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Is collapse of Zanu PF inevitable?

Zanu PF has had a close brush with death before. In 2008, its leader, President Robert Mugabe, was defeated in the first round of the presidential elections. The liberation movement, also, for the first time, lost its majority in the legislative assembly. Indeed, one can say it is incontestable to suggest that had the national army not orchestrated a hecatomb on opposition supporters, forcing Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T to withdraw in the second round of elections, Zanu PF might have been confined to the dustbins of history.
Instead of urgent and deep reforms the party needed, the hollow victory that Mugabe claimed in 2008, and five years down the line, the 2013 electoral triumph, only served to revive the desire for eternal rule.


“It feels like we are in 1980 where we reclaimed our independence,” said Zanu PF’s wonderkind, Psychology Maziwisa, persuading himself that the first post-Government of National Unity elections had the same importance as those that ended colonial rule.

But, such hubristic mentality only served to blind Zanu PF’s elite to the fact that the swaths of political and economic forces which had created the conditions that made Zanu PF vulnerable in 2008 had not been eradicated. Untouched, they had remained intact. Today, the baleful effects of those forces, have sent the ruling party creaking and groaning in its decrepitude. And, this time, it looks like there is little that can be done to save the liberation movement.

Everything comes to an end
The death of political regimes is not an uncommon occasion in history. Indeed, in De Untergang des Abendlandles, the German political philosopher, Oswald Spengler has wise words for those in power, in particular, authoritarian governments, that any political regime, just like any organism, has a limited lifespan.


Such is the cruelty of history.

Though the death of political regimes is common, it is a rare experience to actually witness one collapsing. The last time was in the 1970s, and a huge chunk of the adult population of Zimbabwe was yet to be born. But, whereas the collapse of Ian Smith regime was largely as a result of outside forces — effective guerrilla warfare against the colonial forces and international isolation; when it comes to Zanu PF, two developments which are entirely of the ruling party’s own making seem to have set the revolutionary party on an unpredictable course — the unending infighting in the party, and most recently, the deepening economic crisis, as represented by the state’s failure, for the first time in its history, to remunerate its employees. The inevitable splinter in the security services’ loyalties, will only serve to accelerate the ruling party’s demise.

Elite unity fractured
It is hard to imagine the Zanu PF regime without its bespectacled strongman. Indeed, Mugabe has been the single most important source of the Zanu PF regime’s survival. Through a sophisticated system of patronage and strong leadership over a period of three decades, Mugabe painstakingly constructed a system that maintained the party’s unity. However, his departure, either via death or incapacitation, will release the cork that had kept contained the divisions within the party.

Indeed, disagreements over what shape the leadership should take in the post-Mugabe era have already seen the party split into two, with the defenestration of the then vice-president Joice Mujuru and her allies. Mujuru and her sub-group were forced out by rabid forces that just won’t brook the idea of Mugabe being replaced.

Zanu PF’s intellectual community, led by state-owned Herald columnist, Nathaniel Manheru, and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo might have done an excellent job at successfully driving the narrative of “purges” within Zanu PF, rather than a split. However, facts in particular, the number and seniority of the elites who left with Mujuru, stand firm against this narrative.

But this is not the first time that senior party officials have been purged — to use Zanu PF’s language — from the party. Indeed, one might legitimately ask why the defenestration of Mujuru and her allies should be of greater concern to Zanu PF. The difference is that not only were the expulsions of say Margaret Dongo or Edgar Tekere surgically instituted to ensure minimal elite fallouts, they were also of little consequence electorally. However, recklessly initiated by the First Lady Grace Mugabe, the expulsion of Mujuru has stranded thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the ruling party supporters who had hoped for her to succeed the President. Indeed, if the former vice-president proceeds to form her own political outfit as expected, she is likely to take with her many Zanu PF supporters, a significant loss for the ruling party whose extent can only be accurately established at the ballot box.

What has also emerged from these purges has been a new Zanu PF outfit with explicitly narrow priorities: preservation of Mugabe’s rulership. Until recently, Zanu PF could be regarded as a group that served the interests of a wide section of its elite — the politburo and central committee members and those fringe politicians who served as leadership in local party structures. But through the purges, the party has been reconstituted to serve the interests of the First Family resulting in widespread discontent that has never been seen before in the party.

The architects of the new “Mugabe PF” seem confident and excessively optimistic that they will be able to control the process, but the reverberations caused by these purges, in particular, and pervasive elite discontentment, represent an unmistakable sign that events might take the direction that they have not envisaged. Various ministers have publicly clashed and exhibited recklessness, which is not only a clear sign that many are not happy with the direction that the party is taking, but also an indication that only a few have an interest in the survival of the party.

Zanu PF cannot rig the economy.

The government is broke and no amount of propaganda can mask this fact. As a result of 35 years of mismanagement, the regime has effectively run out of money. More than 80% of the budget goes to civil servants’ salaries and the rest is parcelled out to politicians indirectly through a complex patronage system, effectively leaving the masses with nothing.

Unfortunately for the regime, there is no easy escape. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has attempted at some piece-meal reforms. However, investment and growth, which these reforms are meant to achieve, can only take place in a political system where political power is constrained by the rule of law, private property rights effectively protected and where there is widespread opportunity available irrespective of whether one is Zanu PF or not. But what one finds in Zimbabwe is that the political elite have become predators, using coercive instruments of the state to extract wealth from society, defend their privileges and impoverish ordinary people.

The unprecedented failure to remunerate civil servants on time, including the 13th cheque recently, is the result of the cumulative effects of these primitive capitalist attitudes and practices and the political institutions that they have created and nurtured. Now the regime has nowhere to borrow in order to pay civil servants and maintain the patronage system that keeps elite unity.

The tax revenue base is almost non-existent due to high unemployment and incessant company closures. The Zanu PF government, because of sanctions and inability to devise a viable debt repayment strategy, is shunned by creditors. In other words, the inability to pay civil servants is not a once-off event, but is set to become common in the coming months and years, certainly setting the ruling party on a treacherous path. Indeed, some civil servants have already threatened to down tools, and trade unions have warned that they cannot control angry workers. But what could be the turning point is widespread hunger.

In 2013, drought hit Zimbabwe and other parts of the southern part of Africa. Projected to last until the 2018/19 agricultural season, the effects of this drought have started to creep into the countryside. For example, in October last year, the price of 20kg of maize (bucket of maize) in Zaka district, Masvingo, ranged between US$4 and US$6. The price has since shot up to at least US$20 within a space of a few months, in a country where families survive on less than US$2 a day. This literally translates to the poor, who make up 80% of Zimbabwe’s population, spending at least 90% of their income on food, as compared to 50% last year. Spurred largely by speculation, the prices are set to increase further as large-scale independent suppliers have already started to hoard maize in anticipation of further steep increases.

The World Food Programme estimates that by mid-2016 food insecurity will increase 164% as compared to the previous season. Reports by the local media have already started detailing how remote rural villages in the Masvingo province are being slowly fractured by the famine and of the desperate struggle to survive in Matabeleland and Midland regions.

The trouble is that government, whose stocks are depleted and which has run out of money, has already admitted that it is struggling to feed its own people. As if deliberately aimed at stalking emotions, the regime’s misplaced priorities such as purchasing vehicles for politicians in the middle of a “food crisis”, as reported in local newspapers, are likely to fuel anger among voters. As Peter Kropotkin declared more than a century ago in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, famine is essential for revolution. But, in Zimbabwe, there is unlikely to be a revolution, but abiding resentment among rural voters as they blame the government for having let them down. The drought will not only affect the rural areas, but the urban masses, making the country more hungry than loyal to the party.

Security sector problems
The ability of Zanu PF to survive has also been based on its ability to harness terror. The security sector and the party’s own militia groups have been at the forefront of this terror. Crucially, the security sector has also provided logistical and strategic support for the otherwise disorganised ruling party during elections.

However, the chaos within Zanu PF has disorganised these once centrally controlled coercive instruments of the state and re-aligned their allegiance from the executive to other centres within and outside the ruling party. Indeed, it is publicly acknowledged that, for example, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, has good relations with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and has been attempting to aid his ascension. The other four heads of security services have been linked to Mujuru.

The security chiefs themselves — caught in the cross pressures between a dying dictator, whose inevitable mortality cannot guarantee continued tenure in their positions and patronage, and the demand to be loyal to the President lest they lose their jobs — are likely to splinter into two groups: those who are still willing to reinforce Zanu PF’s rule and those who are prepared to enter into a deal with a new political establishment. Such a development could result in the obstruction of a united response to rioting or strike action by workers.

Widespread dissatisfaction
But most potent and unnoticed has been the transformation that has taken place in the political cultures of most Zimbabweans. This transformation has altered the basic value priorities and the stand on political partisanship of at least 51% of Zimbabweans who were born after Independence. As a result of poverty and unemployment they have known throughout their lives, and corruption they have witnessed, these youths have an ingrained anti-Zanu PF stance as a basic character of their lives. Manipulation of the elections and repressions can only mask this widespread dissatisfaction, but only for now.

The end is inevitable
The end of Zanu PF, which has already been set in motion, can only be offset by deep structural changes in the party. This is unlikely for the liberation movement is suffering from cognitive illusion; a false belief that everything is okay, and an exaggerated sense that it has the ability to control events, individuals, the opposition and the nation.

However, those with a sense of history, will tell you that since immemorial, regimes have dreamt of ruling until eternity — from the Soviet empire to Zaire’s (Democratic Republic of Congo) Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko. But these were dreams and history that does not pay heed to dreams.

Tinhu is a Zimbabwean political analyst based in London.

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