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Zanu PF Congress’ Historical and Political Significance

FOR an event which had become pretty routine ever since the first such in 1984 in post-independent Zimbabwe, the Zanu PF People’s Congress this year was bound to be of particular historical and political significance, for both the party itself and the nation generally.

Here, we highlight only three observations in support of this assertion.

Firstly, this year’s congress underlines the inevitability of the transition, from the Mugabe era to the next dispensation which, with the benefit of brief historical hindsight, has been unfolding since 1999.

The Zanu PF Congress that year laid the foundation for what has now emerged as the new power bloc within the party, ready to succeed Mugabe and likely to forge a working relationship with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).  Remember, too, that it was in 1999 that the MDC launched itself and has since become an integral part of Zimbabwe’s political life.

Of course, many will argue that this has been an endless transition, and might even caution against misplaced optimism.

For, the 2004 Congress also raised similar expectations until Mugabe, almost single-handedly, scuttled the succession hopes of Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, on the back of that television interview on the occasion of his birthday in 2007, and the subsequent Zanu PF politburo meeting of March 31 in the same year.

However, as the African saying goes, hapana chisingapere  (everything and everyone has its/his life-span!). In this regard, Zanu PF as a whole will have been acutely aware of this historical reality; more so, the architects of the leadership slate that took form weeks in advance of the congress.  So, there would appear to be little or nothing Mugabe could have done to stop the process this time around.

Indeed, it would be in the best interest of both his party and himself, in particular, to assist in the smooth transition from himself to the younger Mujuru.

As has already been intimated, this is a process that might not be enough to save Zanu PF from the political demise caused by Mugabe having overstayed his welcome, but it might certainly compel the new party leadership to come to terms with the political realities on the ground, carve out an arrangement with Tsvangirai and the MDC, and thereby ensure their own reproduction as a class of people with so much material wealth to savour and safeguard. I will return to this theme shortly.

Second, the recent Zanu PF Congress places in high political profile the enduring legacy of Zanla  (and related elements of Zipra), as the real anchor of power in Zimbabwe’s post-independence history.

There is nothing unusual about this given the history of post-liberation politics and their former guerrilla armies: from Angola to Mozambique, and now Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, there has been this persistent claim that those who fought for liberation are also those who should inherit power, sine die.

So what has been caricatured as the “Mujuru faction” in Zimbabwean politics is, in reality, the subtle but formidable alliance of the former guerrilla generals across Zanu PF and Zipra, as expressed, in real power terms, in the form of the leadership of those key sectors of the state apparatus, namely the army, police, prisons and the Central Intelligence Organisation.

And whichever way one looks at the power prism of Zimbabwe, Solomon Mujuru is there to be seen; and the mistake is to exaggerate the perceived political differences between Solomon Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa because, when push comes to shove, these gentlemen belong to the same power bloc that is anchored in the former guerrilla armies of Zanu PF and PF Zapu.

Recall how Mnangagwa denied having been the architect of the “Tsholotsho Rebellion” in 2004; it was, he implied, the act of those  “Young Turks” (including Jonathan Moyo, of course) whom Mugabe had elevated to politburo status in 2000, the same clique that tried in vain to overlook and overtake the very securocrats of whom Mujuru and Mnangagwa are part. In this regard, Dumiso Dabengwa is firmly within that bloc, as time will soon reveal.

But were it a sheer expression of military power, such a power bloc might have been as crude as its Angolan counterpart, the MPLA, which has virtually hegemonised the entire society.

Yet, it is fair to conclude that it has been this securocracy without which the Zimbabwean state might have foundered over the last decade.  No doubt, without the violence that some sections of this securocracy meted out — and continue to threaten — on a population ever since the post-election period to the present, there could already have been another political dispensation in Zimbabwe.  So, how much more proof is needed that securocracy is the very centre and anchor of power in Zimbabwe?

The state has been their theatre of material dreams, initially on the back of dubious activities in relation to military supplies and contracts; but, gradually, appearing to gain a degree of capitalist legitimacy, as they accessed the formal economy, the commercial banks, not to mention their avid participation in the primitive accumulation associated with both land reform and Gideon Gono’s gravy train.

Whatever the case, it is inconceivable that our gentlemen (and ladies) of the securocracy could have emerged so conspicuously wealthy on the strength of mere civil service “salaries and wages”.

As a class with so much to savour and safeguard, the securocrats have developed threads of relationships with members of the emergent middle and comprador classes a good number of whom have thereby thrived in relation to, and under the protection of, these key elements in Zimbabwean society.

However, it is in the political realm that our securocrats appear to have triumphed most, as the recent Zanu PF congress will confirm; and, already, they are the caretakers of the unfolding dispensation that began with the Global Political Agreement.

By now, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his team in the inclusive government will have realised just how indispensable the securocrats are in Zimbabwean political life, and likewise to his own security as an integral part of the state. I return to this theme shortly.

Clearly, this is an argument that runs in the face of those for whom political life in Zimbabwe can be understood only in terms of “tribes” and ethnic alliances.

Remember, that seminal piece by the late Masipula Sithole, Struggles Within-the-Struggle (1977). Well, one Basil Nyabadza was singing a similar tune last week, albeit bereft of neither substance nor historical coherence.

The point is that neither Nyabadza nor Didymus Mutasa, in whose cause Nyabadza resigned as chairman of “Zanu PF Manicaland”, qualifies as representatives of the “Manyika people”. To begin with, Zanu PF has been largely rejected by the same people, as the last election demonstrated; and evidence within Zanu PF itself blames Mutasa’s sins of omission and commission as having been responsible for the party’s defeat in the Makoni/Rusape districts.

Therefore, it is not true that people vote tribally, even if the latter appears to coincide with other equally important factors and political judgments.

Well, I witnessed the Manyika reject their own would-be son in last year’s presidential election: in the heart of Sakubva itself, at Sakubva Stadium, Simba Makoni attracted no more than 3 000 people to his campaign rally in March 2008 and on the next day, Morgan Tsvangirai, a supposedly non-Manyika and would-be Karanga, drew more than 20 000 at the same venue.

The message was clear: the “Manyika people” would have nothing to do with anything even remotely associated with Mugabe’s Zanu PF: and had hoped that the vote for Tsvangirai and the MDC would bury the former party of liberation, once and for all.

The Manyika question in Zimbabwean politics is more complex than Mutasa and Nyabadza would have us believe.  For a province which, because of geographical proximity to the guerrilla bases in Mozambique, was the virtual cradle of the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF in particular should be asking itself why Manicaland has turned its back on the former party of liberation. Not until the ghosts of the Chitepos and Mataures have been appeased will an answer emerge.

For, is it by coincidence or design that Mugabe had surrounded himself with Manyika individuals who have no liberation credentials whilst conversely marginalising those, like Mike Nyambuya, who have? And what about the tokenism associated with Morton Malianga’s return to the Zanu PF central committee when almost all the founding fathers of modern Zimbabwe have been relegated to the dustbin of history by Mugabe?

Lastly, the recent Zanu PF congress might therefore mark the foundation of this unfolding dispensation.

This is because the just-ended congress represents the survival (so far) and triumph (for the time being) of the securocrats under the symbolic leadership of Solomon Mujuru in particular. Some would argue that even the Mugabe era — and especially Mugabe himself — has been buttressed by the securocrats, with the latter increasingly occupying the centre of power while the head of state became correspondingly nominal.

As I have argued in my introduction to Edgar Tekere’s A Lifetime Of Struggle, the civilian leadership of Zanu PF has always been an appendage of the military wing, from those days of Josiah Tongogara, to these of Solomon Mujuru.

Mandaza is an academic and politician.


By Ibbo Mandaza

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