The latest rout in a series of defeats for the presumably powerful Zanu PF faction, firmly establishes Mnangagwa as the most celebrated high-profile loser in the long-drawn-out but increasingly dynamic power struggle within the badly fractured party.
The move also leaves Mnangagwa’s prospects of succeeding President Robert Mugabe gloomy, while in the process creating fresh possibilities for a realignment of alliances and opportunities for new hopefuls in the succession race of the party.
Mnangagwa, a Zanu PF bigwig with strong liberation-struggle credentials and a fearsome reputation for ruthlessly crushing opponents, suffered humiliating defeats in national and party elections in 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2005. Mugabe, whom Mnangagwa now prefers to call “Supreme Leader” to reinforce his personality cult, invariably rescued him from the political wilderness following crushing downfalls.
Two weeks ago Mnangagwa steered clear of party nominations fearing another thrashing although it is common cause that he wanted to ascend in the pecking order to move away from the periphery and closer to the seat of power as Mugabe enters the twilight years of his long and chequered political career.
This left the rival faction led by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru with an opportunity to remain firmly ensconced at the commanding heights of the party. The two factions have been tearing away at each other since the late 1990s when the Mugabe succession debate started gathering serious momentum.
The Midlands province, Mnangagwa’s power base, was forced by events to nominate Mugabe, Joice Mujuru, John Nkomo and Simon Khaya Moyo for the Zanu PF presidium, abandoning its own list composed of Mugabe, Nkomo, Oppah Muchinguri, and Kembo Mohadi in the top four.
Smarting from another embarrassing defeat, Mnangagwa this week tried to limit the damage by claiming the humiliation his faction had endured — by having to endorse the Mujuru line-up after choosing to be the last province to do nominations due to failure of leadership — was much ado about nothing.
“We were the first province to sit down and endorse President Mugabe as the party’s supreme leader way before the nomination process was even called for,” Mnangagwa said.
“We sat down several months ago and agreed that President Mugabe was the supreme leader of the party and we made it public. Turning to the VP post that fell vacant after the death of Cde (Vice-President Joseph) Msika, as a province we wanted to get guidance from the Matabeleland provinces for obvious reasons and we followed the guidance they have given us. We have also done nominations for the central committee members in the most democratic way possible.”
Putting aside damage limitation, Mnangagwa conspicuously did not talk about Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s nomination. He just ignored it and in the process tried to avoid the painful fact that his province had been forced by events triggered by the Mujuru group to nominate his bitter rival.
His explanation that his province had to wait to take the lead from the Matabeleland provinces could not hold water because Masvingo, which was working hand-in-glove with Midlands, had already made its choices public by selecting Mugabe, Nkomo, Muchinguri and Mohadi who made up the real Mnangagwa faction line-up.
Masvingo hastily changed its decision of nominating Mugabe, Nkomo, Muchinguri and Mohadi after realising its faction’s strategy had collapsed and melted on the ground in the heat of battle, leaving behind many political casualties.
Stan Mudenge, a senior member of the Mnangagwa faction who warned Masvingo against proceeding with its plan to oust Mujuru without proper coordination on nomination day, and Lovemore Matuke, the provincial chair, also came out with a futile damage-control line, saying the faction’s attempt to depose Joice Mujuru was an “expression of democracy”.
Although observers agree that the Zanu PF nominations this time around showed a gradual shift from an authoritarian paradigm of fixing and directing of internal elections towards free democratic expression, the Mnangagwa camp seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge its political fiasco.
After the reluctant surrender by Masvingo and Midlands, the Mujuru camp galloped to a clean sweep — a victory of 10 out of 10 provinces. The latest defeat of the Mnangagwa group was worse than the 2004 one because the faction then managed to cling onto four provinces despite Mugabe’s ruthless intervention and enormous pressure on behalf of the Mujuru faction.
As usual in Zanu PF, regional and tribal designs were at play in the 2004 battle as was the case now.
The root causes of the power struggle and infighting in Zanu PF are many and varied. They include the race to succeed Mugabe, competition for economic resources, as well as regional and ethnic rivalry.
At the heart of the matter is the fight to gain power and resultantly an access to resources in order to consolidate and protect political, regional and ethnic interests, over and above class and individual accumulation of wealth by the plutocrats.
Political and ethnic rivalry, with no ideological or policy content, has always fuelled internal wrangling within Zanu PF since its formation in 1963. After Independence in 1980 this broadly extrapolated and morphed into institutionalised nepotism, political corruption and systematic pillaging of public resources in government run by a criminal and incompetent cabal which has now privatised the state for massive elite and personal enrichment.
Political corruption in Zimbabwe encompasses the abuse of public office and resources for private gain.
Winning the Zanu PF leadership is in the current scheme of things a major step towards seizing state power and gaining access to resources, although things have vastly changed since the emergence of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change as a major political force in 1999.
In fact, the biggest challenge for Mugabe’s prospective successors is no longer fighting off challenges from within but taking on Tsvangirai before gaining power. This now makes it doubly difficult for them to win the state presidency.
After being defeated in 2004 in the so-called Tsholotsho “coup”, the Mnangagwa faction had managed to close ranks and regroup to mount a challenge against the Mujuru camp but its disastrous comeback bid ended in a political calamity which is bound to damage and even ruin careers.