PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has proved to be a master of double-speak and a shrewd politician who manipulates political and economic situations to cling onto power at all costs despite strong internal and external opposition.
While factionalism is generally viewed as a threat to the cohesion and interests of any political party, Mugabe has time and again deftly played the two known Zanu PF factions against each other while he remains in power.
The two factions at each other’s throats to succeed Mugabe are allegedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In some cases, Mugabe has been able to divide senior party members, relegating them to the provinces to concentrate on “grass root support”.
This has led to the formation of sub-factions pitting Psychomotor minister Josiah Hungwe and Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire in Masvingo, Transport minister Obert Mpofu and national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo in Matabeleland region, and Minister for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa and Women’s Affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri in Manicaland.
Mugabe has also managed to give the impression he is indispensable to Zanu PF’s present and future by claiming should he step aside, the party was likely to implode due to the ructions caused by factional interests.
Because of the lack of a clear succession plan and fear of reprisals, contenders for leadership of the party can only campaign clandestinely, making it difficult for them to woo support.
Mugabe’s strategy has served him well in 33 years of uninterrupted rule.
Presently, the Mujuru faction appears to be enjoying the upper hand in the rollercoaster covert campaign to succeed Mugabe after reportedly influencing the appointment of members of her faction to key ministerial posts in government. Her faction holds powerful portfolios like Defence, Energy, State Security and Industry, while the Mnangagwa faction only managed to get the Finance and Justice ministries.
The Mujuru faction would have consolidated its power base even further had its plans to turn the party’s annual conference scheduled for December in Chinhoyi into an extraordinary congress not been thwarted.
The congress would also have enabled the Mujuru team to position itself for an eventual takeover when Mugabe steps down by ensuring her close lieutenants, Khaya Moyo and Mutasa, were catapulted to the vice-presidency and party national chairmanship respectively.
However, Mugabe pulled the rug from under Mujuru’s feet, arguing there was no justifiable reason for an early congress.
High level sources said Mujuru had done her groundwork to ensure the Politburo agreed to an extraordinary congress, but other Zanu-PF bigwigs including Mugabe dismissed the idea.
Mujuru, who in 2004 seemed like a shoe-in to succeed Mugabe, fell out of favour when it became public that her late husband, retired army general Solomon Mujuru’s camp wanted Mugabe to retire before the 2008 elections.
Analysts also claim while Mugabe’s tactics have helped him to hold on to power, they have far-reaching implications on the country and the party once he steps down.
For instance, in 2008 Zanu PF lost parliamentary and presidential elections for the first time to Tsvangirai’s MDC largely as a result of internal fighting which resulted in a revolt against Mugabe dubbed bhora musango.
This was largely precipitated by Mugabe’s failure to address the succession issue.
Should Mugabe make his departure before the Zanu PF succession puzzle has been resolved, the resultant jostling for his post could destabilise the country.
However, in the July 31 elections in which Zanu PF swept to a landslide victory amid opposition allegations of systematic rigging, Mugabe cunningly used the “bhora musango” debacle to his advantage, insisting the party risked embarrassment at the polls if the strategy was repeated.
Professor Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said Mugabe has mastered Machiavellian skills which he employs in order to survive as leader of Zanu PF and Zimbabwe.
“Mugabe is a skilful strategist who converts adversity into opportunities,” said Masunungure. “He has perfected Machiavellian tactics and understands power politics as he takes his opponents (both internal and external) by surprise in the manner of a military attack. “He has converted factionalism into a resource which he manipulates to shrug off any challenge on his post.”
In 2012, Mnangagwa’s attempt to strengthen his chances of eventually landing the presidency suffered a huge knock after Mujuru and hardliners in the party aligned to the powerful Joint Operations Command influenced Mugabe to disband District Co-ordinating Committees (DCCs).
The disbandment of DCCs came amid intense infighting in the districts, as the tussling between the two main factions fighting for control of strategic party structures to pave way for their respective candidates to take over from Mugabe intensified.
Mugabe justified his move saying: “We have experienced quite a lot of commotion, fighting for places in regard to positions in the DCCs and therefore we have been looking at what is happening and we discussed that in the Politburo. We are worried the DCC has become a weapon used to divide the party.”
Masunungure also said Mugabe has kept even his close allies in the politburo guessing as to his next move, and even surprised them by proclaiming the July 31 election date without consulting them.
Mugabe also has a record of somersaulting on economic and policy issues. During the 1980s he strongly resisted pressure from the late Vice-President and Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo to redistribute land, saying his hands were tied by the Lancaster House constitution.
However in 2000, in an effort to shrug off robust opposition from the then newly-formed MDC he launched a controversial and violent land reform programme which dispossessed thousands of white commercial farmers of productive farmland in what he said was a move to resettle landless blacks and address historical injustices.
Another political analyst Jabusile Shumba who is policy and governance programme manager at the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe said Mugabe is multifaceted and changes colours to suit his objectives.
“Mugabe is an excellent performer and that has always been his modus operandi since the formation of Zanu PF in 1963. He changes colour when it suits him and this has helped him to keep his grip on power,”Shumba said.
“He has thrived on violence and factionalism to maintain his firm hold on power. On the ground, he might appear to be castigating it, but the reality is that he has used violence to hold on to his post.”
Days before the July 31 date was proclaimed MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai thought he had the power to determine the elections date, saying Mugabe had not yet implemented the Sadc elections roadmap.
Tsvangirai declared he “held the keys to the elections” since Mugabe was under pressure from the regional bloc to implement all the necessary reforms before the polls. But Mugabe fast-tracked changes to electoral laws, and unilaterally proclaimed July 31 as the elections date, taking the nation by surprise.
Mugabe even caught the politburo unawares by using the presidential powers to unilaterally declare the date. This followed a constitutional court application for polls to be held by July 31.
“Mugabe has managed to keep in check voices and actions that seem to threaten his hold on power.
“He has kept a close eye on Mujuru and Mnangagwa and managed to suppress their ambitions,” Masunungure said.