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Zanu PF not learning from China

By Dumisani Muleya

IT has been interesting to follow the National Congress of the governing Communist Party of China at a time when here at home we are anxiously

waiting for the ruling Zanu PF’s extraordinary congress in December.

In the media we are waiting for the Zanu PF congress with bated-breath, not because we think anything useful to national development will come out of it but largely because it offers a string of good copy for the press. Breathtaking political drama and high-sounding nothings more often than not accompany such Zanu PF meetings and newspapers like pouncing on that to make attention-grabbing headlines.

At a national level, the Zanu PF congress is only good as a barometer of the direction of politics and to gauge whether our collective misery under the current fossilised regime’s suffocating rule will soon be over or not.

Otherwise, besides this, Zanu PF gatherings are of no use to the country.

Things appear to be rather different in China, a country Zanu PF likes aping, even if it does it very badly and hasn’t succeeded in emulating.

Although Chinese President Hu Jintao, party general secretary and head of the military, only managed to promise incremental political reforms in China as the country struggles to break free from the shackles of residual Maoist authoritarianism, his opening address in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People on Monday on the economy was progressive. It was very different from what we often get and will almost certainly hear from President Robert Mugabe in his address to his party’s congress.

Hu avoided demagoguery and sabre-rattling, although he made remarks seen as populist grandstanding in a bid to appease the masses in view of the widening gap between the rich and poor. His focus was largely on his scientific development concept.

“We must adopt an enlightened approach to development that results in expanded production, a better life, and sound ecological and environmental conditions,” Hu said. “China is going through a wide-ranging and deep-going transformation,” Hu told 2 200 party delegates.

He promised to address social problems, environmental degradation and rampant corruption. Hu spoke extensively about his “scientific view of development”, a set of lofty, albeit vague principles which he says are the basis of a coordinated economic, social and political development.

Hu said the party now wants to increase “per capita GDP” instead of the overall Gross Domestic Product between now and 2012 when his term of office expires. This was widely interpreted as a significant policy shift to address growing inequalities and alleviate poverty.

Hu’s address is radically different from what you can get from Mugabe and Zanu PF at congress. Where Hu proffers economic vision, Mugabe offers political heroics. Perhaps that’s why Hu did not come to Zimbabwe when he visited Africa. Where the Communist Party provides workable policies, Zanu PF comes up with scorched-earth policies.

No serious debate and sound economic policies emerge from Zanu PF congresses, except “grab and run” strategies to plunder the economy. Corrupt and incompetent party officials are not just left without being held to account, but are tolerated and given room to enjoy their loot. Some of them are even rewarded with top positions!

Zanu PF, full of mandarins who consult witchdoctors as opposed to modernisers guided by enlightened science, is still caught up in frozen ideological philosophies. It has no credible guiding philosophy, except poor imitations of failed dogmatic models.

This frozen thinking and lack of dynamism results in the same policies and the same mistakes being repeated over and over again, predictably with the same disastrous outcomes.

The other notable difference between the Communist Party of China and Zanu PF is that in China the congress results in major changes in leading party organs, including the politburo and central committee. The Chinese party will elevate younger members that will form the “fifth generation from 2012-2022” of Chinese leaders to the politburo. The old guard will be retired to pave way for younger leaders and new thinking.

A Communist Party congress is a significant event in Chinese politics although it nominally decides the new leadership. While the congress formally elects new leaders, in practice positions are negotiated before the meeting and congress does not function as a deliberative assembly.

But since the mid-1980s the Communist Party has tried to maintain a smooth and orderly leadership succession process and avoid a cult of personality, by having major leadership changes every 10 years.

In Zanu PF top leaders are not removed — except by divine intervention — and policies are not changed even if they have proved to be a disaster. For instance, Mugabe has been at the helm of Zanu PF for 30 years — since 1977 — and wants to hang on and his party supports this. The Communist Party no longer does this.

Currently debate in Zanu PF ahead of congress is not about policies and leadership renewal, but endorsing Mugabe — despite his calamitous rule — to contest next year’s presidential election and defending his catastrophic legacy. It’s an absolutely bankrupt debate.

The poverty of good leadership, sound policies and even common sense in Zanu PF is frightening. This explains why we are in such deep trouble. Why can’t Zanu PF learn from its once unreconstructed but now reforming Chinese ally?

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