IN recent weeks war veterans have marched through the streets across the country to show solidarity with President Robert Mugabe who is fighting to thwart
dissenting lieutenants within his party eager to see him relinquish power.
Questions have been raised as to why the veterans of the 1970s war of liberation — who have also been impoverished by the economic meltdown spawned by Mugabe’s misrule — have chosen to hold these solidarity marches at a time when Mugabe’s support in the party is at its lowest ebb.
Zanu PF insiders say the pro-Mugabe marches — spearheaded by war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda -— are an attempt to silence factions in the ruling party pushing for a new leader to be selected at the party’s extraordinary congress in December.
Another question that has not been answered by those appointed to speak on behalf of Zanu PF is why President Mugabe and his ruling party have mysteriously chosen to hold an extraordinary congress instead of the traditional annual people’s conference which could still deal with all items which the party officials say have necessitated the extraordinary congress.
Observers say President Mugabe has grudgingly agreed to an extraordinary congress as demanded by the powerful central committee of his party with a plan to tactfully impose his candidature while taking the opportunity of a congress to silence dissenters.
While all Zanu PF spokesmen are adamant that the main agenda of the December congress is the “confirmation of President Mugabe as the Zanu PF candidate for next year’s presidential elections” it is becoming clearer by the day that there is something that the ruling party officials are not telling us.
If it is true that according to the Zanu PF constitution Mugabe’s candidature cannot be opposed at the extraordinary congress in December how is it possible that, conversely, the same congress will be mandated to endorse Mugabe’s candidature?
Can it be possible by any stretch of constitutional provision that the Zanu PF extraordinary congress — which happens to represent the highest decision-making body of the ruling party — is only required to endorse the candidature of its leaders but not empowered to do the opposite?
It may be important to highlight that there is no difference between an ordinary congress and an extraordinary congress of the ruling party in terms of composition and fundamental powers. Both congresses are attended by exactly the same number of delegates who represent similar structures and portfolios of the party.
The only difference is that by constitutional design an ordinary congress of the ruling party is held once every five years while an extraordinary congress is held as and when it is necessary to do so as requested by a majority of party provinces or the central committee of the party.
It follows therefore that the Zanu PF extraordinary congress to be held in Harare this December should have the power not only to endorse Mugabe but also to elect a new leader if it becomes necessary.
Under normal circumstances it is the ordinary session of the Zanu PF congress that is empowered to elect new party leaders including the first secretary and president who becomes the automatic presidential candidate in any general election falling within his term of office as party leader.
There would be no need for an extraordinary congress between congresses to endorse the party leader as presidential candidate unless the incumbent loses the support or confidence of party members as may be indicated by a majority of provinces or the central committee who would proceed to request for an extraordinary congress.
Calling for an extraordinary congress to confirm Mugabe as the ruling party’s presidential candidate clearly means he has lost both the support and confidence of party members and a congress has to make a new determination on Mugabe’s leadership and candidature.
Contrary to public claims by Zanu PF spokesmen, the December extraordinary congress has the power not just to endorse President Mugabe, but also to reject him.
By listing the confirmation of Mugabe’s candidature as the main agenda of the extraordinary congress the party is inadvertently opening Mugabe’s position for contest.
The question to answer is what will happen in the event that congress delegates refuse to endorse Mugabe as the ruling party’s presidential candidate?
Will Zanu PF delegates pack their bags and leave the congress without a presidential candidate just because “electing a new leader is not part of the agenda” even when the same delegates also constitute the ordinary congress with the powers to elect new party leaders?
Mugabe is alive to this reality which poses a catastrophic threat to his future at the helm of the fractious ruling party no wonder his desperate decision to resort to the expelled but energetic Sibanda and his convenient constituency of gullible war veterans to intimidate and terrorise dissenting party members and whip them into line before the crucial December congress.
The shenanigans by Sibanda, his deputy Joseph Chinotimba and the ex-combatants should be understood in this context.
What started as an opportunity to show public contrition by an expelled but ambitious member of the party has ostensibly become a national project involving the highest offices in both Zanu PF and government.
Zanu PF national commissar Elliot Manyika last weekend annnounced that the “million men march” originally mooted by Sibanda and scheduled for October 30 was now being organised “under the guardianship of the party and the office of President Mugabe”.
The war veterans chairman has previously warned that “any party member who does not support this revolution will be considered a sell-out”. Ealier on, Sibanda even had the temerity to accuse senior Zanu PF leaders in Matabeleland who did not attend the solidarity march in Bulawayo of being “against President Mugabe”.
It is not a coincidence that after the targeted threats by Sibanda senior Zanu PF leaders and party structures are falling over each in trying to publicly demonstrate their support of President Mugabe to the extent of hijacking Sibanda’s “million men march” ahead of the extraordinary congress.
The stakes are high for President Mugabe and those who have worked with the Zanu PF leader are aware of the near-fatal concequences of “selling out” in such critical situations.
Mugabe’s whims will eventually prevail come December largely because he is surrounded by spineless cowards who are already singing for their supper following the on-going threats by pro-Mugabe ex-combatants.
But if Zanu PF is truly democratic and Mugabe wants to test his popularity at the extraordinary congress in December the party should allow all the 4 000 delegates to endorse him through a secret ballot asking them to vote YES if they support his candidature and NO if they oppose his leadership.
After the final vote count Mugabe will be lucky to pull more than five votes out of the 4 000. The same people who opposed his candidature at the party’s annual people’s conference in Goromonzi last December will be in Harare this December to repeat the feat.
Zanu PF members who are marching against their conscience in support of Mugabe’s candidature today are doing it out of fear of the dire concequences of publicly opposing the vindictive octogenarian.
We know that the chief organiser of the pro-Mugabe marches — Sibanda -— does not support Mugabe from the bottom of his heart.
Mugabe belongs to the old guard of unpopular and failed Zanu PF politicians that Sibanda was eager to replace with the Emmerson Mnangagwa led faction as proved by his alligience to the Tsholotsho declaration which resulted in his expulsion from the ruling party in 2004.
Taking his cue from his ally and confidante, Jonathan Moyo — who was rewarded with a cabinet post in 2000 for defending Mugabe when the whole party had abandoned him — Sibanda realises that as things stand Mugabe is in a lonely corner and desperately needs energetic, charismatic but shameless commissars to fight from his camp.
Jacob Rukweza is a sub-editor on the Zimbabwe Independent.