PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe (almost 91) — in the twilight of his long political career — is attending what is likely to be his last Zanu PF congress as leader of both the party and Zimbabwe
given his old age and that the next congress will come in 2019, a year after the next general elections scheduled for 2018.
He is unlikely to contest the 2018 polls to finish his second and final term in 2023 under the new constitution at 99 if he would still be alive.
Mugabe gave indications at the central committee meeting on Wednesday at his party headquarters in Harare that he was pondering a Zanu PF future without himself as he said this congress should shape the future and leave the party under capable leadership.
“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 down.
“We no longer have (late vice-president Joshua) Nkomo. Hatisisinavo vese vanana (vice-president Simon) Muzenda nana (vice-president Joseph) Msika. So we will go also those of us in leadership, one day.
“Mazosara nevanhu vakadai party inoparara. Todzokera kuvarungu zve nekuti zvainzi vaMugabe vanotidzivisa kukurukura nevarungu kuti varungu vauye (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),” he said.
Although Zanu PF has organised what appears to be a glamorous congress, Mugabe nonetheless looks set to depart the same way he came in at the Chimoio congress in 1977 — amid chaos, leaving behind a legacy of divisions, infighting and bitterness.
He admitted as much on Wednesday at the central committee address when he said his party has been “divided” by the internal power struggle.
Mugabe’s springboard into Zanu PF leadership was what became known as the Mgagao Declaration written by young military officers at the main Zanla training camp in Tanzania at the height of the liberation struggle in 1975.
The declaration laid the basis for the removal of Ndabaningi Sithole as leader of Zanu. It also laid the foundation for the elevation of Mugabe as leader of the party at a special congress at Chimoio two years later in 1977.
Mugabe became a substantive leader of Zanu PF in 1977 in the aftermath of serious internal strife following such dreadful events as the Nhari and Vashandi rebellions which were characterised by detentions, tortures and killings.
Four decades later, the common denominator is that expelled Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo was after the Chimoio congress at the forefront of one of the revolts while Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was made Mugabe’s special assistant.
Fast-forward to 2014, Mugabe is about to exit his political life, having presided over a chaotic and unstable party particularly over the past decade since 2004 when Vice-President Joice Mujuru was elevated the same way she was booted out: through intimidation and manipulation.
This year’s congress has been preceded by purging as Mugabe suspended and expelled senior party officials accused of plotting to topple him in a bid to elevate Mujuru.
Similar to events that surrounded Mujuru’s rise in 2004 Mugabe is using the same script but different cast.
The same scenario is unfolding as those perceived to be anti-Mugabe are being purged in what appears to be a well-orchestrated campaign to impose Mnangagwa as vice-president and possibly Mugabe’s successor.
Just before the Chimoio congress in August 1977, there were mass denunciations, torture and beatings leading to more than 300 junior members of the liberation struggle being purged or executed in what is known as the Vashandi Rebellion.
In her book Re-living the Second Chimurenga: Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe, Fay Chung, a former Zanu liberation fighter and minister, acknowledges the Vashandi were a different group of people. Chung states that under their influence, “abuse of women ceased abruptly” in the camps and the Wampoa Academy in Tanzania pushed a “decidedly left-wing flavour” in the liberation movement.
The Vashandi revolt reflected serious internal contradictions just like the Nhari rebellion. The current infighting is mainly a power struggle partly caused by Mugabe’s failed rule, old age and overstaying his welcome. Indiscipline within Zanu during the struggle also caused chaos.
Mozambican president Samora Machel then complained to Mugabe about the “heavy drinking and the womanising that some senior Zanu men indulged in the capital’s nightspots, like the Polana Hotel”.
The Vashandi hoped that full electoral freedom would enable them to mount a radical challenge to Mugabe’s vacuous ideological posture and nationalism.
In August 1977, Mugabe felt strong enough to call a special Zanu congress and have himself appointed party president. In his congress speech, headlined Comrade Mugabe Lays the Line later published, Mugabe made it clear that henceforth the “given leadership’’ was in control.
The trappings of a personality cult started to emerge. One of his biographers writes that “in his Maputo office, Mugabe’s subalterns would click their heels or stamp a foot to attention when they went to see him”. Party documents were now embellished with the slogan “Forward with Comrade President Robert Mugabe”.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said events happening in Zanu PF mirror what happened when Mugabe assumed the party leadership.
“One conclusion that can be drawn is that Mugabe is a failure. He is a bad leader. Successful leaders join organisations in crises and provide a vision and roadmap to establish normalcy and then leave others to take over,” Saungweme said. “If a leader joins a chaotic organisation then presides over it for more than three decades, and then leaves it even worse off, then that leader is a bad leader. Mugabe will leave his party in a shambles.”
Saungweme also said the failures of Mugabe’s leadership are worsened by his refusal to hand over power.
“He is over 90 years now and still clinging on to power. If you take the poor performance of the economy and the collapse of basic service delivery, then you see what definition of leadership befits Mugabe. He will leave a legacy of poverty and suffering.”
Another analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya said events occurring in Zanu PF are not new and despite weakening the party, Zanu PF will survive albeit in a debilitated state.
“Conflict is not permanent and it takes place in search of order.
The purgings that preceded the congress have been experienced before. The party’s history is littered with evidence of political giants lost along the way,” Ruhanya said. “Zanu lost the likes of Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara, and Leopold Takawira at a time when their leadership was required.”
Yet Mugabe, at the sunset of his political career, leaves nothing but divisions, hatred and bitterness.
Mugabe is indeed exiting political life the same way he entered it: in the midst of turmoil.