HomeOpinionThe spectacle of Zanu PF politics

The spectacle of Zanu PF politics

By Brian Raftopoulos

THE magician’s trick is to misdirect the attention of the audience in one direction while the real deception takes place elsewhere. The politics of the Zanu PF

congress 2004 has been a great deal like the magician’s misdirection.

For while the nation has fixed its gaze on the leadership struggles in the ruling party, seemingly amazed at the elevation of a woman to the position of vice-president, the temporary demise of a once-favoured heir apparent, and the predictable descent of an over-ambitious Information minister, the structures of authoritarian rule remain in place in Zimbabwe’s politics.

The consolidation of the “old guard” cannot conceal the repressive political structures it has put in place since 2000, with the help of the very mafikizolos it has now sought to discipline for their political hubris.

This is not the first time that the old guard has re-asserted its leadership in the ruling party. After the internecine struggles in Zanu in the 1970s, President Robert Mugabe and his comrades quickly sidelined the young Zipa cadres and from 1977 consolidated their own leadership. The difference with the current generational and regional struggles in the ruling party is that time is now against the old guard.

Thus the recent outcome of the succession battle appears to be more of a holding operation than a long-term resolution. The problem of leadership regeneration and regional balance in Zanu PF remains a very serious problem for the party.

Jonathan Moyo may be extreme but he is not exceptional in the ruling party. The selective tradition of liberation history that has become an essential ingredient of the cement of the ruling party’s edifice must continue to exclude and demonise “others”, both within and outside the ruling party, in order to reproduce its privileged status. The dauphin may be temporarily out of favour, but the political soil that gave rise to such a political figure continues to provide fertile ground for such abominations.

The pathology of authoritarian nationalism that characterises Zanu PF cannot be transformed by the top-down manipulation of the presidium. This requires a much deeper democratic transformation of relations between the state and its citizenry.

The fact that there has been so much excitement about the apparent changes in Zanu PF at the expense of substantive content is a symptom of the broader marginalisation of Zimbabweans from popular politics. The media obsession with the positional shifts in the ruling party is indicative of the return to narrow repressive state politics and the grossly reduced status of vibrant civic participation.

The ruling party and its intellectuals prefer the critical citizens of this country to conduct their politics vicariously by cheering on the various factions of a party that has shown little but contempt for demands for public accountability. This is the obscene post-colonial politics of neutering citizens through the transformation of a robust politics of critique into desperate grasping for the lesser evil. Once the citizenry slip into this role of cheerleaders to intra-party struggles, the broader contours of the authoritarian project tend to be lost from sight.

Thus the biggest tragedy of the 2005 election is likely to be the absence of a critical public debate and the growing loss of confidence in political participation. This will have been the result of a series of repressive legislative interventions, the illegalisation of critical civic forces, the continued threat of state violence and the loss of confidence in the ability to speak from alternative political positions because of Zanu PF’s comprehensive labelling of dissenting voices as treasonous.

These are the features that form the basis of the much-vaunted leadership changes in the ruling party, and which are likely to define the political culture of Zimbabwe for the foreseeable future.

The greatly demonised opposition and civic movement have contributed immensely to the political culture of Zimbabwe. A new generation of human rights activists, lawyers, trade unionists and intellectuals have since the 1990s demanded that issues of individual human and civic rights be discussed alongside economic rights questions. Without discussing the close interrelationship of these questions the authoritarian hand of the state can often be felt behind the seemingly benign discussions of “development”.

These activists placed the problem of citizenship at the centre of the political debate and initiated the most wide-ranging discussion on constitutionalism that Zimbabweans have ever experienced. Through this discussion the state was forced to engage its citizenry in a national debate about accountability and legitimacy, even if in the end the outcome of the national debate was a subversion of national demands for the sake of political survival.

Trade unionists, much rebuked and patronised by the post-colonial state, demanded and established their autonomy from state control, and set in motion a major process of forging a new political identity based on the challenges of post-colonial citizenship. In total these fresh political developments cleared the ground for a renewed dialogue that both respected the legacies of the liberation struggles, and sought to ensure that the politics of liberation did not become a licence for indefinite authoritarian rule.

That debate has since 2000 been cut short and both the opposition and the civic movement no longer have any illusions about the central liberation agenda on offer, namely the consolidation of elite political and economic control through the modality of a coercive nationalism. In one form or another this has been the agenda of nationalist movements worldwide and therefore we should not be surprised at such an agenda.

However, it is clear that because of the narrow basis of this agenda, the gross lack of accountability that has been its defining feature, and the repressive politics that constitute its practice, the opposition to such an agenda will not disappear.

The state has used several forms of intervention to strike down the opposition and will no doubt continue to do so. Zimbabwe’s ruling party cannot tolerate political diversity unless it is prescribed by the narrow limits set down by Zanu PF’s own definition of patriotism.

It is this reality that Zimbabweans must understand as they await the difficult decision by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on whether or not to participate in the 2005 election. A decision either way will have severe costs, and there are no easy solutions to this dilemma.

Uppermost in the minds of the MDC leadership is likely to be the safety of its members, and the realisation that there is now only a minute chance that the conditions for next year’s election will allow for anything approaching a free and fair poll. Whatever decision is made on this question, the political and intellectual challenges of the post-2005 election period must be faced clearly and realistically.

*Brian Raftopoulos is Associate Professor at the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute for Development Studies.

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