhasikiti, Mutasa, Mavhaire and several other deputies will be removed. But one or two names will bounce back at the mercy of Mugabe, who still has 10 more direct appointments to make in the Central Committee. The cabinet reshuffle will likely take place before Mugabe goes on his annual leave with Mujuru probably facing the axe and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The First Lady, Grace Mugabe has already indicated that the country’s vice presidents can all be men sustained by a constitutional amendment on the Zanu PF removing the gender clause. It will also be interesting to note how the congress will deal with the renegade MPs considering their centrality and designation in national legislation. Is the congress momentum going to be sustained beyond 7 December or we will witness a halt of the sackings and attempts to regroup with all party cadres?
Zimbabwe’s VP and Interim Heir
Emmerson Mnangagwa has for years been a loyalist of Mugabe having served as his Personal Assistant during the war and as Mugabe’s Chief Election Agent in the 1980 and the watershed 2013 elections. Mnangagwa is believed to have rescued Zanu PF and the president after the 29 March 2008 electoral loss at the hands of the MDC by swiftly coordinating the Joint Operation Command (JOC) in the run up to the 27 June 2008 ‘run off.’ He is tipped to take over as President after Mugabe with some media reports suggesting that Mugabe told the Chinese during his state visit to that country this year that Mnangagwa was his successor.
The choice of Mnangagwa, a hardliner is a progression of radical politics and will both preserve and strengthen Mugabe’s legacy of dictatorship and ruthlessness. Mujuru’s sympathy from the opposition and links with the West cost her dearly in the eyes of Mugabe. Mujuru is rumoured to have failed to guarantee the security of the First Family in the event of the departure of the president with recordings of her voice threatening to reverse Zanu PF’s policy direction and international relations. On the other hand, Mnangagwa’s proximity and loyalty to the First family makes him a good replacement to the nonagenarian leader.
This congress and the whole succession issue is about the security and future of Mugabe’s family; this is why his wife Grace has been playing a pivotal role in this power matrix. Its either she together with her allies, the Mnangagwa group are probably privy to some alarming health records on Mugabe or maybe he wants to retire in 2015. Hence, the spirited campaign to decimate the Mujuru group, in the process throwing them further away from the succession dynamics and dealing with this issue once and for all.
The congress will come and go; not even the reshuffling of cabinet will change the fortunes of this country in the not-so-near future. The economic woes are likely to continue and 2015 will be a very difficult year with the continuation of the Zimbabwe-China/Russia relations with the EU being marginal. The new incumbent will obviously consolidate power, and the template will not change the use of state apparatus to intimidate opponents, the manipulation of the country’s electoral process will continue.
The Mnangagwa group will derive benefit in engineering by-elections in parliamentary seats belonging to Mujuru’s allies as a means of gauging the state and performance of the party ahead of the 2018 elections. On the whole, the 2018 elections will continue to be a no contest with the new incumbent fiercely defending his position and given the current absence of a viable opposition voice in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF’s hegemony will go unchallenged. Still, the Mnangagwa group will need to be mindful of the ramifications of a disjointed and weakened Zanu PF in the 2018 elections possibly with the resurgence of the Bhora Musango phenomenon by disgruntled cadres.
Blessing ‘Vuvuzela’ Vava writes from Chipinge and can be contacted on email@example.com