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Candid Comment

The myth of being indispensable

IS the debate on the succession in Zanu PF exhausted or have those debating it exhausted themselves on the subject? President Mugabe reckons the debate about his successor is a “nonsensical thing”, sugges

ting that it is either premature or that those vying for the presidency are not fit to do so.

Last week he said most of the presidential aspirants lacked “dignity” and did not enjoy the support of the people. Instead, he said, they had resorted to consulting witchdoctors.

But first things first.

The debate about who will succeed Mugabe can’t be exhausted or be superfluous so long as he remains at the helm of both government and the party. That there is such a debate suggests a realisation in Zanu PF that he has become a serious liability to the country and it is time to hand over the baton to someone with fresh ideas.

When Dzikamai Mavhaire first made that famous “Mugabe must go” call in the late 90s, things were not this bad for the country and the party. There were not many people who had the courage to stand up to Mugabe then.

Things haven’t changed. Only a number of senior party officials have passed on, leaving Mugabe feeling that he is indispensable to the survival of Zanu PF and leadership of the country. This explains his violent reaction to the challenge by the youthful Tsholotsho group who were opposed to Joice Mujuru’s elevation to the presidency and wanted to position themselves strategically in the event of Mugabe quitting in 2008.

In Mugabe’s language, this amounted to a plot to oust him from power. The party chairmen who attended the indaba were immediately lopped from the branches of the party. They have been scattered far and wide to make sure they cannot achieve their goal as members of Zanu PF. It is this apparent success in crushing all dissent in the party that enables Mugabe to give the impression of supreme power and declare the debate on succession “nonsensical”.

But the debate itself has always been badly couched in servile terms as if the presidency were a disputed chieftaincy where Mugabe is the arbiter.

Surely Mugabe is not a chief nor are Zimbabweans interested in a Mugabe dynasty. Why should he pick and choose who should succeed him to a post that should be openly contested?

There has never been a robust challenge to his hold on power on the basis of policy or his government’s economic performance. Hence his declaration that no one could have run this country better than he has done despite overwhelming evidence of collapse of all social services and diabolical actions such as Operation Murambatsvina.

It is as if those who want to lead expect Mugabe to point a finger at them. On this score he has outwitted them all by a simple rebuttal that it is not his role but the people’s to choose who will lead them.

This is where senior members of his party have been found profoundly wanting. Most of them are so terrified they are not able to lobby their constituents beyond the periphery of province or district. Thus Mugabe has never been challenged either at the people’s conference or at party congress. The issue is decided clandestinely by a cabal.

The post of first secretary is never open to contest. In fact, we only get to hear scornful remarks from Mugabe himself during such proceedings that there are people who are consulting witchdoctors in the hope of succeeding him.

Instead of waiting to be nominated as his “successor” by Mugabe, the Tsholotsho group chose to be different. They called Mugabe’s bluff and appealed to the people through the party structures, hence the overwhelming support for the camp from six provinces out of eight.

Mugabe promptly amended the party constitution to forestall the incipient democratic process. It was his turn to contradict himself by proclaiming Mujuru the second vice-president, pointing out that there was nothing to stop her “moving higher”.

But the purge of the Tsholotsho gang was still too fresh in people’s minds for anybody to challenge him on this contradiction. He had become the people and the party. In a single deft stroke of the pen he had bought himself a fresh lease of life.

The tragedy for Zimbabwe is that that amendment to the Zanu PF constitution was not an isolated incident. There have been 17 amendments to Zimbabwe’s basic law since Independence and very few of them are in the national interest. The result has been to create a cult called Mugabeism that is fast replicating itself like a virus in all facets of life.

The leader of the National Constitutional Assembly, Lovemore Madhuku, recently manipulated the NCA constitution to give himself another term on the spurious grounds that his was a lobby group and therefore its constitution was not important.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was “retained unchallenged” at the party’s March congress, a phenomenon spawned by Zanu PF. Those who have followed the attack on Trudy Stevenson and her colleagues in Mabvuku two weeks ago will recall that their biggest crime was “going against Tsvangirai”. He has become the other face of Zanu PF, including the use of its tactics. These are the people clamouring for change!

The culture is cascading down.

Matthew Takaona, despite serving as ZUJ president for seven years, was at the weekend “retained unopposed” for another three years, again after the constitution was amended in Kadoma.

Church leaders are having similar fights for longevity. It is a disease that will take long to cure because people are no longer guided by principles or delivery but by the love of money and power for its own sake.

As for being indispensable, Charles de Gaulle had a humbling if macabre retort when he observed that graveyards all over the world “are full of indispensable people”. And the world’s axis is still turning.

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