THIS week’s instalment looks at how President Robert Mugabe (pictured) and the Zanu PF politburo manipulated the party electoral processes to nominate individuals to the presidium in a report titled The Mortal Remains: Succession and the Zanu PF Body Politic, which was produced by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Research Advocacy Unit (Rau) though written by Derek Matyszak.
The report unpacks the unfolding Zanu PF power struggle Mugabe’s succession drama, focusing on the national and party constitutions, the movers and shakers and the internal dynamics attendant to the process.
The Zanu PF-controlled state media presents President Robert Mugabe’s retention of the presidency as being the result of an unchallenged consensus within Zanu PF.
Similarly, the overview of the Tsholotsho saga, outlined last week, might tend to give the impression that after these events, he was entirely secure within the party. This is not the case, and, at times, his hold on power has been tenuous.
The confluence between the state and party presidium has already been noted. A similar and extremely important conjunction exists with the appointment, by the President, of members of the central committee to the politburo, and the appointment of the same individuals as ministers.
When Mugabe’s power as state premier was increased through constitutional changes which saw him assume the post of President, rather than Prime Minister, in 1987, similar changes appear to have been echoed in the party constitution.
Possibly, to avoid the sidelining of favoured cadres as had been threatened in 1984, Mugabe was given the power to appoint the politburo from central committee members, and the post of secretary-general was abolished and the power of that position transferred to the President as “First Secretary”.
That these powers allow the President to control the politburo was plainly evident during the Tsholotsho saga, if they had not been before. The President further strengthened his ability to exercise control over the party through the politburo, by (apparently unilaterally and unconstitutionally) increasing the size of this body to 51 members.
These unconstitutional actions and the centralisation of power at the top echelons of the party hierarchy caused considerable disgruntlement in secretary for legal affairs Emmerson Mnangagwa’s camp at lower levels of the party structure.
It is significant that, despite the pressure brought to bear, only six provinces eventually endorsed Joice Mujuru, now Vice-President, as the nominee to be elected by the December congress of 2004.
Four provinces (Bulawayo, Matabeleland South, the Midlands and Masvingo) remained obdurate, also refusing to nominate John Nkomo (who would complete the Ndebele/PF Zapu balance) as national chairman, and persisting, in line with the Tsholotsho principles, to nominate Patrick Chinamasa (a Manyika) for this post.
The defiance from the Bulawayo provincial co-ordinating committee (PCC) was complete, with this province refusing even to nominate a woman as vice-president as the other rebellious provinces had done in accordance with the directive from the politburo.
They also refused to nominate several of Mugabe’s preferred candidates to the central committee. An angry Mugabe and members of the politburo exerted extreme pressure in a vain attempt to try to bring the Bulawayo PCC into line.
Further indications of insecurity within the party emerged in graphic fashion two years after the Tsholotsho saga. The saga, and Mugabe’s apparent anointment of Mujuru as the chosen successor to Simon Muzenda at the congress, led Mujuru to believe that her time was at hand and that Mugabe would not stand for election in 2008.
Indeed, the President had signalled that he did not wish to stand for election in 2008, but not in the manner that those seeking to occupy the presidency wished.
Nonetheless, he proposed the “harmonisation” of parliamentary and presidential elections. While there was general consensus within the country that elections be harmonised, the understanding was that the parliamentary election, due in 2010, would be brought forward to coincide with the presidential election, due in 2008, rather than the converse.
The President, however, perhaps aware of his diminishing support within the party as a candidate in 2008, sought, with the support of the securocrats, to postpone the Presidential election until parliamentary elections were due.
Although Mugabe’s plan to extend his term of office had been rebuffed by both the politburo and central committee, he presented the scheme to the Zanu PF national people’s conference held at Goromonzi in December 2006.
Following intensive lobbying by both the Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions, he found no takers for his proposal.
To avoid embarrassing Mugabe, the conference took the unprecedented step of not passing any resolutions and indicated that the suggestion had been referred to the PCCs.
In the wake of this humiliation, Mugabe sent emissaries to the provinces to gauge his support as party candidate for the earlier election which he would now have to contest in 2008.
Seven of the 10 provinces were opposed to his candidacy, with three uncommitted or fence-sitting.
Mugabe’s view that his defeat in Goromonzi was part of Mujuru’s bid for the presidency appears to have been consolidated following the publication of Edgar Tekere’s autobiography, A Lifetime of Struggle.
Mugabe claimed that Mujuru had plotted with Ibbotson Mandaza, the publisher of the book, to denigrate his role during the “liberation war” to further her presidential ambitions.
He launched a scathing attack on her during a February 2007 interview on the occasion of his 83rd birthday and stated:
“The Tekere/Mandaza issue, ah they are trying to campaign for Mujuru using the book … you can’t become a president by using a biography. Manje vairasa (they have lost the plot). They don’t realise they have done her more harm than good.”
To this, he added: “The way to any post in the party is through the people. It is not through n’angas (witch doctors). Others are using biographies. We do not take notice of that, but we move along the path, the people’s way.”
Further evidence of Mugabe’s insecurity over this period is manifest in his decision to convene an extraordinary congress at the end of 2007.
The main purpose of the extraordinary congress was to affirm Mugabe as the party presidential candidate for 2008, which, given that this is a routine duty of the national people’s conference, could hardly be said to justify the need to bring together the reported 10 000 delegates to the congress.
To the extent that Mugabe had been “elected” to the presidium by congress in 2004, and declared the party candidate for national elections by successive national people’s conferences, this move, if not outside the provisions of the Zanu PF constitution (and procedurally flawed), ought certainly to have been viewed as superfluous.
It seemingly had no purpose other than for Mugabe to counter those positioning themselves for his job.
The Zanu PF-controlled Herald newspaper sought to justify the congress by claiming, wrongly, that the Zanu PF’s constitution required an extraordinary congress to be held whenever the election for state president falls within a serving (Zanu PF) president’s term.
Since the central committee sets the agenda for any congress, and the approval of at least one-third would have been required to convene the congress, it is clear that Mugabe had the support of central committee members for this strategy.
Delegates appeared at the congress in T-shirts bearing slogans such as “We support President Mugabe 100%”, “The People’s Choice” and “Cde President Mugabe for 2008”.
To complement the objectives of the extraordinary congress, the previously disgraced (and still apparently suspended) Jabulani Sibanda organised “a Million-Man March” in support of Mugabe ahead of the congress. Although ostensibly a demonstration to show support for Mugabe, despite “Western powers’ opposition to his rule”, the real audience was obviously intended to be those within Zanu PF opposed to Mugabe’s candidacy.
Many of those opposed to Mugabe’s candidacy expressed their views through the ballot box in March 2008.
In what was called Operation Bhora Musango (ball in the bush, or putting the ball out of play), many Zanu PF MPs were said to have encouraged their constituents to vote for Zanu PF in the parliamentary elections, but to withhold their vote from Mugabe in the presidential race.
Mugabe is said to have blamed these “divisions” in the party for his defeat.
Ahead of the 2013 elections, however, ironically precisely because of Mugabe’s age when considered against constitutional configurations, as noted at the outset of this article, his position and candidacy was supported by all factions, thus lending him a veneer of security and widespread support.
The congress of 2009
These fissures and dynamics were all apparent in the Zanu PF congress of December 2009, preceded once again by the death of a vice-president, this time Joseph Msika, in August of that year.
Mugabe and the politburo initially sought to control the succession process by directing that only the three Matabeleland provinces should submit nominations for the vacant position of “Zapu” Vice-President.
While this may have satisfied that Ndebele sector within Zanu PF still smarting at the imposition of the Zapu (but Zezuru), Msika, the division around the contentious issue of reserving two posts in the presidium for Zapu members emerged once more. Violence broke out during the nomination process at some PCCs.
Of the three, only the recently “purged” Bulawayo province agreed to nominate Mugabe’s preferred candidate, John Nkomo, for the post. The politburo was compelled to open up the process to all 10 provinces. This allowed the divisions that had characterised the Tsholotsho saga to re-emerge.
It was also a graphic illustration of further attempts at guided democracy which had characterised the elections to the presidium at the 2004 congress.
Midlands and Masvingo declined to immediately endorse the presidium preferred by the politburo, with Mugabe and Mujuru retaining their posts and Nkomo and Simon Khaya Moyo (a Ndebele) as Vice-President and national chairman (to replace the elevated Nkomo) respectively.
Masvingo once again showed further recalcitrance by proposing that Oppah Muchinguri (a Manyika) replace Mujuru as Vice-President, but accepting the nominations of Nkomo and Kembo Mohadi (from Matabeleland South, and Venda rather than Ndebele) as national chairman. The Manicaland and Mashonaland Central PCCs also defied the politburo by advancing Didymus Mutasa (a Manyika) as national chairman.
On account of these disputes, and nervous of possible attempts to nominate alternate candidates from the floor, the President summoned all PCC chairpersons to Harare in an attempt to “whip them into line” before the congress. Masvingo and Mashonaland Central bowed to the political pressure and altered their nominations to reflect those of the other provinces.
Manicaland stood its ground, refusing to rescind the nomination of Mutasa for the post of national chairman.
The positions of the provinces were informed by intense lobbying and horse-trading behind the scenes. The Mujuru-faction initially wanted to have Mugabe, Mujuru, Naison Ndlovu and Obert Mpofu for president, co-vice-presidents, and party chair respectively.
Mnangagwa had reportedly agreed to support Nkomo for the vice-presidency on the understanding he would support Mnangagwa as party chairman, abandoning the precedent that this should be a Zapu post. Nkomo also indicated to Mutasa that he would not protest a non-Zapu incumbent in the position, one that Mutasa coveted.
The Mujuru line-up faced strong resistance from the provinces possibly on account of the fact that the Zapu caucus had officially proposed Nkomo and Khaya Moyo. Accordingly, the Mujuru faction shifted allegiance to Nkomo before settling on Khaya Moyo as vice-president.
Mnangagwa decided that he had insufficient support to secure the post of party chairman, and deferred to Mohadi, leaving the Mnangagwa line-up with Muchinguri and Nkomo for the remainder of the presidium.
As this quicksilver pool of allegiances was mutating, some of the provinces withheld their votes waiting to see which way the wind was blowing in order to avoid being isolated. Thus, an interplay of political horse-trading, political pressure from the politburo and party factions and actual support within the provinces, resulted in single nominations for each post-forwarded to congress to be “elected”.
The manner in which Nkomo and Khaya Moyo attained their positions within the presidium was so far removed from the processes established by the party constitution that it led to considerable cynicism, with some describing the process as a mere “charade”.
Following the death of Nkomo in January 2013, Mugabe has once again been content to wait until congress before filling the post, even though the party constitution requires that there be two vice-presidents. Similar dynamics are thus expected to play out at the congress in December.
If precedent is followed, as is likely, Khaya Moyo will be elevated to the vice-presidency and the real battle will be for party chairman.
– To be continued next week.