By Dr Alex T Magaisa
VICE-President Joice Mujuru was reported last week to have stated publicly that she has no intention of challenging President Mugabe for the preside
ncy of both Zanu PF and Zimbabwe.
This is hardly a source of surprise. It brings to mind an earlier article I wrote about the perils of pursuing change in Zanu PF.
I made reference to the words of Machiavelli, the political thinker of the Renaissance era, who wrote: “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order …” This is a danger that stalks would-be contenders for power in Zanu PF.
Having made his intentions clear, and captured the backing of significant stakeholders in Zanu PF power structures, namely war veterans, whose leader Jabulani Sibanda has promised a “Million Men March”; the Women’s League, whose leader Oppah Muchinguri threatened earlier this year that she and fellow leaguers would resort to shedding their clothes in protest against any would-be challengers and the Youth League, President Mugabe has ensured that the fortunes of any challengers to his throne are substantially limited.
What is probably significant about Mujuru’s announcement is first, its timing and second, that she has had to make it at all, particularly because there is no clear public record of her having declared her interest in the presidency in the first place. Why now and not many months before when the rumours were rife in the media? What has changed now that necessitates such a public denial?
Her announcement lends itself to the interpretation that it is an assurance to the president that she remains loyal, despite the rumours of machinations on her part and those around her. But importantly, the more likely interpretation is that this is a declaration as Zanu PF heads for the extraordinary congress next month, of her own power and position within the party, against those that she perceives to be the real competitors.
VP Mujuru knows, as do her competitors, that President Mugabe will run for the presidency in 2008 and that this is no longer a potential vacancy in Zanu PF. Her best bet therefore is to retain her position in the presidium. Her words here are clear and significant: “The presidium is made up of four people and I am already in the presidium. I am not going anywhere.”
She couldn’t be more unequivocal. Which begs the question: Is her position under threat and if so from whom? This, more than her denial of her intentions to gun for the presidency, is the significant part. She knows that to stand any significant chance in the post-Mugabe era, she must remain in the upper echelons of the party. In order to do that, she must regain President Mugabe’s confidence and also keep her adversaries at bay.
In this regard, her major adversary appears to be Emmerson Mnangagwa, who, having lost the earlier phase of his battle against her for a position in the presidium in 2004, has been slowly working his way up, apparently, regaining President Mugabe’s confidence. It is significant that by virtue of his party position, it fell to him to make public announcements concerning the forthcoming extraordinary party congress.
In doing so, he became the public face of the party’s endorsement of President Mugabe as the sole candidate for the party. That circumstance created a perception of Mnangagwa as supporting Mugabe’s candidature, and probably explains the timing of VP Mujuru’s statements, in order to equalise their positions, notwithstanding speculation that both of them were up to then, seen as contenders for the presidency.
Here one sees two contenders apparently retreating simultaneously, one probably eyeing a place in the presidium and the other keen to retain a place in that structure. But the retreat is no more than a strategic re-alignment, a step back, perhaps in order to launch two steps forward when opportunity knocks in the future. This whole saga is not important because of President Mugabe’s endorsement, but because it is yet another round in the battle between the contenders in Zanu PF, a battle whose first round went to VP Mujuru in 2004, of which the next round is only now in play.
Interestingly, in circumstances that seem to indicate a latent development in profile-building, both contenders have been claiming their spaces in cyberspace. There is a profile of Mnangagwa on the website of the Ministry of Rural Housing and Social Amenities, which he heads.
There was a story by Clemence Manyukwe, in the Financial Gazette newspaper last week, which carried a dramatic title, “When the crocodile resurfaces”. It was probably an attempt to analyse Mnangagwa’s resurgence after the 2004 loss of opportunity to Mujuru. Coincidentally, the profile of Mnangagwa in Manyukwe’s story is by and large a reproduction of the biography on the Mnangagwa’s website. It appears that Manyukwe’s source for the biographical details of Mnangagwa is very similar to the source of the website details, given that the information in most parts matches verbatim the website profile.
Nevertheless, the profile seeks to demonstrate Mnangagwa’s record in the struggle for independence and his achievements in his ministerial positions since independence, including from 2000-2005 when he was Speaker of Parliament. He lists among his achievements the establishment of the Judicial College, the Small Claims Court, amendments to the Constitution and the democratisation of the institutions of parliament, which are described as progressive reforms.
Perhaps what Manyukwe and fellow members of the Fourth Estate, could do to assist the public, instead of repeating verbatim the biographical claims by individuals who wish to lead the country, is to question them on the substance of these achievements — such as, for example the nature of the constitutional changes, the events during those long ministerial tenures
and the nature of democratic reforms.
That way, the public could gain more and better information about these candidates so that they can be judged on their merits rather than rely on rumour and speculation. The aspiring leaders also benefit from such scrutiny as they can take the chance to respond to questions of public interest.
On the other hand, it was recently announced that Mujuru had launched her own website, which ostensibly, is designed to profile her office and provide an opportunity for interaction with those who wish to “share valuable ideas with her office”.
Declaring firmly that she believes that “the party has always been and remains supreme to government”, there is an indication that she regularly undertakes “countrywide provincial visits where she meets and deliberates with local and traditional leaders”. The website also profiles her role in the liberation struggle and the leadership roles she has taken after independence. Being a woman who rose from a young age to assume a position of national leadership, she is profiled as an inspiration to the girl-child, staking a claim, perhaps, to the female constituency.
Now, both are prima facie noble efforts, notwithstanding the limitations of access to cyberspace by most of their intended audience in Zimbabwe. Yet, given the tight battles for space in the national media, it is not surprising that both contenders would wish to stake claims in cyberspace. Then again they may be efforts to build their respective public profiles to the international audience and attempts to rebut or neutralise some of the unflattering information about them that appears in cyberspace.
Either way, it is clear that although both have lost the present opportunity to stake a claim for the presidency, which appeared so near, there is still more to come in future. What is happening now is no more than a tactical retreat and re-building in preparation for tough jousting ahead.
One thing is for sure, the latent battle in Zanu PF is not over yet. It remains a significant plot in the script appertaining to the national question. The spotlight having turned away from the presidency, the key battle is now for the space on the penumbra of that top post, in order to be better positioned to strike when the opportunity arises.
Dr Magaisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org