LAST week’s Zanu PF congress has been no doubt a major landmark in the history of contemporary Zimbabwe.
Therefore, it is an occasion about which to reflect on both its historical backdrop in the form of the party’s succession politics ever since the 1990s and the implications for Zimbabwe as the post-President Robert Mugabe era is being born against the background of the entrenchment of a securocratic state.
Centrality of the First Lady
Of course, central to the drama itself is the person of Mugabe and his wife Grace. For, how else would one explain and describe the 90 days leading to the congress, a period during which the First Lady so unceremoniously intervened and changed a succession outcome that had been all but sealed ever since Joice Mujuru was elected vice-president of Zanu PF at the 2004 congress?
The earlier suggestions that the First Lady’s campaign was merely an aberration were soon dispelled as the President himself laid into the act, virtually leading the pack as the politburo quickly confirmed this amid “votes of no confidence”, suspensions or expulsions.
A process completed at the congress itself, with husband and wife — imperious and therefore in total control of the appointments in a would-be “elective” congress — managing and concluding the slate that purports to be Zanu PF’s ruling elite for the next five years.
The party/state conflation
Almost concealed and forgotten during that ceremony of splendour and fanfare were the many casualties of one of the most vicious of succession conflicts of our time. Only in Kenya, under Daniel Arap Moi, was there a similar succession-related purge, an occasion that heralded the process towards the Rainbow Coalition which yielded Mwai Kibaki as president in December 2002.
So, in the case of Zimbabwe in 2014, pre-empted and purged within weeks and days of congress, were nine out of 10 elected provincial chairpersons, some 100 out of 160 legislators, about 10 out of 20 senior politburo members, including Mujuru herself.
And within days of the conclusion of the congress, the vice-president was dropped from her post and cabinet, along with at least eight ministers who had been axed as part of the purge confirmed last Saturday.
It would be difficult to envisage such a scene in a conventional political environment, let alone expect an organisation to survive another day when it has purged itself of 90% of its relatively popular provincial and senior leadership.
But this in essence betrays the nature of political parties in post-independence Africa: these are mere movements, organisationally and ideologically vacuous; sheer election platforms, surviving only in the event that they win state power with which they conflate into a practically insurmountable incumbency.
For it is the extent of that conflation of whatever had remained of Zanu PF by the late 1990s and the state which explains how the latter’s resources were quickly mobilised and deployed to salvage the former and the overall situation.
What with a new Robert Mugabe Square erected in a matter of days as the venue for congress, and adorned and named after the President and First Lady; 12 000 delegates, far in excess of the usual 3 000 to 5 000 elected and official number that normally graces a congress; and all for an estimated US$8 million when Zanu PF is said to be US$11,5 million in the red.
Why Mujuru was purged
When all is said and done, there is this inescapable reality that Zanu PF under Mugabe had long back lost the social base in the form of the legitimisation that comes with popular support in the population; that Mujuru represented the party’s revival in a society which, perhaps unfairly in this regard, identified all its misfortunes and tribulations with the person of Mugabe; and that neither the nonagenarian, his family, individual politicians opposed to Mujuru for personal reasons, nor those dependent upon the President’s patronage for their survival, were confident of a future under her.
Also, as became evident during the vicious campaign against her at the hands of the First Family and her allies in particular, and the state media in general, Mujuru was in the eye of the storm in the view of opposition forces in Zimbabwe, within Zanu PF itself, the MDC fromations, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD), Zapu and civic society generally.
With respect to Mugabe himself, the political crisis at hand lend credence to the suspicions, reports and fairly informed conclusions that he had not legitimately won a single election in his own right since 2002.
The publication during this furore of the Khampepe Report on the 2002 presidential election in Zimbabwe only fuelled these suspicions; likewise, Mugabe’s gaffe about MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning 73% of the vote in the 2008 election; and his spokesman George Charamba’s jibe that many a Zanu PF’s Member of Parliament would not know how they won in the 2013 elections.
Certainly, the history of disputed (and/or rigged) local elections is almost synonymous with Mugabe; and yet this simultaneously projects the man who has nonetheless held out, since 2002, in the face of a national convergence against him, as well as a Sadc or sub-region whose main objective of “facilitation” in the Zimbabwe political process since 2002 has been the search for an appropriate exit for the veteran nationalist and an international community — the West — for whom targeted sanctions were designed to effect “regime change”.
Origins of succession politics in Zim
In historical terms, however, Mugabe might be the proverbial scapegoat, albeit a willing one, in a post-liberation Zimbabwe which, given the well-known vagaries and pitfalls associated with the post-colonial state, gradually lost its social base.
For such are the historical paradoxes of political independence in Africa: the contradiction between socio-political emancipation and progress on the one hand, and the continuity of the colonial economy on the other; how, in Zimbabwe, the education revolution, for example, became both the budget crisis and unemployment nightmare by the turn of the 1990s; and how the attempt to resolve such a structural problem through the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme in turn gave birth to mass unrest: the December 1997 stay-away, the food riots of January 1998 and the birth of the opposition MDC in September 1999.
Herein lies the origins of succession politics in Zimbabwe, in particular the belief within the Zanu PF leadership, then and now, that the mere change of a leader at the top would simultaneously deal a blow to the opposition, improve relations with the international community and grow the economy.
This was quite apart from the leadership rivalry and conflict between Mugabe and his former fellow comrades such as Edgar Tekere and Enos Nkala, among others, during the 1980s.
Nor the narrative of how Mugabe emerged, against the background of a military-dominated Zanu in the 1970s, to become the unchallenged leader at Independence and beyond, largely on the strength of his alliance with the late Solomon Mujuru, the Zanu PF kingmaker who, from the 1990s onwards, became a thorn in the flesh for Mugabe, in the vain crusade to have the veteran nationalist step down.
The 1999 Zanu PF congress
Therefore, the 1999 congress was the occasion for the first succession-related battle, however muted, subtle and indiscernible as it might have been.
Solomon Mujuru was at the centre of it: with no clear alternative to Mugabe in mind at the time, the plan was to put in place a new national chairman who, given the perceived unsuitability of the late vice-presidents Simon Muzenda and later Joseph Msika, would become Zanu PF’s presidential candidate in 2002.
As it turned out, the major undertaking on the part of Solomon Mujuru and his allies, prominent among them Eddison Zvobgo and Josiah Tungamirai, was to pre-empt Emmerson Mnangagwa.
John Nkomo, a former PF Zapu senior official, won the contest and thereby fuelled hopes that the other part of the Patriotic Front would soon have its turn for the party and state presidency.
Whatever the case, the main import of the 1999 congress was to underline, at least in the minds of the kingmakers, that the succession process had begun in earnest; and to ensure that Mnangagwa goes nowhere near the throne.
The case against Mnangagwa’s candidature appeared difficult to ascertain precisely except for factors mostly political: the more specific related to what was perceived as his junior position in the nationalist and military hierarchy at the time; the unfair advantage he had earned as both Mugabe’s personal security aide since 1977 and minister of security since 1980; and the perception that, as one close to the president, he was not only the latter’s favourite, but also likely to maintain and sustain that leadership style on which opposition to Mugabe had grown over the years.
Perhaps, it is fair to add also the lingering perception among citizens in any given country that a former security minister is hardly one to be trusted in a democratic dispensation and, in the case of Mnangagwa, his detractors cite his role as the security supremo during the dreadful Gukurahundi period.
But for Zvobgo, in particular, Mnangagwa lacked the political stature and credentials with which to contest a presidential election and win.
On the other hand, however, Mnangagwa painted the ideal figure in the eyes of Western actors for whom a strong and no-nonsense type of leader was required in conformity with the Eurocentric conception of the African nation-state which would otherwise descend into tribal conflict, lawlessness and in the process posing a consequent threat to the economy.
Both the latter consideration and his historical relationship with Mugabe, with whom he lived briefly in the early 1950s when Mugabe was on a teaching stint in Mberengwa, appeared to have always rendered him a strong candidate for succession, assuming the incumbent had his unfettered way.
As history would have it, Mugabe has survived beyond the 2002 elections even if, as has already been explained, these were as disputed as the subsequent ones of 2008 and 2013.
In retrospect, it appears self-evident that Mugabe has never considered retirement or resolving succession as an option.
“These are words”, said Tekere some years ago, “which don’t exist in Mugabe’s vocabulary.”
Post-2002: The abortive exit plan
All the same, the 2002 election and its immediate aftermath appeared to have dented Mugabe’s confidence and, as will be discussed shortly, this might have caused him to consider an exit plan by the end of that year; most of his politburo members — especially the likes of Solomon Mujuru, Dumiso Dabengwa and Zvobgo — had not been enthusiastic about his bid for re-election, leaving him to rely for his election campaign on the likes of Jonathan Moyo and other young turks who had been appointed to cabinet after the 2000 general elections.
Also, according to some sources, former presidents of Nigeria and South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki respectively, acknowledged Mugabe had lost the election and, it is said, he had quietly mandated Mbeki to manage his safe exit and help search for a successor from among the Zanu PF leadership, with Simba Makoni featuring strongly in 2002-2003 till Joice Mujuru’s election as vice-resident in 2004.
By January 2003, the military leadership in Harare had almost succeeded in organising a safe exit for Mugabe, with a little help from the Western capitals.
This refers to a story broken in the Sunday Mirror, of which I was publisher, on January 12 2003, a subject which received a more detailed analysis by Blessing-Miles Tendi in the Journal of Southern African Studies in December 2013.
Through the services of a former Rhodesian soldier, Colonel Lionel Dyke and his business associates like General Vitalis Zvinavashe sought to establish a power- sharing government to be headed by the then Speaker of parliament, Mnangagwa, with Tsvangirai as one of the presidents.
My enquiries at the time also revealed that Dabengwa had been approached with an offer to be the other vice-president, but he declined.
The plan, according to Dyke’s own confession to Tendi, was designed to address the “crisis of political legitimacy alongside deepening economic decline”, following the disputed March 2002 election:
“I said to Zvinavashe that the solution was to give Mugabe a chance to retire properly. ‘What if I get permission from the international community for Zimbabwe’s constitution to be changed to allow Mugabe to handpick a successor?’, I said to Zvinavashe.
Zvinavashe said if I can do it, I should do it. So I went around speaking to the (British) Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the American Assistant Secretary for Africa Walter Kansteiner.
It was interesting, talking to the Brits and Americans, that they were quite happy for Zanu PF to continue in power for as long as Mugabe was not there.
I kept relaying my dealings with the Brits and Americans to Zvinavashe. Rex (Nhongo or Solomon Mujuru) knew what we were up to. He was thrilled with the plan for Mugabe to leave office, but cold on Mnangagwa. Rex and Mnangagwa were not cosy.’’
Tsvangirai refused to be part of what he described as a “dirty plan” designed to “legitimise the rogue regime”.
Both Zvinavashe and Mnangagwa denied involvement once the story hit the headlines. Mugabe described the Zvinavashe-Dyke exit plan as “foolhardy” and “counter-revolutionary”.
Yet, could such a plan have gone that far without Mugabe’s consent, let alone knowledge of it? There is more than meets the eye here: some suggest that the plan might have carried the day were it not for Solomon Mujuru’s opposition to it.
Certainly, it was Solomon Mujuru who leaked the story to the Sunday Mirror and might have also leveraged on Tsvangirai to jettison what appeared a done deal.
And, so, with Solomon Mujuru now out of the way, would it be possible for Mnangagwa to emerge finally as the successor? Or, as some cynics are suggesting, could there be a link between the demise of Solomon Mujuru in 2011 and the political misfortunes of his widow in 2014?
The 2004 congress
To the extent that Solomon Mujuru remained a major factor in the politics of succession in Zimbabwe it should explain in part the emergence of Joice Mujuru as vice-president at the congress in 2004, even though both Mugabe and his wife declared during congress closure last Saturday that it was an outcome which the First Family aided and abetted.
Significantly, Oppah Muchinguri constituted a major agency, through the Women’s League, for Mujuru’s ascension to power in 2004. Therefore, equally significant that she is the one who mobilised the First Lady into that campaign that resulted in Mujuru’s fall in 2014.
The question is whether Mugabe was serious and sincere when he declared, at the conclusion of the 2004 congress that the new vice-president should aim “higher”, thereby virtually anointing her as his successor, at the expense of Mnangagwa and his Tsholotsho gang, which had been unceremoniously stopped in its track, on the eve of the 2004 congress.
Or was Mugabe party to the Tsholotsho affair until Solomon Mujuru and his allies stepped in? One of the casualties in the Tsholotsho saga confided in me years afterwards, indicating that “someone high up” had quietly encouraged the adventure. If so, then it might help to explain why, hardly a year or so after that congress, the succession battle started
Zanu PF was becoming an ugly battleground between Mugabe and Solomon Mujuru: from the stand-off at the Zanu PF conference in Goromonzi in 2006 to the extraordinary congress in December 2007, and, finally, the “Bhora Musango” campaign during the 2008 elections. And, of course, these happenings around the 2014 congress.
No doubt, the campaign to unseat Mugabe in favour of Joice Mujuru intensified in anticipation of the 2008 harmonised elections. While it will remain an issue for debate andspeculation whether an alternative candidate to Mugabe would have saved Zanu PF in 2008, the incumbent had by 2007 become an obvious liability to both the party and country, a view widely shared as much in his own party as in the nation at large.
Yet Mugabe stood his ground and defied the odds: he survived the humiliation of the Goromonzi conference in December 2006, fought off Solomon Mujuru and his allies at the fiery politburo meeting in March 2007 and emerged triumphant at an extraordinary congress in December 2007, an event which had been billed to replace him as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2008 harmonised elections.
A fatal mistake had been made by Solomon Mujuru and his allies, who included most of the party leadership: the vote was by show of hands instead of the secret ballot which would have certainly seen Mugabe pack his bags on that day.
The MKD factor
Mugabe’s anger at the happenings since the Goromonzi conference was palpable during his birthday interview in February 2007, coinciding as this occasion did with the publication of Tekere’s autobiography, A Lifetime of Struggle.
Some analysts within the state have tried to establish a relationship between Tekere’s book and the emergence of the MKD movement. There was no such link whatsoever, except that Tekere represented what Charamba had described dismissively and disparagingly as “renegades” (The Herald, December 6, 2014), former members of the national liberation movement who constituted, by 2007, a significant opposition to Mugabe, even though only few of them made concert with the MDC.
The MKD idea began with representatives of these many disgruntled comrades, following a public meeting at Rainbow Towers on December 4, 2007. Neither Solomon nor Joice Mujuru were involved in the MKD formation.
On the contrary, MKD was an expression of anger at Solomon Mujuru’s “act of cowardice” at the failure to achieve the desired outcome at the extraordinary congress, the need to re-assert the principles and objectives of the national liberation struggle and thereby pre-empt a victory by the MDC at the elections in 2008.
For some of the comrades, MKD was seen as a possible future opposition, made up as it would be, of comrades from the liberation days, against what happened in 2007 as an inevitable MDC victory in 2008.
Even though the MKD mission became distorted and less focused in the months leading to those elections, it is nevertheless true that it found support across the spectrum of Zimbabwean society, among the former members of the national liberation movement, inside and outside the state and in Zanu PF itself.
To that extent, MKD will have contributed to the “Bhora Musango” phenomenon which resulted in Mugabe losing the presidential election while many of the Zanu PF candidates secured their seats in parliament.
The post-2008 elections
So, an election outcome which would have otherwise marked the end of Mugabe’s long political career turned out, most ironically, to have been a new platform for a period during which he has demonstrated a remarkable resolve to stay at the helm of power indefinitely.
The events around the 2008 elections had also highlighted the fundamental role of the securocratic state, built over time against the backdrop of the liberation war history, the depletion of the social base without which the state became more central and a patronage system, especially since 2000 when the land reform programme also became the gravy train for many of the military as security elite — which strengthened loyalty to Mugabe and Zanu PF now conflated with the state.
The diamonds story, beginning as it did at the height of the economic meltdown in 2007, will have fuelled the securocracy, which might have run aground for lack of resources were it not for the revenues obtained, illicitly and otherwise, from their sale.
Besides, the 2008 elections exposed the danger of an uncertain future had the MDC been allowed to succeed in its mission. Hence, the resolve and impunity with which the securocrats unleashed violence, across most of the traditional Zanu PF areas, during the period to the June run-off.
It was a poignant reminder, for the foreseeable future, that securocracy is a viable alternative to electoral and democratic enterprises.
And so patronage and violence, or the threat of it thereof, became the twin pillars of Mugabe’s rule: the securocrat state underpinned the period of the Government of National Unity (GNU) during which the MDC was rendered weak and impotent, while the securocrats arduously and systematically prepared for the 2013 elections; and, in many respects, therefore, the Zanu PF congress in 2014 marks the triumph of the securocrat state.
Conclusion: Whither Zimbabwe?
The current situation has all the hallmarks of a conventional dictatorship in the political economy definition of the term: a decisive and thorough purge of anyone — or anything — that purports to be opposed to the First Family and the state; an amazing disdain for, and apparent obliviousness to, the political and economic realities that constitute the Zimbabwe crisis; and a relentless determination to rule ad nauseam regardless of the consequences.
That, in short, describes the Zanu PF congress outcome, the purge of an elected vice-president and several of her cabinet colleagues and the marginalisation, by exclusion from the central committee of the party, of at least 100 out of 160 legislators.
Significantly, those purged out of the leading ranks of the party include a large proportion of former liberation combatants, especially those who constituted the provincial executives of Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central provinces.
Indications are that the cleansing will not end here and will be extended to the state bureaucracy itself, the defence and security forces.
There appears no end in sight for this relentless purging. The new leadership which Mugabe is putting together in both party and state will, of course, include elements who have been central in the evolution and consolidation of the securocrat state.
They are part and parcel of the latter, particularly ever since the bloody campaigns of the 2008 elections and will have been the instruments for the current “clean-up” purges. There are immediate concerns that arise herein.
Firstly, whether the purges that have accompanied the recursion of the Zanu PF congress in a well-thought out plan, originating in the campaign of violence of the 2008 elections and consolidated during the GNU and at the choreographed 2013 polls.
If so, what has been the role of illicit revenues from the diamonds since 2007, and which of the external factors are complicit in support of this securocratic enterprise.
Secondly, if all this is designed to safeguard the interests and future of the First Family in the first instance, will the new custodial leadership live up to both the political and economic challenges at hand, and associated problems when Mugabe finally departs in the not-too-distant future?
Time will soon tell.
Mandaza is a leading academic and publisher.