AN interesting political narrative is unfolding within Zimbabwe’s body politic. Of particular interest are two dynamics playing out: one involving the seemingly inevitable demise of President Mugabe’s Zanu PF and the other involving the re-emergence of Tsvangirai’s MDC outfit. These two parties have feverishly competed for space and relevance in the last two decades.
Whilst the drama within Zanu PF has been happening since 2014, events of the last six months have been quite informative. Since 2014, numerous Zanu PF activists have either been suspended or completely expelled from the party. Their crimes share an almost similar characteristic, similar trait, similar fashion and similar intent: that of undermining Mugabe with the ultimate aim of removing him from power. The wording in the charge sheet may be slightly different but the verdict is almost the same. ‘GUILTY”.
For the last two decades, Mugabe’s grip on power has been made possible partly by the unconditional support rendered to his regime by the veterans of the country’s liberation struggle, popularly known as the ‘war vets’. Across the country, the veterans used violence to crush any opposition support particularly in the rural areas and the newly resettled farming areas. In return, Mugabe gave them unfettered discretion and power to preside over the controversial land distribution exercise, assuming the role of land officers across the country. In fact, the war vets became part of the land committees set up in each province to deal with the land distribution exercise. As a result, the majority of beneficiaries of the country’s land reform program are supporters of the ruling party. In addition, Mugabe gave the war veterans monthly pensions, health insurance as well as educational tuition assistance for their children among other inducements which kept their loyalty in check.
But the marriage between Mugabe and the war vets has gone sour. It began in 2014 with the expulsion of former Vice President Joyce Mujuru, herself a veteran of the liberation struggle. She was expelled from the party together with other party stalwarts like Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa to mention but a few. Their crime? Plotting to unseat Mugabe. They were even accused of plotting to assassinate him.
At the time of Mujuru’s expulsion, the purge was rumoured to have been orchestrated in favour of Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long time and close associate of Mugabe, himself a war veteran too. The dirty work was done by President Mugabe’s wife Grace who traversed the width and breath of the country holding rallies, chastising Mujuru and her coterie for plotting to unseat her husband. Before her rallies, Grace Mugabe had been nominated as leader of the women’s wing and endorsed by the party at congress. Her position became one of only two powerful positions to be given the nod at the five yearly gathering, together with her husband who was elected first secretary and leader of the party unopposed. It became a family affair at the top.Advertisement
Attendance at Grace Mugabe’s rallies was dense. She swept across the plains like a violent avalanche devouring everything in its path. Everybody knew about her, but no one agreed on a definitive narrative about her character or her values. The media accused her of extravagance and an insatiable appetite for expensive shopping, accusations which she constantly denied. According to some sceptics, she was given an easy pass to the top ostensibly as part of President Mugabe’s grand succession plan. As time went by it became clear that she was not cheerleading for anyone, at least not for Mnangagwa. She was her own horse running her own race. However, her political diction became perverse, illogical and at times irrational, going as far as attacking the very same war veterans who had propped up her husband’s stranglehold on power for decades. No sooner had she settled in her new position that she started to face opposition and ridicule from within her own party particularly from the war veterans. The war veterans, although they supported Mugabe, were not in a position to let him have his way and impose his wife as heiress apparent. Gloves were off.
Meanwhile after years of inconsequential campaigns, Mnangagwa had finally emerged victorious over Mujuru and had been elevated to the position of Vice President. For years before his elevation, he seemed to bounce from epic highs to desperate lows. And now boom, he was finally there. In his dreams, he saw a magical kingdom, one in which his rise to the top was cloaked in the presumption of inevitability. Over the years, he had matured to become a much more potent candidate than the rest within his party. But is he really assured of succeeding Mugabe? Not so fast!
Give it to him. Mnangagwa is blessed with the gift of patience. The concept of time, as it’s commonly understood by many, does not exist in the same realm to him. Over the years he has proven to be a shrewd schemer, lurking behind the scenes, radiating silhouetted images of power which could not be seen clearly but acknowledged. He is a man who hardly shows his emotions even under constant attack from his opponents. For close to four decades he waited patiently for his turn.
But there are simmering problems to his ascendancy. The first problem has to do with his past. He is despised in many parts of Matabeleland and has a lot to do to endear himself with the Ndebele people, a large ethnic tribe making up more than 20 percent of the population. He is alleged to have been part of the masterminds of the Gukurahundi ‘madness’, a state sanctioned military exercise which terrorised parts of Matabeleland, Masvingo and the Midlands provinces killing thousands of civilians in the process. His part in the Gukurahundi massacres is partly explained in a book written by David Coltart, a former opposition MP for Bulawayo South. On his part, Mnangagwa has vehemently denied the claims, threatening to sue those who are out to soil his name and reputation.
The second problem comes from within his own party and particularly from the G40 faction which is opposing his rise and rooting for Grace Mugabe instead. To his advantage, he has the war veterans in his corner. However to weaken his support base, Mugabe had to wield the axe, expelling prominent leaders of the veterans from the ruling party in an effort to silence his wife’s critics. Whilst the tactic of expulsion worked in the past, the strategy appears to be backfiring at least for now. The war veterans have shown unprecedented resistance to Mugabe’s force, going as far as issuing an anonymous communique decrying his leadership and labelling him a dictator. As it stands, the ZANU PF house is in disarray and in a perpetual state of disharmony.
On the while Joyce Mujuru together with her fellow former ZANU PF colleagues have gone on to form their own political outfit, the Zimbabwe People First. As the child of ZANU PF, the new outfit chose to keep its surname, the ‘PF’ part, to remind the founders and supporters alike of their roots. It is ZANU PF number 2 in many ways. The supporters making up the new party’s core base are from ZANU PF, not to mention the founders and the top leadership which is made up of people expelled from ZANU PF. In essence, ZANU PF is divided into three camps namely the Mujuru, the Mnangagwa and the Grace camps respectively.
On the other side of the spectrum is Tsvangirai’s MDC outfit, a party that has given Mugabe sleepless nights for almost two decades. Unlike ZANU PF, the MDC appears to be tackling its succession problems quite well. Few weeks ago, Tsvangirai appointed two more vice presidents in the name of Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri to deputise him, together with Thokozani Khupe who was already Tsvangirai’s vice before the two additions.
But Tsvangirai’s appointments were not without drama. As expected, Thokozani Khupe was reported to have been unhappy with the appointments, together with a sizeable section of the MDC leadership who felt the move was a vote of ‘no confidence’ on her ability to take over from Tsvangirai. Coming as they did, the appointments were made at a time when Tsvangirai was not feeling well, having disclosed to the nation his battle with colon cancer. It was, therefore, natural that Khupe would feel short changed, underrated and betrayed by the appointments as they appeared designed to pass the baton to somebody else in the event of Tsvangirai’s incapacitation.
But the succession drama within the MDC camp was short-lived. The appointments were ratified by the MDC’s national council whilst, on her part, Khupe decided to swallow her pride for the sake of harmony and unity within the party, a decision for which she must be applauded by the MDC followers. The flames of discontent appear to have been doused on time before creating any fissures with potential to split the party. But is the atmosphere in Tsvangirai’s MDC truly harmonious, and if so, does the party have grassroots support? I set out to find out for myself.
It was on a Friday afternoon when I left Harare for Gweru by road. Generally I love travelling. Travelling tends to magnify all human emotions. If travelling were free, you’d probably never see me again. There is nothing much to indulge the eye along the way except for nature’s mystical spectacle in the form of vegetation and undulating plains and mountains. Since summer is upon us, the grass has turned brown, the leaves from our deciduous forests have turned yellow, some crimson even and are about to fall off before the onset of the rainy season.
I gave three gentlemen a lift; their destination? KweKwe. In a country like ours where life is a daily nightmare, every dollar counts. For more than two hours we discussed almost anything and everything, from politics, the economy and everything in between. As we were approaching Selous, there and behold, a semi derelict farm running parallel to the left side of the road. ‘Farm ra Mutsvangwa iro. Pamwe vachamutorera. Handiti akadzingwa mu party‘, said one of my passengers.
There was nothing to suggest a fully utilised farm, yet it was better compared to other farms along the road. We talked about how the land issue had been politicised, how land was given to non-deserving beneficiaries with no interest in farming, how it was still used as a tool to buy loyalty and votes and how the poor implementation of the land reform program had destroyed the country. In my mind the words of my passenger echoed the sad truth about the irrefutable divisions within ZANU PF.
The following morning I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room by the Midlands hotel, a colonial vintage hotel that has seen the best of its days. Its ground floor walls were crammed with hanging portraits of yester year giants such as Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda, the former midlands godfather Patrick Kombayi and even Robert Mugabe. I woke up to the sound of singing youths clad in red regalia, some toy toying while others sang from the back of lorries. I didn’t know what to expect. Will the police allow the demo to go ahead? I constantly asked myself. Riot police presence was quite heavy. As Zimbabweans we live our lives in a constant state of expectation, always curious about the possibilities that could unfold in front of us.
I had other business to attend to before participating in the demo. I took a drive to Mtausi Park, a new residential suburb to the east of the city. Along the way I saw youths heading to town on foot. I could see determination in their walking, a symbol of the hardships faced by today’s youths as well as the sacrifices being made by their peers across the country in supporting a cause they genuinely believe in. A dream for a better tomorrow that seems to never come. When I came back to the city, the demo was already underway. The city was covered in a sea of red. Gweru had heeded the MDC’s call to come out in numbers and show their frustration with Mugabe’s regime and its failure to properly govern.
For me, the purpose of attending the demo was to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are for myself and in the process impart new vigour and knowledge to the mind as well as share solidarity with others. The whole of MDC top leadership was there, from Tsvangirai, to Khupe, Chamisa, Mudzuri, Makone, Mpariwa, Mwonzora and Bhebhe to mention but a few. They were united in purpose. And of course the surprise of all: Mujuru’s presence at the demo. Her presence together with that of Didymus Mutasa and other former ZANU PF stalwarts signified the resurgence of the MDC, and to the contrary, the demise of their former party ZANU PF.
I left Gweru convinced that the MDC was getting stronger by day. It might have taken them time to achieve their goals. But in all political journeys, only those who finally get there are the ones to understand that the journey of politics is about sacrifice, perseverance and total commitment to a cause.
Addmore Zhou is a Zimbabwean writer and trade union veteran. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.