HomeOpinionTsholotsho saga still haunts Zanu PF

Tsholotsho saga still haunts Zanu PF

In this instalment of his article on the Zanu PF constitution and succession, Derek Matyszak argues that the Tsholotsho saga still affects Zanu PF’s internal politics. He further argues that while Zanu PF is structured to allow democracy in choosing successors to the presidium,   “guided democracy” actually prevails. Report by Derek Matyszak, Constitutional expert and researcher

The Women’s League duly met on November 22 2004, and formally declared Joice Mujuru to be their choice as the woman to succeed the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda, in accordance with the instruction from the politburo.

The direction of the wind was clear. Six out of the 10 provinces thereafter duly nominated Mujuru as their candidate. And the December 6 congress that year obediently “elected” Mujuru as vice president.

Mugabe, apparently euphoric at his successful exercise of political muscle, imprudently stated to the gathering: “When you choose her as a vice president, you don’t want her to remain in that chair do you?”

Given what transpired, the suggestion that Mujuru had been “chosen” by congress was hardly accurate. Mugabe moved swiftly against those who had sought to defy his choice of anointed appointee. The Tuesday before the weekend congress, the politburo “suspended” the six provincial chairmen and Jabulani Sibanda, head of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, who had been present in Tsholotsho. It was the first of several axings.

On December 17 2004, Mugabe announced a new and expanded politburo of 51 members. Jonathan Moyo was removed from the politburo (and subsequently the party, and also as Minister of Information).


Emmerson Mnangagwa was deposed as secretary for administration — effectively the party’s secretary-general and fifth in the party hierarchy — and replaced by Didymus Mutasa. He was given the post of secretary for legal affairs (twelfth in the politburo hierarchy), displacing Chinamasa who was removed from the politburo.

Mugabe explained the measures as follows: “Those who were suspended will remain suspended and will be disciplined by the national chairman, while their vacancies will be filled in the future …

“There is everything wrong when chairpersons of the party go and meet secretly without the knowledge of the leadership of the party, and worse still, what would they be discussing there? There is no party run like that … When the war was fought, we fought as one on all fronts. We didn’t ask guerrillas where they came from, asi vana mafikizolo ndovaakuti uyu anobva kwakati? Uyu anobva kwakati? (but the newcomers are discriminating along tribal lines). They should know we are non-tribalists and non-regionalists.”

The Tsholotsho saga continues to reverberate through Zanu PF’s succession and internal politics. Several issues arising from the saga require comment for present purposes. Although Zanu PF has been structured in a manner which allows the choice of successors to the presidium to be extremely democratic, the actual process is best described as “guided democracy”, with Mugabe as the tiller man and the politburo as the crew.


The politburo had no power to amend the constitution to mandate a female vice-president or to change the composition of the provincial electoral colleges. That power lies with the central committee (subject to ratification by congress) and congress itself.

The congress nonetheless ratified the changes which had been unlawfully made by the politburo to accord with Mugabe’s intentions and strategy. The politburo also had no power to suspend the provincial chairpersons, and the national chairman no power to discipline them.
In the role of implementer of Mugabe’s policies, using procedures often outside the confines of the party constitution, the politburo has become enormously powerful since Tsholotsho.


Rather than the congress controlling the central committee, the central committee controlling the politburo and the politburo directing the presidium, the flow of power is in precisely the opposite direction. Zanu PF spokesman, Rugare Gumbo, has candidly stated that “the politburo is the policy-making body outside congress”.

The politburo thus has arrogated the power to itself to dismiss members of the PCC; to reject nominees to the central committee by the PCCs; barred individuals from contesting for the post of provincial chairperson; cancelled polls of party structures; and even gone so far (as will be seen) to claim the power to control and veto nominations for the presidium from the provinces.

None of these powers is vested in the politburo by the party’s constitution.

The Zanu PF-controlled state media presents Mugabe’s retention of the presidency as being the result of an unchallenged consensus within the party. Similarly, the overview of the Tsholotsho saga, outlined above, might tend to give the impression that after these events Mugabe was entirely secure within the party. This is not the case, and, at times, Mugabe’s hold on power even became more tenuous.

The confluence between the state and party presidium has been noted. A similar and extremely important conjunction exists with the appointment, by Mugabe, of members of the central committee to the politburo, and the appointment of the same individuals by Mugabe as ministers in government. That these powers allow Mugabe to control the politburo was plainly evident during the Tsholotsho saga, if they had not been before.

To deepen the well of largesse, and further strengthen his ability to exercise control over the party through the politburo, Mugabe (apparently unilaterally and unconstitutionally) increased the size of this body to 51 members.

Matyszak is a former University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, constitutional expert and researcher with the Research and Advocacy Unit.

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