IF former Zanu PF stalwart Enos Nkala had been alive today and witnessed last week’s passing of South Africa’s founding president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, his worst fears would have been confirmed that dusk was falling on an era of the old generation of nationalists who brought independence to African countries.
Speaking exclusively to the Zimbabwe Independent last December on the eve of Zanu PF’s annual conference in Gweru, Nkala, who was a former Zanu PF treasurer-general and founder member, expressed fear President Robert Mugabe no longer had anyone to restrain him following the death of an impressive cast of nationalists that launched the party in the same city in 1964.
Nkala wistfully recalled how that inaugural party congress had many luminaries including the likes of Ndabaningi Sithole, Leopold Takawira, Herbert Chitepo, Henry Hamadziripi, Trynos Makombe, Simon Muzenda, Eddison Zvobgo and vibrant youths like Edgar Tekere who have all since passed on, leaving Mugabe virtually the last man standing.
“Many of the founding leaders have died,” said Nkala. “Muzenda is dead, Makombe is dead, as well as Zvobgo, Tekere and (Noel) Mukono, among others, leaving Mugabe as the sole survivor with Zanu PF now tucked firmly in his pocket.”
But Mandela’s passing is a much bigger event, according to academic and political analyst Ibbo Mandaza, as “it also marks, albeit symbolically, the virtual end of the African nationalism era whose enduring legacy has been the political emancipation of Africa from European and white settler colonialism”.
Even Yoweri Museveni, who came to power in Uganda in 1986 six years after Mugabe achieved a similar feat in Zimbabwe, is now talking about retiring because he realises that time is up for the older generation of African leaders.
“I’m going home, I didn’t realise just how the world has changed till I went to South Africa,” said Museveni to shocked members of his inner cabinet, adding that “I have travelled a lot in Africa and abroad, I do not want Uganda to be like our neighbour with retired presidents so old they can no longer run a kilometre.”
Analysts say, save for former Zambian and Namibian presidents Kenneth Kaunda and Sam Nujoma who are still alive, Mugabe is now alone, straddling regional politics with virtually no one to restrain him at home and abroad.
As reported last week in this paper, Mandela was one of those leaders who refused to accept Mugabe’s attempts to unilaterally impose his will on Sadc especially when it came to the control of the Organ on Defence and Security, as well as armed intervention in regional conflicts like the 1997 Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) war and on Angola.
In attempting to restrain Mugabe, Mandela was following on the example of contemporary nationalists including Kaunda and former Mozambican and Tanzanian presidents Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere respectively who sternly warned Mugabe against pulling out of the 1979 Lancaster House talks which produced a compromise settlement leading to Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980.
However, events over the past decade have shown that the current crop of Sadc leaders, who succeeded the likes of Mandela and former Botswana president Ketumile Masire, are generally not in the same mould of old-school nationalists with Mugabe and are incapable of handling him.
According to political analyst Trevor Maisiri, “Mugabe has been in Sadc long enough to understand the mechanics of the regional body. In fact, he and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola remain the longest serving leaders of the regional bloc. President Mugabe understands the sensitivities and pressure points of Sadc as well as its Achilles tendon.”
Mugabe certainly exploited the regional bloc’s Achilles heel by successfully pushing Sadc to suspend the Sadc Tribunal after it ruled in 2007 and 2008 that the Zimbabwe government’s seizure of the farm owned by white farmer Mike Campbell without compensation was racist and unlawful and had violated the Sadc Treaty because he had been denied recourse to Zimbabwe’s courts.
This year, Mugabe scored his biggest victory over Sadc when he successfully pushed for elections on July 31 which he won resoundingly despite demands that Zimbabwe should met the regional body’s guidelines for credible elections.
Mugabe went so far as threatening to withdraw Zimbabwe from Sadc and even described the spokesperson for the Sadc-appointed facilitation team, Lindiwe Zulu, as a “street woman”.
“Sadc has no power. Let it be known that we are in Sadc voluntarily.
If Sadc decides to do stupid things, we can pull out. For now we have a Sadc that has good sense. Although from some quotas there was a stupid, idiotic woman saying elections cannot be held by July 31.
Did such person ever think as an independent country we would take such utterances which were stupid and idiotic?”
Brow-beaten and cowed into submission, Sadc leaders subsequently endorsed Mugabe’s victory despite allegations of disenfranchisement of voters and rigging.
“Mugabe has a free reign where he will not be challenged by any of the leaders in Sadc,” said another analyst Godwin Phiri. “The readiness to accept the July (elections) results and his pending elevation to the chair of Sadc next year shows the region will not be discussing Zimbabwe again.”
Brian Raftopoulos, a senior research mentor at the University of Western Cape, said just as in Zimbabwe, there are many in Sadc who have great respect for Mugabe and defer to his authority.
“His strength lies in the consensus that exists around the liberation struggle and that solidarity will continue for a while.”
However, Raftopolous adds that Mugabe’s preponderance will be tested by “new challenges that will emerge locally and regionally on the political and economic fronts”.
“There will be new economic realities. Opposition leaders will also rise in regional states. Locally, Zanu PF is already facing challenges dealing with economic issues. Such dynamics will begin to challenge his position both locally and regionally,” he said.
But for now Mugabe remains the last man standing and seemingly untouchable.