Coup de Grace? Plots and purges: Mugabe and Zanu PF’s congress

This is the conclusion of the latest report written by law expert Derek Matyszak of the Research and Advocacy Unit in Zimbabwe titled Coup de Grace?

Derek Matyszak

Plots and purges: Mugabe and Zanu PF’s 6th National People’s Congress.

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is viewed as a clever Machiavellian schemer by admirers and detractors alike, to the extent that even skilful manoeuvring is read into policy debacles.

For example, in April this year, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, desperate to have something positive to present to the Bretton Woods institutions in the hope of loans to rescue Zimbabwe’s plummeting economy, announced that the annual 13th cheque bonus for civil servants was to be suspended.

At the very moment Chinamasa was sitting across the table negotiating with officials from the financial institutions, on April 18, Mugabe announced that bonuses for civil servants were to be retained.

The policy reversal caused profound embarrassment to Chinamasa and probably brought his talks to a premature and unsuccessful close. Mugabe’s pronouncement suggested either that his ministers acted without consultation with himself or cabinet or, at the least, deep policy discord within the government.

Yet this debacle, a stereotype of an irascible, impatient and intolerant geriatric, who insists on having his way regardless of impracticality, was viewed by some commentators as a political masterstroke — Mugabe had cunningly portrayed himself to civil servants as their saviour, against the evil and wayward machinations of his Finance minister.

The fact that the same effect could have been achieved without the massive fall-out was not considered.

Mugabe is thus often given benefit when none is due. In normal circumstances, the former vice-president Joice Mujuru plot would have been thought to admit only of two possibilities. One was that First Lady Grace Mugabe and the plotters were in charge of the party and Mugabe had thus lost control. The other was that Mugabe had hidden his involvement in the plot in order to ensure that even Mujuruites retained loyalty to him, believing that Mugabe had merely been mislead.

This ploy ought, nonetheless, to have created the impression that Mugabe, in a craven fashion, had used Grace do the dirty work that he did not have the temerity to do himself. Yet, because of the cult which has developed around Mugabe, many political observers were reluctant to see anything other than astute scheming by Mugabe as behind the ouster of the Mujuruites.

However, this review of the purging of Mujuruites from Zanu PF suggests that Mugabe was neither puppet nor puppeteer. The plot was most certainly not a coup by Grace, positioning herself to take over from the President, as suggested fairly frequently as the plot took place.

The indications are Mugabe himself believed that Mujuru had become dangerously powerful, and was convinced by the plotters, with his wife as emissary, that immediate action needed to be taken against her ahead of the congress, thus replicating similar action taken against Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, for the same reason, in 2004. The probability is that, rather than being involved in the minutiae of a scheme to remove Mujuru, that he merely approved it in broad-brush stokes.

Recall that Mugabe even appeared unaware of the nature of all of the alterations to the party constitution, and a change which was bound to be controversial, the removal of the requirement that one vice-president should be a woman.

Mugabe, however, approved a plot whereby Mujuru’s reputation and integrity would be destroyed to such an extent that her re-appointment at the December 2014 congress would be impossible.

Former Zanu PF secretary or administration Didymus Mutasa, Nicholas Goche and possibly Rugare Gumbo and Simon Khaya Moyo (depending on how they responded) were to receive the same treatment.

It is quite possible that Mugabe neither intended nor anticipated the extensive eradication of the Mujuruites that ensued. The wide-ranging purge may well have been the agenda of the plotters alone, and the intentional result of starting a fire (which Mugabe said must be managed) which gained a life of its own, as party cadres opposed to Mujuru took the opportunity to settle deep-seated and chronic antipathy to her supporters, and others used the witch hunt (in time honoured fashion) to settle local rivalries.

The aftermath of the plot repeated a predictable pattern. The plotters were far more successful than was wise. The result was that Mnangagwa had now acquired too much power, and the impression had been created that the plotters rather than Mugabe controlled the party. As a consequence, for the first time in the framework of the plot, Mugabe was compelled to take active steps, rather than passively allow others to do so.

Mugabe thus proceeded to take measures to show that he continued in ultimate control of the party and to attenuate the power of the plotters generally, and Mnangagwa, in particular. Zanu PF politburo member Oppah Muchinguri was given no reward for relinquishing her post as head of the Women’s League and assisting in the execution of the plot. She was not appointed as vice-president, or national chairperson, and Mugabe left the post vacant rather than risk increasing Mnangagwa’s power by appointing one of the new vice-president’s supporters to the post.

The second cabinet reshuffle after congress saw Mujuruites retaining, and some re-appointed, to ministerial positions. Zanu PF commissar Saviour Kasukuwere’s displacement of party secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo as Minister of Local Government, when he also held the position of party commissar, could be viewed as reducing and counter-balancing Mnangagwa’s power by increasing that of Kasukuwere, who by then had begun to be viewed as a rival to Mnangagwa.

Significantly, Mugabe appeared to regard politburo member Jonathan Moyo as also wielding excessive power. He was removed as Minister of Information, and it is worth noting, in accordance with the theme of this paper, was dismissed in typical style.

Once again Mugabe claimed that Moyo lost his post, not on account of Mugabe sacking him, but by virtue of constitutional imperative. Thus Mugabe (wrongly) claimed that since Moyo had been appointed as a non-constituency minister, he automatically ceased to be a minister once he became a Member of Parliament for Tsholotsho after by-elections in June 2015. Moyo had been removed as Minister of Information before, on January 19 2005, due to his involvement in the Tsholotsho saga.

Unlike others involved in the saga, Moyo was not removed immediately, and he was ostensibly not fired by Mugabe. Mugabe waited until he could cite party rules, and then Moyo was deemed “automatically” expelled from the party on account of standing against party policy, as an independent candidate for Tsholotsho in the general election of 2005. Having been expelled from the party, Moyo could not remain as a minister. He was informed of his dismissal by way of a fax sent to his hotel room in Bulawayo.

The “clean dozen” were united by the common objective of removing Mujuru as a contender for the presidency. Having succeeded in this endeavour, the way was cleared for any other pretenders to the presidency, and not just Mnangagwa.
Thus, the moment Mujuru was effectively removed as potential successor to Mugabe, reports appeared of rivalry within the “clean dozen” with groups coalescing around Grace and the “Gang of Four” and it’s Generation 40, the “Young Turks” on the one hand, and the Mnangagwa camp, on the other.

The reports of enmity between the groups must, however, be approached with caution. For example, press reports asserted that Mnangagwa had become disaffected with Moyo after he emphatically refuted the idea, in a BBC Hardtalk broadcast, that Mnangagwa’s appointment as vice-president meant that he was most likely to succeed Mugabe.

However, it ought to be quite obvious by now, that appearing as the heir apparent to Mugabe is extremely hazardous. Mnangagwa is in all probability very grateful to anyone who suggests he does not occupy such a position.

The plot has certainly changed the players in Zanu PF’s internal dynamics, if not the play, given that the press is once again awash with reports of new factions within the party. The claim by Zanu PF functionaries that their party has emerged stronger from the dramatic events of the 2014 congress appears counter intuitive. A significant chunk of the party has been ripped from the Zanu PF body politic.

However, the effect of this severance should not be over emphasised. Many of the purged will find their way back into the fold. Those with Mujuruite sympathies who survived the purge will find a new home for their allegiances.

But more importantly, for so long as the contest between Mujuru and Mnangagwa persisted, a sword of Damocles hung over the party. While two apparently equally powerful factions co-existed in the party, there was the risk of a deadly confrontation which could have destroyed the party, should both have scrambled to fill a power vacuum left by Mugabe’s sudden demise. That danger appears to have been averted, and the party strengthened accordingly.

The question of succession to Mugabe has not been unambiguously answered, though it is difficult, presently, to see anyone other than Mnangagwa having the power base to effectively compete for the presidency.

Mugabe has, however, stated that the vice-presidents are not automatic successors and that ordinary party members will select his successor when the time comes. The assertion is either one of supreme naivety or deep cynicism — does he intend that such selection will thus follow the recent examples set by party members in the 2014 appointments of the leadership of the provinces? The Youth League? The Women’s League? The Central Committee? Or, indeed, the 2014 appointment of the presidium and party president himself?

The events of 2014, detailed here, repeat all the features of the events of 2004, and even earlier Zanu PF congresses, with “popular” choice and constitutional procedure giving way to stage-managed and coerced elections. Contempt for constitutionalism and questionable leadership qualities appear as the hallmark of Zanu PF’s body politic. With Mugabe heading both party and government, the contagion afflicting Zanu PF has inevitably likewise afflicted national politics and governance.

Matyszak is a lawyer and senior researcher at RAU.


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