By Chido Makunike
THE end of year holiday season is usually a quiet time as far as significant political developments go. This season was different. There were many fascinating goings on which gave significa
nt but unintended insights into what is really going on in the murky world of ruling party politics below the surface. Things are not at all as calm as they may seem.
The December Zanu PF conference was mostly dull and predictable, as one would expect from a meeting of a party wherein all the members toe the line decreed by the ruler. There was some half-hearted talk about bringing up “the succession issue” but the misguided elements involved in this kind of subversion were easily thwarted. Look out for the purging of their ranks in the next few weeks and months. A little bit of excitement was introduced when a document was circulated accusing Vice-President Joseph Msika of being friendly with whites, allegedly even going to the shocking extent of shaking hands and drinking whisky with them!
The implication was that if he could engage in such subversive, dastardly deeds, he might just sell out the great anti-white revolution and needed to have his wings clipped. Msika bitterly attacked what he called “these mafikizolos”, leaving a lot of people wondering who these Johnnies come lately could be. Last week Msika as acting president in Mugabe’s absence, and apparently still in the sour mood of the December conference, strongly attacked party officials who threatened police officers going about the job of pursuing big time corruption among the ruling elite. Again many wondered who Msika was referring to. I also couldn’t help wondering about a police force that only makes a big show of going after highly placed corruption after being given the political go ahead, rather than doing it as a matter of course.
But then again this is not a country fairly ruled by law, this is Zimbabwe! In any case, the day after Msika’s most recent tirade the unthinkable happened. Philip Chiyangwa, a relative newcomer to the top echelons of the ruling party, MP, provincial chairman, master dealer in virtually anything, and man about town, was put in jail for threatening a police officer in court while testifying about his links to collapsed financial firm ENG Capital Asset management. He had been regarded by many as so close and endeared to the seat of power that he was untouchable. Was he one of the mafikizolos that so enraged Msika in December, moving him to threaten ominously in January: “I will show you that I have more political muscle than you”?
Enquiring minds want to know. And some people thought the party would break into open factional fighting only after Mugabe was no longer on the scene!
Being corrupt in itself will not necessarily get you in trouble as a high ranking ruling party or government official. There are many examples of people who have been caught in all sorts of crooked deals over the years to whom nothing happened. Particularly if you are a loyal party cadre who respects his elders, you can almost get away with murder. But when one goes beyond being just ordinarily crooked to also noisily trying to impeach one’s political seniors, then you are playing with fire. Comrades in the corrupt revolution, let us do our crooked deals quietly, there is no need to be so boastful, pompous and flamboyant about them. You force a reluctant party to make a scapegoat out of you to appease the public, leaving unscathed many possibly even more crooked but more humble, quieter colleagues of yours.
Part of the deal involved a young mafikizilo being allowed all sorts of crooked means of acquiring a business empire and jumping over many more senior party officials to assume a top post is that you must gratefully play the game by the laid down rules, crooked as they may be. The same party that made you what you are because you served its interests at one time can just as easily unmake you when you become too big for your colourful boots! When you are in favour concessionary bank loans are flung your way, elections are fixed for you, you can have as many wives, farms and luxury cars as your heart desires.
But when you miscalculate and fall out of favour, these same perks that you were granted and that made you so feared and “popular” will be used to arrange your downfall. And none of the many so-called friends you thought you had will speak up for you or come to your aid because the word would have gone out from on high that you are expendable and have been cut loose from the paradise of patronage. It’s nothing personal you understand, it’s merely the jungle law by which politics in Zimbabwe operates. It has claimed many before you when it was necessary to try to trick the public that corruption was being checked, and it will claim many more mafikizolos and others who currently think the good times will last forever.
An interesting thing about the so-called corruption clean up is that those well connected who are about to be ceremoniously sacrificed are given plenty of warning so that they have enough time to salt away their loot. It’s not the party’s fault if some dimwitted latecomers fail to take advantage of the grace period to pretend to clean up their act.
Does anyone know who is more senior, new Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono or Finance minister Herbert Murerwa? It is not at all clear to me, although the central bank ostensibly remains a department of the ministry. Watch out for turf fireworks!
Gono may have upset a lot of top bankers with his sweeping banking reforms, but he is also sure to have stepped on the egos of a lot of senior party and government officials. Not only do many of them have their various lucrative speculation-based activities threatened, but to many of them Gono is another kind of mafikizolo come to make them look bad in comparison to them. And he appears to wield more power than any minister currently does. It will be fascinating to watch how Gono manoeuvres in a political environment governed by vicious jungle law. One thing is for sure, he will have to watch his back every second.
While he has eclipsed almost all of Mugabe’s lieutenants for the moment, if his reforms somehow succeed in bringing down inflation appreciably for instance, does he not also run the very dangerous risk of eclipsing Mugabe himself? Mugabe has not had any ideas on how to tackle inflation over the years as it has been going through the roof and impoverishing Zimbabweans. If Gono makes headway in this respect some people will begin to make insinuations about the usefulness of the presidential incumbent! While success for Gono may open up the doors to the political kingdom for him, that same success could also threaten a highly placed ego, putting him in more danger from that quarter than from disgruntled bankers and ministers! As they say, it’s a thin line between love and hate!
New defence forces chief Constan-tine Chiwenga apparently openly declared that court judgements would only be adhered to if they were favourable to the authorities. In one fell swoop he made utter nonsense of the bleating about “the rule of law” one often hears from some mafikizolo ministers. One part of the regime says one thing, another part of it contradicts the first quite brazenly!
Foreign minister Stan Mudenge made a confession about the regime’s mindset that stunned me because of its honesty. He declared that there was nothing to be gained from the Commonwealth which Mugabe quit (but after being booted out anyway!). It was merely an opportunity to have tea with the Queen, said Mudenge dimissively. It was just as I always suspected: the millions of dollars that have been used up in proudly hosting a Commonwealth summit in 1991 and in the president and many ministers eagerly attending many more were merely to appease the pitiful lingering colonial mentality of the regime – wanting to be pictured drinking tea with and being smiled on by the English queen! What a disgusting, pathetically damning confession by Mudenge of self imposed neo-colonial behaviour by so-called anti-imperialist revolutionaries! I always suspected they were a bunch of fakes!
It is fascinating and hilarious to watch the ruling regime unwittingly shoot itself in the foot in so many ways.
* Chido Makunike is a regular contributor based in Harare.