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Purges reign supreme in Zim politics

PURGES reign supreme as Zimbabwe’s main political parties’ internal processes are characterised by factionalism and power struggles which have triggered a wave of dismissals and removals.

Elias Mambo

The processes — both in Zanu PF and the MDC-T which point to the death of internal democracy — have triggered widespread disillusionment about the role of political parties in building and promoting democracy in Zimbabwe.

Compounding matters is the backdrop of chaos surrounding the build-up to the two main parties’ elective congresses.

Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T held its low-key congress last month which passed largely unnoticed, while ruling party Zanu PF is trudging towards its December congress amid bedlam as mudslinging and insults take centre.

During the build up to its congress, embattled Tsvangirai booted out eight provincial chairpersons perceived to be opposed to his continued party presidency.

Hardly for the first time, elections to choose provincial leadership structures in the MDC-T prior to congress were marred by allegations of vote-rigging — a recurring theme in the country’s intra-party and national polls. Such allegations were particularly rife in Manicaland, Masvingo and Bulawayo.

Similarly but on a larger scale, with just over a week to go to Zanu PF’s congress, chaos reigns in the party as President Robert Mugabe leads from the front to purge rivals in a bid to oust his deputy, Vice-President Joice Mujuru.

In the past few weeks Zanu PF has so far removed nine provincial chairpersons and several provincial Women’s League chairs aligned to the Mujuru faction.

Chairpersons Callisto Gwanetsa (Masvingo), Callistus Ndlovu (Bulawayo), Amos Midzi (Harare), Temba Mliswa (Mashonaland West), Jason Machaya (Midlands), Andrew Langa (Matabeleland South), John Mvundura (Manicaland), Luke Mushore (Mashonaland Central) and Ray Kaukonde (Mashonaland East) have all been booted out ahead of the crucial December congress. War Veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda was expelled by the politburo for complaining about Mugabe’s “bedroom coup” to thwart Mujuru.

What is happening in Zanu PF is reminiscent of the 2004 pre-congress episode in which Mugabe purged Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allies, including suspending six provincial chairpersons and, ironically including Sibanda, in a bid to impose Mujuru as vice-president through a constitutional coup under the guise of gender equity.

Mnangagwa and his allies were accused of plotting a “palace coup” against Mugabe.

Mugabe has always flushed out those he deems to be political rivals, especially those who seem to be challenging his party leadership. This tactic dates back to the liberation struggle, and is primarily his means of maintaining grip on power. It involves divide-and-rule tactics and ruthless repression.

Suspended party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, the only surviving member of Zanu’s Dare reChimurenga (liberation war council) which planned and directed the liberation struggle while Mugabe and other leaders like Ndabaningi Sithole were incarcerated, is the president’s latest high-profile victim after he was summarily suspended from the party for five years, allegedly for plotting a coup against Mugabe (90).

But the real reason for the suspension, occasionally but unwittingly revealed by Mugabe’s sympathisers, is because he dared raise the taboo succession issue when he insisted the party should come up with a succession plan at the congress.

Gumbo, together with a group of war liberators referred to as Vashandi, was arrested and imprisoned in Mozambique in 1978 during the liberation struggle for refusing to accept Mugabe’s leadership. He was released in 1979 on the insistence of the British government ahead of the country’s watershed polls in 1980.

After Mugabe’s landslide victory in 1980, Gumbo was frozen out and remained in the political wilderness for many years until the turn of the millennium, when he was given ministerial positions.

Firebrand politician Edgar Tekere and former politburo member Eddison Zvobgo, among others, also met the same fate after falling out with Mugabe in post-Independence Zimbabwe.

It is widely believed the relationship between wartime allies Mugabe and Zvobgo fast deteriorated when Zvobgo openly declared his presidential ambitions. Mugabe, sources have said, also believed that Zvobgo was behind the audacious call made in parliament by Dzikamai Mavhaire urging on him to step down in 1998.

A relative was in 2004 quoted as saying: “Mugabe’s feelings towards Zvobgo were a mixture of fear and hatred. He feared Zvobgo was scheming against him and he never forgave him for that. The president did not even visit Zvobgo during all his illness, even when it became clear that Zvobgo’s sickness was worsening. But Zvobgo was not surprised because he knew Mugabe’s feelings towards him.”

Zvobgo, who ironically as Justice minister masterminded Mugabe’s imperial executive presidency under the replaced Lancaster House constitution, was dropped by Mugabe from his cabinet and the politburo. At the time of his death in 2004, Zvobgo was facing a party disciplinary hearing for allegedly campaigning for the opposition MDC and de-campaigning Mugabe ahead of the 2002 presidential elections.

Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire was also sidelined for his audacious “Mugabe must go” remarks that saw him relegated to the political dustbins, reduced to a commoner in Masvingo.

Leading political commentators have suggested there is a growing disconnect between citizens and their elected leaders, a decline in political activism, and a growing rise of anti-democratic forces in the main political parties.

This is said to be presenting serious problems to struggle for democratic political change in Zimbabwe. As the battle to succeed Mugabe escalates within its structures ahead of a supposedly elective congress, amid indications that after the orgy of purges and his endorsement as party leader, the event may ultimately turn out to be merely a rubber-stamping platform and a monument to political fraud.

Volatile factionalism, for a long time bedevilling Zanu PF, has exploded into the public domain in a major way, with senior party officials openly taking sides amid a state media onslaught against perceived Mujuru opponents, showing the party is now deeply divided down the middle in an unprecedented way.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the politics of elimination has always been Zanu PF’s strategy which, however, even the opposition MDC-T is emulating.

“Purging of political opponents from party structures is an age-long strategy used by Zanu PF over the years where members of factions likely to contradict Mugabe and his line-up are eliminated ahead of elective congresses,” Saungweme said.

“This strategy was copied by the MDC-T in its just-ended elective congress. This goes a long way to show that internal democracy is still a mirage in Zimbabwe’s political party formations.”

He added: “Zimbabwe’s political parties lack internal democracy and unfortunately this spills over to how they govern the country when in power. You cannot expect a political party that hounds, suspends and expels members opposed to the party president on flimsy grounds ahead of an elective congress to then govern the country democratically.”

Saungweme also said lack of internal democracy is a cancer within Zimbabwe’s political party formations and like corruption, it is now pervasive.

Another analyst, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director MacDonald Lewanika said the politics of elimination in order to safeguard one’s interests in the political arena shows the country has a negative and undemocratic political culture.

“This situation where people purge perceived opponents shows that our political parties and indeed our country have a negative political culture that is anathema to democracy,” Lewanika said.

“People should be able to co-exist with perceived opponents without disagreements or competition leading to conflict. Our politics and our parties should have conglomeration of interests, not blind supporters and friends.

“The net effect is that parties will not improve because of the absence of self-criticism and critical voices internally that can sharpen their strategies and agendas. As such leaders continue to be surrounded by bootlicking individuals who tell the leaders what they want to hear, only for the leaders to be exposed as corrupt and inept when they step out of their protective political party cocoons.”

Lewanika’s sentiments tallied with those of another political analyst Godwin Phiri who said Zanu PF has a long tradition of hostility towards internal dissent.

“Zanu PF structures have no stamp of democracy and are only constructed to meet the needs of the leadership,” said Phiri.

Clashes between Zapu and Zanu in 1963 following internal differences and the resultant breakaway by the latter, as well as infighting during the first MDC split, shows internal democracy has never taken root among local political parties which are riddled with perpetual factionalism, divisions and power struggles, Phiri said.

He suggested internal party processes in Zimbabwe should be subjected to some form of external superintendence to limit the consequences of morbid and authoritarian internal party dynamics.

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