He was the third Soviet leader to die in two years. Yuri Andropov had died on February 9 1984 after only 15 months in office. Prior to that Leonid Brezhnev had died in November 1982. Brezhnev had ruled from 1964. Stalin had ruled for 26 years from 1927 to 1953.
Reagan always the satirist is said to have remarked: “How am I supposed to get any place with the Russians if they keep dying on me?”
There are two points to be made in this without mentioning the possibility of our geriatric leaders dying on us: one is about life presidency and the other is about seniority in the party as the determinant of who succeeds to the high office.
In the past few weeks there has been a lot going on in Zanu PF as the party prepares for its congress next month. All the party’s 10 provinces threw their weight behind President Robert Mugabe to remain the president and first secretary of the party virtually declaring him a life president.
Mugabe is 85 years old.
Endorsed by the party to the post of second secretary and vice-president is John Nkomo who is 75. Ostensibly the reason for Nkomo’s choice is that he is the most senior surviving member of the former PF-Zapu party.
The party has also endorsed the other vice-president Joice Mujuru for the simple reason that one of the vice-presidents has to be a woman and she happens to be the most senior woman in the party.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 30 years. Compare his legacy with that of Brezhnev. Historians say: “Brezhnev presided over the Soviet Union for longer than any man except Stalin.
He is criticised for a prolonged era of stagnation called the ‘Brezhnev Stagnation’, in which fundamental economic problems were ignored and the Soviet political system was allowed to decline. Intervention in Afghanistan, which was one of the major decisions of his career, also significantly undermined both the international standing and internal strength of the Soviet Union.”
Mugabe too ignored fundamental economic problems hence all sectors of the economy declined from the mid-1990s until they collapsed almost totally in 2008. The Zanu PF political system disintegrated with the party torn apart by factionalism due to political patronage.
For Brezhnev’s intervention in Afghanistan substitute Mugabe’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the suicidal way he carried out the land redistribution programme. Historians will also talk of the “Mugabe Stagnation” which began in the early 1990s and continues.
The fundamental point is Zanu PF as a party is overly aware of this stagnation but as they go to congress to choose the people who will lead the party for the next five years, they have chosen to perpetuate the stagnation. By using seniority in the party as the yardstick for selecting leaders they voted for continuity rather than change.
As Zanu PF national chairman for the past five years, Nkomo is co-author of the stasis Zimbabwe has experienced; the same is true of Mujuru who has been vice-president in the years in question. Some would say the coming in of Simon Khaya Moyo into the presidium is a breath of fresh air but, far from it, as ambassador to South Africa he has been the most vocal defender of some of Zanu PF’s most wayward policies.
If Zanu PF was not going to be a critical part of the process of governing Zimbabwe in the immediate-to-near future the goings on in the party would not warrant comment. Unfortunately we cannot wish away this moribund establishment so we have every reason to worry.
Andropov took over from Brezhnev for no other reason but that he was very senior in the party. The Washing Post’s correspondent in the Soviet Union David Remnick described him as “profoundly corrupt, a beast”. He is also said to have been ruthless against dissent while he was head of the KGB.
We know for sure that in the upper echelons of the Zanu PF power matrix there are buccaneering beasts who, in one way or another, have been linked to every major scandal to happen in Zimbabwe since Independence, whether it’s Willowgate, VIP Housing and War Victims Compensation scandals or diamonds smuggling. These beasts have also been ruthless with dissent: remember the violence of all the national and presidential elections since 2000. These beasts will continue to preside over our country’s fate for some time!
Nature obliged the Russians by allowing Andropov only 15 months in office; the stasis and corruption however continued under his successor Konstantin Chernenko who died anonymously after only 13 months in office. A historian wrote of him: “After the death of a Soviet leader it was customary for his successors to open his safe and look in it. When Gorbachev had Chernenko’s safe opened, it was found to contain a small folder of personal papers and several large bundles of money; money was also found in his desk.”
Zanu PF’s youth policy is dubious: the face of the youth in the party is probably Saviour Kasukuwere who uncannily resembles ANCYL president Julius Malema both physically and in his utterances; hardly inspiring!
Zanu PF’s readmission of that shrewd conriver Jonathan Moyo, for some unknown but obviously dark purpose, bodes ill for a new Zimbabwean leadership.