In the name of God let Mugabe go

MARGARET Dongo once caused an uproar in parliament after she called MPs, including cabinet ministers, “Mugabe’s wives”. The reaction of those who felt insulted by the petite Dongo’s outburst was predictable. Ins

tead of standing up to President Mugabe’s dictatorial one-man rule, they turned on Dongo, threatening to beat her up.

Dongo’s exasperation was easily understandable. As the only independent MP, she was fighting a lone war against authoritarianism in parliament, prior to offering herself as a presidential candidate before losing her seat in the 2000 general election. During that time Zanu PF had 147 MPs in a House of 150.

There was no one in Zanu PF ready to stand up and challenge Mugabe’s growing absolutism, let alone take him on for the post of president. Since that symbolic drama in parliament, debate about Mugabe’s successor has gathered momentum, more so in the media than within the ruling party itself. But the debate has not been matched by any growing number of men of substance offering themselves to lead the country out of its deepening crisis. There is a palpable fear of challenging Mugabe as leader of the party.

It is therefore not surprising that it is Mugabe himself who has rekindled the debate about a successor. He told a ZBCTV reporter in April that he was ready to retire and that the succession issue should be debated openly without fanning tribal or ethnic fires that would divide the nation.

But the reaction within the party has been subdued, largely because of what Dongo was trying to dramatise in her statement in parliament. The other problem is of course Mugabe’s political antics. Those like Eddison Zvobgo, Dzikamai Mavhaire and Edgar Tekere who dared challenge Mugabe’s presidency have been ruthlessly sidelined from the party’s rigid structure. None of them has been able to rise from the ashes.

Is Mugabe now keen to relinquish power or is he simply playing a political game? Is there anybody in the party bold enough to call his bluff? Observers say Mugabe is keen to retire but faces roadblocks mounted by those in his party who benefited from his system of patronage and are not certain about their future. Mugabe is no longer his own man. He is under siege from those who committed heinous crimes, from the Gukurahundi era to last year’s elections, who fear that Mugabe’s departure would expose them to punitive action under a new government.

There are also those in the uniformed forces and war veterans who looted properties and committed extra-judicial killings with impunity during the so-called land reform who see Mugabe as the safest buffer between them and the prison gates. These are the people putting Mugabe under pressure to stay on to guarantee their safety, not his alone. It is the same people whose privileges would evaporate should Mugabe lose an early election or from any compromise settlement with the MDC. Thus Mugabe’s call for a succession debate is likely to appeal to the worst type, those who feel most vulnerable to due process and therefore want him to guarantee them personal security.

Commentators also blame the stalemate on the rigid top-down leadership structures in the party for stifling debate and lack of space for individuals to air divergent views. Mugabe is the leadership while the faceless mob is the party and there is nothing in between. Party congresses where policies and leadership issues should be discussed have become meaningless annual rituals where party sycophants and opportunists take turns to shower Mugabe with praise and noone wants to be seen as the fly in the ointment.

Zanu PF has failed to foster independent thinkers within its ranks.

In other democracies leaders emerge on the basis of new ideas to help the nation out of its problems, and not through presidential patronage or parroting the leader’s latest fad. What we have come to expect in Zanu PF is what Mugabe says at a rally becomes every MP’s or cabinet minister’s slogan. If he attacks the opposition MDC, that is the song for the week, if he says the British are responsible for the nation’s problems, that becomes the gospel. None of the prospective successors to Mugabe as president can clearly be quantified in terms of what they stand for.

For instance who is Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is Jonathan Moyo or Simba Makoni and what does each represent beyond Mugabe? What are the individual views of these putative candidates on current political, social and economic issues? How do they view Zimbabwe’s foreign policy, if any, our relationships with multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF? Can they take a stand on any national issue and campaign without Mugabe’s backing? In short, do we have real men to campaign for the presidency or are we still dealing with the same sort of people Dongo was referring to – “Mugabe’s wives” – trying to hang on to his coat tails?

In short, we are not likely to see any serious national debate so long as Mugabe himself sets the parameters of that initiative and continues to pitch himself at public rallies as a potential candidate or, failing that, a deus ex machina. Or so long as he is personally trapped by insecure blackmailers near him who tell him he can’t be safe if they are not but pretend it is the people who want him to die in office.

But for all practical purposes the only national issue for which Zanu PF needs Mugabe is to deal with the MDC. On all other issues he is simply lost. To his captors all we can say is, in the name of God let the man go.

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