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End of an era looms

“WE are meeting at congress and it’s a congress which now must lead us to be very, very careful for the future. You can see the future is long; there will be a future without present leaders, after all some of our comrades are gone.

Editor’s Memo Dumisani Muleya

“We no longer have (late vice-president Joshua) Nkomo. We no longer have (vice-president Simon) Muzenda together with (vice-president Joseph) Msika. So we will go also those of us in leadership, one day,” President Robert Mugabe told the Zanu PF central committee on Wednesday.

“When left with such kind of leaders, the party will crumble. We will be recolonised because they say Mugabe bars us from negotiating with the West.”

Mugabe’s address, in the aftermath of fierce infighting which left Vice-President Joice Mujuru and her top allies practically crushed in the battlefield by the rival faction led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, assisted by Grace Mugabe, had echoes of Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in February 1956 to the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In that speech Khrushchev quoted Joseph Stalin as saying: “You are blind like young kittens; what will happen without me? The country will perish because you do not know how to recognise enemies.”

Mugabe’s argument refusing to relinquish power after having been at the helm of Zanu PF for 37 years now and Zimbabwe 34 years has always been that the party will disintegrate or the country recolonised without him.

Of course, this is proper Stalinist thinking which Khrushchev, Soviet leader from 1953-1964, denounced as he condemned Stalin’s personality cult and dictatorship.

Khrushchev’s stinging speech began with references to the damaging consequences of elevating and hero-worshipping a leader while indulging him with “supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god.”

He admitted a mistake had been made about Stalin. He also spoke about distortions of history, ideology and internal purges during the reign of terror, arguing the party had been a victim of Stalin, not an accessory to his crimes.

Khrushchev ended his historic speech urging cadres to combat the disease of patronage and personality cult to refocus on “the revolutionary fight for the transformation of society.”

This dealt a heavy blow to Soviet Orwellian control and saturation propaganda about Stalin as a great leader and Russian knight in shining armour. Yet Stalinists reacted angrily and denounced Khrushchev as a revisionist.

But Yuri Andropov, General Secretary of the Communist Party between 1982 and 1984, later demolished the Stalinist mentality in a poem: “We are fleeting in this world, beneath the moon. Life is an instant. Non-being is forever. The Earth spins in the universe, Men live and vanish …”

These issues speak to authoritarian regimes and how they manage the problem of succession, and the implications of that for leadership change and survival.

The issue has widespread ramifications as analysts and policy-makers persistently attempt to scrutinise and unpack the matrices and nuances of succession puzzles.

Zimbabweans and interested parties are currently doing that.
Mugabe this week seemed to eventually accept he is a mere mortal like all of us and will at some point be exiting the grand political stage.

He referred to this congress being about shaping the future, suggesting his new deputies, particularly Mnangagwa, might well have been designated and endorsed to succeed him at Mujuru’s expense.

Given his old age and crunching economic problems, even if Mugabe does not quit now, Zimbabwe is going through his last years in power all the same. There is a transition underway, hence the succession turmoil and transitional turbulence.

The end of an era is looming and the country stands on the cusp of a new epoch even though Mugabe would prefer dying in office, which makes his exit rather unpredictable.

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