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Candid Comment

Joram Nyathi

THE anticlimactic mood in the political stakes as Zanu PF gets closer to its special congress next month gives me a feeling of having been cheated. This has not been helped by the distraction provided by the MDC circus in the past

few weeks, which instead of marshalling resources for the “final push” in next year’s synchronised elections, has been dismembering itself.

Compared to the gladiatorial slugging between President Thabo Mbeki and his sacked deputy Jacob Zuma for the soul of the ANC, Zanu PF’s succession contest is a caricature. In South Africa the ANC’s Polokwane conference will decide the fate of many men and women. There is palpable tension across the country: will Mbeki win or will Zuma take over after the 2009 elections?

South Africans see Zuma as closer to the poor, a preferred clone of President Mugabe, ironically a man Cosatu would love to hate.

Less edifying is the way the presidential contest sometimes assumes ethnic overtones; that despite his clear moral failures as a national leader Zuma is seen as a victim and being frustrated purely because he is Zulu. To which he responds in a populist way, using his charm and charisma to play to an emotional gallery where song and dance have the better of sound judgement.

On the other hand Mbeki gets pilloried for being the enigmatic, aloof philosopher king South Africa is not yet ready for. Mbeki has also been unfortunate in the way his presidency has been entangled in Zimbabwe’s problems where his quiet diplomacy has earned him the wrath of those whose alternative approaches to similar crises have been a disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq and are breeding excitable demagogues from Iran to Venezuela.

Mbeki’s dealings with President Mugabe have coloured every one of his misjudgements, from Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to Jackie Selebi, eliciting intense anger from the public, but moreso the media who see his government as increasingly intolerant of criticism.

That, nevertheless, doesn’t distract from the captivating engagement by South Africans in the succession debate in the ANC. In Zimbabwe the debate died before even the venue of the conference was decided. Then it was buried when two weeks ago Zanu PF’s secretary for legal affairs Emmerson Mnangagwa announced after the party’s central committee meeting in Harare that the December congress was “a mere formality”.

He said the congress would focus on Constitutional Amendment No 18 which harmonised the elections and shortened the presidential term. So why do state media keep referring to this charade as a special or extraordinary congress?

Mnangagwa said Mugabe’s candidature had been decided way back in line with the party constitution, itself an extraordinary disclosure to those of us who are not initiated. So what is the point of all the noise about the women and youth leagues of the party campaigning for Mugabe’s endorsement as the presidential candidate if that’s an issue decided by the Goromonzi conference of 2004?

Why are we having war veterans led by Jabulani Sibanda traversing the country demanding what is a fait accompli?

Another major point not fully explained is why the venue of the congress was moved from Chinhoyi as initially planned, to Harare. What was the purpose of the Chinhoyi conference?

But the real anticlimax comes from the fact that none of those we were told would openly challenge Mugabe for the leadership of Zanu PF has spoken out. Mbeki and Zuma may sometimes be captured together, but nobody in South Africa is in any doubt as to who the key protagonists are in the fight for the top post in the ANC, with Zuma casting a dark cloud over Mbeki.

Zuma has criminal charges pending, but he has not allowed that to dampen his spirit. Many are even prepared to overlook his sexual indiscretions, which sadly reflects just how low we set the moral bar for those seeking public office.

Back in Zimbabwe, those we were told would create fireworks for Mugabe appear to have thrown away their gloves before the match could begin. I don’t know whether they were a creation of the media who failed to take on a manly form or are pretenders who cannot stand up for their convictions. Were there ever people in Zanu PF who wanted to challenge Mugabe or is it the usual fables which begin and end with plots and witchdoctors?

This lack of certainty has fuelled fanciful speculation and inventive interpretations of Mugabe’s body language in the public discourse. When he railed against the Tsholotsho declaration which backed Mnangagwa, we were told his preferred successor was Joice Mujuru. Then when he made comments on Edgar Tekere’s book deemed unflattering of Mujuru, the anointed immediately became Mnangagwa.

Instead of political rivalry we are given the picture of an overarching Mugabe influencing what happens after he leaves office — which leaves his anointed as his only rival for office. The difference with the ANC is that Zuma has a definite ideological constituency of his own.

Finally, if it’s true that the constitution is clear on who the Zanu PF presidential candidate in next year’s election is, are we being told that senior party leaders who wanted to challenge Mugabe at the December conference don’t know this simple fact? And why was the party’s information secretary Nathan Shamuyarira allowed to run with the political hoax in The Voice that all four posts in the presidium would be open to contest?

Because Zanu PF has the benefit of racing against itself.

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