PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last Friday hastily made a State of the Nation Address (Sona) in a futile attempt to douse the raging factional flames tearing Zanu PF apart.
This came amid internecine succession fighting pitting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a group of young Turks known as Generation 40 (G40), fronted by First Lady Grace Mugabe.
The Sona, which turned out to be more of a state of the party address, had little substance as it failed to touch on the key issues which Zimbabweans need addressed, with Mugabe focusing only on the fights ravaging Zanu PF.
He did not say a word about the El Nino-induced drought which will see more than three million people needing food aid. The government has declared a state of disaster and is appealing for US$1,5 billion from well-wishers to feed the nation, but strangely, that was not on Mugabe’s mind as he addressed the nation.
There was no word on the liquidity crunch which has led to company closures resulting in thousands of people being laid off. He did not even give the nation an update on his government’s ambitious five-year economic plan, ZimAsset, which economists have dismissed as a pie in the sky. The programme aims to create 2,2 million jobs between 2013 and 2018, but the opposite has been happening given the massive job loses.
The Sona focused solely on Zanu PF and its problems. Mugabe could have therefore made the address at the Zanu PF headquarters be it at a politburo or central committee meeting.
Crucially however, Mugabe did not address the succession debacle that has become a national crisis. His address failed to recognise that his decision to cling onto power despite his advanced age, was the major problem in Zanu PF, and that the succession war was likely to continue as long as he is at the helm of the party.
He could have used his state of the party address to indicate his retirement plans and point to possibly a younger successor, thereby calming nerves, but he did not do so. Instead, Mugabe made it crystal clear that he plans to die in office.
Mugabe also failed to rein in his wife, who has taken the succession fight to a new and dangerous level, after dragging into Zanu PF succession politics the military, accusing unnamed military officers of plotting to bomb Gushungo Dairy Estate and kill her children.
Mugabe (92) has led Zanu PF since being elected at the party’s Chimoio congress in 1977. He has been in power since Independence in 1980, but succession fights in the party have been intensifying as he grows older.
Alex Magaisa, a political analyst and UK-based Kent university law lecturer said Mugabe’s state of the party address was unlikely to put out factional fires, because it did not address the succession issue.
“Oddly, however not a single time did he mention or address the succession word despite the fact that this is the primary source of the crisis. Clearly it’s not an issue that interests him. He acknowledges there is a crisis but does nothing to address the source of the crisis itself,” said Magaisa.
“He avoided the succession issue and instead of addressing his wife’s role in the crisis he chose, perhaps as a loyal husband would do, regarding his wife, to defend and support her — to see, hear, or speak no evil about his dear beloved.”
Magaisa also said listening to Mugabe was like listening to an ageing godfather of a feuding mafia family — chiding, advising, cajoling, pleading but frustrated and trying desperately to remind members of the family that he is alive and remains the boss.
Another analyst, Ibbo Mandaza concurred with Magaisa that Mugabe’s speech failed to provide solutions to the problems in Zanu PF.
“The address simply shows Mugabe wants to die in office. It was an opportunity for him to address his succession because the whole issue is centered on him as he advances in age. We proposed during the making of the constitution that the founding president would serve as president till he dies and whoever is his vice will perform his roles. That would have de-accelerated the succession race,” said Mandaza.
“It is unfortunate now that his wife is also part of the grand scheme. Grace fears of the future without Mugabe, so she wants to make sure that he remains in power hence her attacks on whoever seems to appear a bit powerful in the succession matrix.”
In his address Mugabe took umbrage at those fanning divisions in Zanu PF, without mentioning himself, his wife or his feuding deputies. He called for unity in the party and in the country.
“We don’t want to hear any divisive voice from you. The G40s or what you call Lacoste or whatever, shut up! You belong to Zimbabwe first and foremost whatever you must say. Shut up! Let us not hear any divisive voice from you — the G40s or what you call Lacoste, whatever!”, Mugabe said.
“The fights and quarrels that appeared to be taking place now — this is time that we should put all our shoulders to the wheel and say let’s work for our people to survive for our children to continue to go to school. Let’s work, so we can survive together all of us without exception regardless of our parties, regardless of our regions, regardless of our cultures. All of us must survive this year. Zimbabweans must survive together. I say once again, let’s remain united.”
The President, whose Sona came after police clashed with war veterans in Harare last Thursday, also blasted war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa whom he accused of organising former freedom fighters to embark on a protest march. He promised to take action on Mutsvangwa, a vociferous Mnangagwa ally.
He also apologised to war veterans who were dispersed from City Sports Centre using tear gas and water cannons.
But in a move which shows that Mugabe was losing control while also demonstrating that his decision to skirt around the succession issue would be unhelpful, the war veterans on Saturday held a press conference where they defied Mugabe and pledged their continued support for Mutsvangwa.
Also on Saturday, the Mashonaland East provincial coordinating council suspended five executive members accusing them of supporting Mnangangwa’s presidential bid.
These are Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly and Mutoko North MP Mabel Chinomona, Goromonzi legislator Petronella Kagonye, youth league secretary-general Fungai Muhamadi and an executive member Tonderai Bosha.
The events suggest that factional fights will be a constant in Zanu PF until Mugabe addresses the succession issue.