Tsholotsho saga: the untold story

By Jonathan Moyo


AS President Robert Mugabe’s days in office become numbered with less than 23 uncertain months before the expiry of his current disputed tenure that will end his controversial rule since 1980, the ruling Zanu PF is finding itself in a triple trap th

at is turning its long delayed and now acrimonious search for Mugabe’s successor into an ill-fated affair.

This is due to the unresolved consequences of the increasingly topical yet hitherto undefined Tsholotsho Declaration of November 18, 2004 whose ghost is now haunting Zanu PF succession politics.
 
Because I am one of those who were intimately involved in the Tsholotsho Declaration, and because some Zanu PF politicians and sections of the media have claimed that I am the architect of that declaration which they say was a coup plot when it wasn’t, I believe that it is now in the national interest for me to make a full disclosure of what I know about the content of this declaration and its wider national implications without fear or favour. 

But first let me explain what I mean by Zanu PF’s triple trap. It has three components which are: the virtual collapse of the economy with the present 913,6% inflation galloping towards 1 000% beyond any remedy by the Zanu PF government which is now in a policy paralysis; the growing international isolation of Zimbabwe, which is now a pariah state that can no longer be redressed without a comprehensive programme of political and economic reform in constitutional and structural terms; and, the Tsholotsho Declaration whose burning fires threaten to leave Zanu PF in political ashes unable to turn around the economy and to restore Zimbabwe’s international reputation. 

While the first two components of this triple trap have received wide media coverage in terms of their content and consequence, there has been between little and nothing said to define the actual sum and substance of the Tsholotsho Declaration.  Yet this declaration continues to influence Zimbabwe’s political landscape.  

But President Mugabe and his Zanu PF cronies have to this day continued to assert and peddle outright falsehoods about the Tsholotsho Declaration, glibly claiming that it was a coup plot.  What then is the Tsholotsho Declaration and why is it stubbornly refusing to fall away from the centre of politics in Zimbabwe to become forgotten history?

The Tsholotsho Declaration is made up of the following four key principles that define its political thrust: that the top four leadership positions in the ruling Zanu PF — president and first secretary, two vice-presidents and second secretaries and national chairman — which make up the party’s presidency, should reflect Zimbabwe’s regional diversity and ethnic balance between and among the country’s four major ethnic groupings, namely Karanga, Manyika, Zezuru and Ndebele in order to promote and maintain representative national cohesion, development,  peace and stability while fostering a broad-based sense of national belonging and identity; that the top position of president and first secretary of the party should not be monopolised by one sub-tribe (or clan) but should reasonably rotate among the four major ethnic groupings; that the filling of these top four positions should not be by imposition by the party hierarchy but through democratic elections done by secret balloting; and, that the filling of the top four leadership positions and the democratic elections should be defined and be guided by and done in accordance with the constitution of the party to promote the rule of law within the party as a foundation for maintaining the rule of law in the country.

While this declaration was debated and adopted through the party’s provincial structures and affirmed in Bulawayo following the much talked about Dinyane speech and prize-giving day in Tsholotsho on November 18, 2004, it is not to be found in any written document as such, even though Nicholas Goche, former Minister of State for National Security and Zanu PF’s secretary for security, maliciously tried in vain to conjure up some false paperwork not worth the ink on it dramatised by his widely publicised embarrassing lie that Patrick Chinamasa and me travelled to Tsholotsho on a private plane belonging to John Bredenkemp. 

The reason there is no written document is because the declaration was a culmination of a protracted internal Zanu PF process of debate, discussion and consultation that started soon after the June 2000 parliamentary elections in which the opposition shocked the ruling party into serious self-doubt by getting 57 out of 120 seats.

Up to now the Tsholotsho principles are still shared by all sensible Zanu PF officials and members outside the ethnic coterie which has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 without break. Most level-headed Zimbabweans  would agree that it is unhealthy to institutionalise tribal and village politics as the current Zanu PF clique in power has done.

The results of such kind of an anachronistic political culture and practice are there for all to see.

One notable Zanu PF response to the opposition feat after the 2000 election was Mugabe’s appointment to the cabinet of a significant number of individuals that did not at the time hold any senior positions in the ruling party and some who were not even members of Zanu PF.  Examples include Nkosana Moyo, Samuel Mumbengegwi, July Moyo, Francis Nhema, Joseph Made, Patrick Chinamasa, Simba Makoni and myself. 

Another equally notable response was the establishment of a reform subcommittee by the Zanu PF central committee to look into the reasons why the ruling party had fared badly in the 2000 election and to make recommendations for the modernisation and democratic reform of the party to bring it up to speed with what was then seen as the changed and changing interests of Zimbabweans.  That subcommittee was noteworthy because its composition was made up of people who were not senior in Zanu PF and some who were not even members of Zanu PF at the time.  These included Nkosana Moyo, Patrick Chinamasa, Olivia Muchena, David Parirenyatwa, Moven Mahachi and myself.   

This subcommittee came up with radical recommendations for reforming Zanu PF by transforming it from a party of the past based on patronage and arbitrary rule by the old guard led by President Mugabe, dominated by one ethnic grouping, to a modern party based on democracy, merit and the rule of law.  Unfortunately, these recommendations never saw the light of day as they were steadily subverted by the dominant old guard and eventually abandoned as the subcommittee died a natural death after the December 2000 Zanu PF special congress.

But some members of the subcommittee, especially those who were co-opted into the Zanu PF politburo at the December 2000 special congress, kept alive some of its recommendations and pursued them through their party portfolios.  This started the protracted process of debate, discussion and consultation that eventually came to be known as the Tsholotsho Declaration. 

As part of this process, there were vigorous attempts spearheaded by some politicians linked to Solomon Mujuru’s camp that reached boiling point at the December 2001 Zanu PF national people’s congress in Victoria Falls to pressure President Mugabe to step down and retire ahead of the 2002 presidential election.

The same politicians tried but failed to get Joice Mujuru elevated to the position of national commissar after the death of Border Gezi, leaving Elliot Manyika to scrape through with support from outside Mashonaland provinces.

Again, as part of the same debate, discussion and consultation process, some Zanu PF backbenchers in parliament who had chosen Webster Shamu to lead them and who included Pearson Mbalekwa and Saviour Kasukuwere came within a whisker of moving a no confidence motion against Mugabe at a Zanu PF central committee after the 2002 presidential election in favour of the otherwise reluctant Simba Makoni.

This process of seeking to internally reform Zanu PF widened and deepened in the wake of two unrelated events that presented a common reform opportunity in 2003: One was the failure of the MDC’s “Final Push” campaign in July and the other was the death of Vice-President Simon Muzenda in September. 

Even though it failed in the end, the MDC’s 2003 “Final Push” campaign sent shockwaves within Zanu PF by demonstrating the readiness and willingness of huge numbers of Zimbabweans to take to the streets or stay at home and bring public life to a crushing standstill to get Zanu PF out of power. 

Some reformists within Zanu PF, some linked to the 2000 reform subcommittee that had become defunct, took maximum advantage of the shockwaves of the failed MDC “Final Push” campaign to open dialogue with the MDC on constitutional reforms against the backdrop of the failed South Africa/Nigeria brokered Zanu PF/MDC inter-party talks in 2002.

The reasoning at the time was that because Zanu PF did not then have a two thirds majority in parliament and because the old guard believed then that there was no likelihood of Zanu PF winning a two thirds majority in any future parliamentary election, it was opportune and strategic for Zanu PF reformists to engage the MDC and to agree on constitutional reform by taking advantage of the fact that the MDC had been weakened by its failed “Final Push” campaign and was therefore ready to compromise while the dominant Zanu PF old guard had been scared to death by the near success of the “Final Push” campaign.

This is the understanding that inspired the constitutional negotiations between Chinamasa and Welshman Ncube leading to their agreement on a draft new constitution that remains an important talking point to this day.

In the aftermath of the death of Vice-President Muzenda, the reformists within Zanu PF and others merely vying for political power for its own sake became particularly active within the context of the debate, discussion and consultation that started after the 2000 parliamentary election because there was now a key vacancy in the top hierarchy of the party. 

It was clear that whoever filled the vacancy would be the successor to President Mugabe. Between October and November 2003 a lot of meetings were held at places such as Beatrice, Ruwa, Mazowe, Masvingo, Gweru, Kwekwe and Harare to find a candidate to fill the vacancy.

The momentum then was with those who favoured Emmerson Mnangagwa and the crescendo of his support reached fever pitch in December 2003 at the Zanu PF annual people’s conference in Masvingo.

But the fact that the Zanu PF annual people’s conference in December 2003 was not asked to fill the vacancy meant that Mnangagwa was denied a sure win opportunity and other interested parties, especially those linked to Solomon Mujuru’s camp, were relieved by this as they got an opportunity to regroup and live to fight another day ahead of the 2004 Zanu PF congress which was certain to fill the vacancy.

In early 2004 a clandestine meeting was held in Ruwa by some key politicians linked to Mujuru’s faction to discuss Mugabe’s succession, identify his successor and design a strategy for that agenda.  That meeting, aware of the growing sentiment within the party against the monopolisation of the position of president and first secretary by one ethnic grouping and the need for ethnic balancing, identified Simba Makoni as the preferred successor to Mugabe.

A succession committee to move things forward was proposed with two representatives from each of the party’s 10 provinces except from Mashonaland West, Midlands and Bulawayo which were excluded. 

Solomon Mujuru and Sydney Sekeramayi were proposed as representatives for Mashonaland East; John Nkomo and Obert Mpofu for Matabeleland North; Didymus Mutasa and Patrick Chinamasa for Manicaland; Stan Mudenge and the late Josiah Tungamirai for Masvingo; Elliot Manyika and Nicholas Goche for Mashonaland Central while Harare was left pending.

Some of the members of this succession committee got recklessly busy and engaged in a number of consultations and this triggered all sorts of reactions, some positive and others very negative, which soon overwhelmed the committee into inaction after some crippling questions were raised about its authenticity and mandate.

The fact that the committee fell outside party structures, that it operated clandestinely and that its composition was incomplete, unrepresentative and thus suspect did not help matters.

By the time of the Zanu PF Youth Congress on July 1 2004, the four key principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration as defined earlier had been widely debated and were now broadly shared within Zanu PF although some elements among the old guard remained unhappy with those principles as events later showed. 

What is particularly significant is the fact that the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration and their procedural implications were the subject of three joint meetings of Zanu PF provincial chairmen and provincial governors under the chairmanship of Manyika, the party’s national commissar. 

This is very significant in so far as it proves that there was nothing clandestine or untoward about the application of the principles of the Tsholotsho Declaration on November 18 2004 because it was the culmination of properly constituted party structures with the knowledge of the top leadership, including Mugabe.

* To be continued next week.

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