Why Mugabe retained old guard

By Chido Makunike

WE have had a lot of recent pointers to how seriously Zanu PF is taking the MDC challenge in the general election scheduled for a year away from now. If the ruling party was caught off guar

d last time by the stunning performance of the MDC despite state intimidation and brutalisation of its members and supporters, this time they are going all out to make sure that doesn’t happen again.



President Mugabe’s retention of a lot of his oldest guard in his recent cabinet reshuffle makes a lot of sense seen from this perspective. Many have decried the recycling of deadwood of not only dubious ability, but of doubtful honesty despite a window-dressing effort against corruption. The anti-corruption effort of the last few months suffered its first and most severe setback with the re-appointment by Mugabe of some of his dodgiest cronies!



The mistake many of us have made though, is to evaluate those cronies in the context of their ability to bring about an economic turn around. While any sign of at least a slowing of the sharp decline of the last few years that we can largely thank comrade Mugabe for would be welcome to him and everybody else, that is far from the most pressing issue for him and Zanu PF. Not at all. The main issue is to “win” the election at virtually any cost. Any positive developments in the political, economic and diplomatic sphere that can be manipulated to this end are welcome and will be used to maximum effect, but in their absence increased repression, beatings, murder will do just fine as alternative tactics.


So while it is ridiculous to expect the likes of Didymus Mutasa, Ignatius Chombo, Herbert Murerwa, Patrick Chinamasa and other Mugabe cronies to do anything to solve problems they had a lot to do to bring about in the first place, they can certainly be expected to do whatever it takes to ensure the good times keep rolling for themselves by going all out to do whatever it takes to ensure a Zanu PF “win” in the election. They have the excellent, highly motivating incentives of their personal fortunes and overall well-being to do what needs to be done.


Seen from this perspective, Mugabe’s choice of the slowest, most dubious but most loyal characters in his inner circle to take the party into the election makes perfect, brilliant sense. When your two or three freely acquired farms and other benefits of patronage are on the line, you are likely to defend the authority who made it possible for you to acquire them with far more enthusiasm! It is such brilliantly simple psychology by the old master manipulator that we tend to miss it by over-analysing and over-intellectualising it. Basically, you identify those personal foibles and control them. What could be more diabolically, beautifully simple and effective?


This would be the wrong time to appoint young starry-eyed visionaries who have illusions about the most pressing issue at hand – being some nebulous fixation with “turning around the economy,” democracy, press freedom and human rights. Hell, who cares about all this when the regime’s very existence is threatened? This is no time to call upon the country’s best and brightest, this is the time for the perhaps decrepit but certainly unquestioning, compromised and therefore loyal old guard!


Even the retention of the controversial, Johnny-come-lately, ruthlessly bungling propagandist Jonathan Moyo makes sense. It could have been reasoned that since he was such an eloquent, erudite, sharp and seemingly principled opponent of Mugabe for many years before he capitulated, he is the best person to attack and bludgeon his former ideological soulmates in the independent press, civil society and in the donor community that he did rather well for himself working for for many years! It is interesting to note the contradiction between the ruling party’s rhetoric of confidence versus its actions of panic. If the “Third Chimurenga” and its many purported positive offshoots had been the boon that it is claimed they were for Mugabe and the ruling party, there would be no need for the many other tactics of intimidation we are witnessing. Members of the judiciary have hanging over their heads the sword of trumped-up charges and allegations against them being blown up in the Herald to keep them in line. More ex-military men have been appointed to governorships and other blatantly political positions to unabashedly act as tools of more effective repression, in exchange for their personal and business interests being protected and bolstered. The devastatingly effective Daily News has been thrown into disarray and possible oblivion by a combination of setting up confusionists within, as well as expensive and time-buying, time-consuming legal battles before a compliant, scared and compromised judiciary.


Traditional leaders, through a combination of outright bribery and menacing intimidation have been roped in to have personal reasons and fears to be agents of the ruling party in their rural areas of control. Under the guise of fighting corruption, there is under way a virtual pogrom of centres of wealth that are thought to be sympathetic to the opposition so that the MDC fights the election financially hamstrung as well as weak in every other way. There is an aggressive campaign of divide and rule against the MDC’s leaders which has begun to bear fruit.


Leading lights of the opposition who are spiritually and ideologically weak have been compromised in their positions by the dangling of perks. Beatings, rapes and where necessary killings, with the police either too busy with preventing simple demonstrations to help or better still, unable to intervene “because that is a political issue, we do not have permission to touch it”, will continue and increase.


More innovative ways will be found to compromise and neutralise independent thinkers and regime critics. For instance, I hear prominent Zimbabwe Independent columnist Eric Bloch has been induced into being a roving world ambassador for the regime of Mugabe that he has been bravely taking on for many years now! He will be enjoying state-sponsored trips to the glamorous capitals of the Western world to persuade Zimbabweans seeking shelter there from the tyranny of Mugabe to send their hard-earned dollars to the regime from which they are running! I do not know if he will be accompanied by Jonathan Moyo or not.


Please Eric, get me a new fuel pump for my car while you are in New York and any other luxurious trinkets and toys you can afford with your presumably generous hard currency per diem.


I have said before, and I repeat again, the stakes are very high for the regime of Mugabe in these, its last days, and it will leave no stone unturned to hang on to power before it is eventually kicked out. As we are already seeing, there will be many casualties in the struggle before final victory is achieved and Zimbabwe can get back to a period of peace, sanity and reconstruction in the aftermath of Mugabe.


* Chido Makunike is Harare-based regular contributor.

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