THE famous phrase “much ado about nothing”, which means a big fuss over nothing of importance, is taken from the great British playwright William Shakespeare’s 16th century comedy with the same title.
Report By Brian Chitemba
If there is any event at the moment this phrase can be aptly applied to, it’s the forthcoming Zanu PF annual conference slated for December 4-9 in Gweru where little of substance is expected to emerge, except delegates falling over each other, as has become the norm, to endorse President Robert Mugabe as the party’s candidate for presidential election next year.
Zanu PF conferences are usually characterised by long and boring speeches, droning populist rhetoric, repetitive and monotonous slogans, praise-singing and hero-worshipping of Mugabe and predictable feel-good resolutions.
Zanu PF officials always sound like a broken record at their party’s conferences. There is nothing to suggest things will be any different next week.
Mugabe kick-started preparations for the conference and election campaign by rolling out the controversial US$20 million presidential agricultural input scheme at the party’s headquarters in Harare early this month, before extending it to all provinces amid allegations of brazen vote-buying. Unfazed by widespread criticism of its vote-buying activities, the party insists the campaign is for Zanu PF supporters only so non-members have no business feeling aggrieved by the partisan handouts.
Zanu PF has also splashed out US$14 million on 500 campaign vehicles, refusing to reveal the source of its funding but suspicions abound that with reports of US$2 billion having gone missing from Chiadzwa diamond proceeds the party has benefited from looting the gem revenues.
While there has been growing discontent within the Zanu PF ranks over Mugabe’s continued leadership and rule, which has bred smoldering divisions and factionalism, no one within the party has mustered the courage to openly challenge him even if he has been at the helm since 1977, while ruling the country since 1980.
Mugabe is seeking re-election for yet another five-year term despite his advanced age and deteriorating health. He turns 89 in February next year and another term would see him rule until 94.
Zanu PF insiders say some politburo members are reluctant to give Mugabe a new term but none of them can pluck up to face him. As a dress rehearsal to the conference, the party’s 10 provinces jostled to endorse Mugabe’s presidential candidature, insisting he remained the only viable alternative despite his self-evident record of failure.
While the Zanu PF conference should deliberate on the contentious constitution-making process, the referendum and state of the economy, among other issues, this is unlikely to take centre stage as indigenisation and sloganeering are bound to dominate proceedings.
Zanu PF conferences have for a long time been used as platforms by party activists to pay homage to Mugabe despite his disastrous reign and, more recently, to attack the West and opposition, instead of deliberating on issues and policies that would pull the country out of its extended economic morass.
They are often a platform for negative engagements which do not provide solutions to the country’s multifaceted problems.
Zanu PF officials and delegates always ignore calls from various quarters for leadership renewal, insisting as long as Mugabe is alive his position is not up for challenge and this continuously reduce the conferences to mere endorsement exercises of his failed rule.
Even Zanu PF’s close ally, the Communist Party of China, which recently elected new leaders for the next 10 years, has urged the party to regularly change its leadership to remain relevant.
The message given to Zanu PF chairpersons who recently visited Beijing was simple: change or die.
However, if there is one that is guaranteed about the party conference and congress next year it is that Mugabe will be retained as leader. Change will be frowned upon and justifications to keep geriatrics in charge wheeled out, no matter how unconvincing.
Political analyst and Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya says Zimbabwe is a “pseudo-democracy” because of Zanu PF internal processes and its practices, including through conferences and congress, do not advance democratic values but promote authoritarianism.
Ruhanya said history has taught Zimbabweans that the annual Zanu PF conferences were “useless gatherings” as nothing of value at policy and political levels came out from there.
Although internecine factional fights within the party would probably be criticised at the conference, Ruhanya said this would not change anything as there were no provisions for alternative leadership to Mugabe through democratic internal processes. The ambitious but cowardly faction leaders were instead likely to be louder than others in their support of Mugabe, he said.
Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe public policy and governance manager Jabusile Shumba said the Zanu PF conference would once more be a “talk-shop” where thorny issues were ducked in preference for pro-Mugabe songs and dances.
He however said political stakes were high and factional fights were likely to be waged, mostly covertly, over rules for primary elections as each faction seeks to gain advantage over the other, a situation which fits Mugabe’s divide-and-rule strategy which has largely kept in charge while factional leaders slugged it out against each other.
Bulawayo-based political commentator Godwin Phiri said the conference would be a “non-event”. “We should not expect anything dramatic,” said Phiri. “Zanu PF is losing an opportunity to reform and become more relevant in the long term. The party’s future is so intricately tied to that of Mugabe and his demise or departure might spell the end of the party. In that regard, the conference will just be full of hot air.”
However, Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo says the conference would rejuvenate the party ahead of the polls expected next year, although analysts insist it would be a damp squib.