HomeAnalysisMugabe succession and gendered surveillance against Joice Mujuru

Mugabe succession and gendered surveillance against Joice Mujuru

BEGINNING this week we start serialising an African Affairs Journal article published last month by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal African Society titled State Intelligence and the Politics of Zimbabwe’s Presidential Succession.

African Affairs Journal Oxford univeristy


Since the late 1990s, Zimbabwean politics has been shaped by the political succession war raging within the ruling Zanu PF party. The internal fight to succeed President Robert Mugabe pitted a faction controlled by retired General Solomon Mujuru, who was fronting his wife Joice Mujuru, against another faction led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, a government minister. The competition between these factions reached a crucial stage in 2014, when Mugabe dismissed Joice Mujuru as vice-president and purged her key allies in Zanu PF and government. This article examines the role of state intelligence in this struggle, arguing military intelligence (MI) leadership, which supported Mnangagwa in the succession conflict, placed Joice Mujuru under surveillance and constructed a controversial gendered case to destroy her bid to succeed Mugabe. In contrast, some elements in the principal civilian intelligence institution, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), conducted a surveillance operation against the Mnangagwa faction in order to support Mujuru’s power bid. The article widens scholarship on the security sector’s political interventions in Zimbabwean politics, while emphasising how the gendered dimensions of surveillance can reinforce patriarchal national politics.

Mugabe has led the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) party and Zimbabwe since 1977 and 1980, respectively. Mugabe, a nonagenarian, is Africa’s oldest serving president. The length of his incumbency among current African leaders is surpassed only by the tenures of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea) and José Eduardo dos Santos (Angola).

Rising domestic discontent with Mugabe’s seemingly interminable leadership was one of the reasons for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party’s formation in 1999 and the rise to prominence of its leader Morgan Tsvangirai as an alternative national leader. Indeed, the idiom “Mugabe must go” was a mantra for the MDC in its formative years.

The late 1990s campaign for reform of the national constitution had as one of its leading agendas the adoption of a clause stipulating a two-term limit on the presidency, which would apply retrospectively, thereby barring Mugabe from running for president again. But opposition to Mugabe’s incumbency had even longer lineages within Zanu PF.

For instance, from the mid-1980s Edgar Tekere, one of Mugabe’s peers in the nationalist struggle for independence, grew increasingly critical of Mugabe’s leadership, his plan to establish a one-party state, and mounting corruption in government under his watch. Tekere was eventually expelled from Zanu PF and challenged Mugabe in the 1990 presidential election, which he lost.

Whereas Tekere was ejected from Zanu PF, other critical voices such as Eddison Zvobgo, retired Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai, Dumiso Dabengwa, retired General Vitalis Zvinavashe, Emmerson Mnangagwa and retired General Solomon Mujuru remained in the party. Mnangagwa and General Mujuru, especially, developed a fierce rivalry on the matter of Zanu PF leadership succession from the late 1990s. Mnangagwa led a faction within Zanu PF and harboured ambition to take over from Mugabe. Thus, from the late 1990s, Mnangagwa attempted several unsuccessful internal manoeuvres to advance his leadership aspiration.

Although General Mujuru controlled a rival faction, unlike Mnangagwa he did not seek to gain direct control of Zanu PF and the Zimbabwean presidency. General Mujuru considered himself under-educated, and hence preferred to encourage and support highly educated younger party members to aspire to the Zanu PF leadership instead.5 After exploring various alternatives to Mugabe, General Mujuru settled on his wife Joice. This can be seen in General Mujuru’s support for Mujuru’s rise to the Zimbabwean vice-presidency in 2004, which thwarted a contending bid by Mnangagwa.

However, on August 15 2011, General Mujuru perished in a suspicious house fire on one of his commercial farms. A range of elite Zanu PF members have been interviewed since the fatal fire. A great majority of them, many of whom did not belong to the Mujuru faction, believe that General Mujuru’s death was a political assassination, but there is no consensus on who ordered the elimination.

General Mujuru’s demise did not subdue Zanu PF’s succession war because Mujuru assumed control of her late husband’s faction in 2011 and continued the succession competition with Mnangagwa until December 2014, when Mugabe deposed Mujuru from the party leadership and Zimbabwean vice-presidency and appointed Mnangagwa as her replacement in both posts. In the months prior to Joice Mujuru’s political descent, Mugabe wheeled out his wife, the First Lady Grace Mugabe, on a nationwide campaign to denounce Mujuru and pressure her to resign as vice-president.

Grace’s denunciations of Mujuru were part of an effective, wider and phased systematic purge of the Mujuru faction, first from influential party posts and then from positions in government.

Drawing on interviews with senior intelligence operatives, high-ranking military officers and members of the Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions, this article examines the role of intelligence in Zanu PF’s 2014 succession politics. It focuses on intelligence for three reasons. First, anyone who followed events surrounding the 2014 campaign against the Mujuru faction could not fail to notice how central to the purge was the role of state surveillance.

The public utterances of Mugabe, Grace and Mujuru’s other political enemies as well as the coverage in state television, radio and press, often relied on what was clearly surveillance material gathered by the intelligence sector. Mujuru’s political foes claimed to have surveillance data showing that she and her faction furtively plotted to assassinate Mugabe.

According to Mugabe, one of these murder schemes involved a semi-naked Mujuru casting deathly witchcraft hexes on him.

Second, Zimbabwe’s security institutions are highly politicised, with little distinction between the ruling party and state,11 and thus it is important to account for their role in explaining the course of Zanu PF’s factional conflicts. Third, the leading protagonists in the succession battles, General Mujuru, Mnangagwa and Mujuru, have extensive links to the security sector. In the 1970s, General Mujuru was the chief of operations in the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla), which was Zanu PF’s military wing during the liberation war. General Mujuru became the commander of the Zimbabwe National Army after Independence. He retired from the army in 1992, but retained considerable influence in the security sector, which he often leveraged in support of his political goals in Zanu PF.

Mnangagwa was among the first group of Zanla fighters sent to China for military training in 1963, although he never saw active combat. In independent Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa held security portfolios such as the Ministries of Intelligence and Defence. In Mujuru’s case, in the 1970s, she was the head of the Zanla women’s detachment and held the Ministry of Defence portfolio at one point during the independence period.

The article argues that under a façade of inflexible loyalty to Mugabe, a section of the MI leadership, which backed Mnangagwa in the succession infighting, placed Mujuru under surveillance and assembled a controversial, gendered case to curtail her ambition to become president. In opposition to MI, some actors in the leadership of the primary intelligence institution, the CIO, which is manned by civilians, compiled dossiers against the Mnangagwa faction so as to bolster Mujuru’s quest to succeed Mugabe.

The CIO and MI leaderships presented their separate and contrasting politicised intelligence to Mugabe each with the intention of influencing him to act against the faction they opposed. However, neither group was homogeneous in its views. For example, some CIO intelligence operatives passed information exposing their superiors’ biased intelligence work to Mugabe via officials in his inner circle. These CIO intelligence leaks must be seen against a background of historical internal divisions in the organisation. In the end, Mugabe was influenced by MI’s surveillance material and purged the Mujuru faction from senior party and government posts because it was a more significant challenge to his hold on power than the Mnangagwa group, ahead of Zanu PF’s December 2014 elective congress at which, according to MI, Mujuru planned to challenge Mugabe for the party leadership.

While MI was central to Mugabe’s decision to expunge the Mujuru group from leadership positions, his resolution was also given some stimulus by the fact that he blamed General Mujuru for his defeat in the March 2008 presidential election. Following Mugabe’s refusal to step aside for a different Zanu PF candidate in the 2008 presidential election, General Mujuru sponsored a younger party member to challenge Mugabe as an independent competitor in the poll.

General Mujuru’s manoeuvre divided Zanu PF and Mugabe saw this division as having caused his defeat.
The next section situates the article within the existing literature on intelligence and politics. The second part explains historical divisions within the CIO and the subsequent split between MI and CIO, while the third part demonstrates the gendered nature of the surveillance material deployed against Mujuru and unpacks the assassination accusations against the Mujuru faction. The article concludes by explaining why Mugabe was persuaded by MI’s surveillance data and ousted the Mujuru group from leadership positions.

Intelligence and politics
JoAnn McGregor has highlighted the importance of CIO surveillance practices in the disciplining and control of Zimbabwe’s urban local government officials during the country’s power-sharing period from 2009 to 2013.
These state surveillance activities were part of an eclectic Zanu PF strategy to regain control of urban local government structures, following electoral losses in preceding years. CIO’s surveillance reach and more generally the preponderance of the Zimbabwean state are seen as institutional legacies of the colonial Rhodesian state, which was strong, highly bureaucratised and centralised.

Other literatures about surveillance and politics in Africa by Andrea Purdekova and David Bozzini illustrate how legacies of violent conflict undergird strong surveillance institutions and practices in Rwanda and Eritrea, respectively.

Purdekova and Bozzini argue that the strength of Rwandan and Eritrean state surveillance facilitates the reproduction of myriad insecurities, suspicions, and fears among surveillance subjects, which is a pattern McGregor also identifies in her work on the role of CIO surveillance in Zimbabwe. South Africa’s intelligence services have attracted some of the most concentrated scholarly attention on the continent, during both the apartheid and democratic periods.

Martin Plaut and Paul Holden accord a degree of importance to surveillance activities by South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency in influencing domestic politics. Jane Duncan, however, takes a different view to that of Plaut and Holden by arguing that in actual fact “securocrats” (intelligence operatives wielding political influence) have acquired authority over President Jacob Zuma’s ANC government. Collectively, such work on the effective surveillance practices of strong capable states helps highlight the tendency to overemphasise state “weakness” or “failure” in Africa.

This article makes a contribution by illuminating how the gendered nature of surveillance practices reinforces patriarchal national politics. The security sector is imbued with gendered and patriarchal values and discourses.
These prevalent norms and discourses result in a gendered intelligence field. Finnish social geographer Hille Koskela, for instance, alerts us to the fact that everyday surveillance through cameras in public spaces reproduces gendered scrutiny. “Seeing and being seen are gendered” and voyeurism often accompanies gendered seeing behind surveillance cameras — a phenomenon Koskela refers to as “peeping Tom goes high tech”.

For these reasons MI officers who targeted Mujuru gathered gendered surveillance material. As this article illustrates, the kind of material gathered by MI about Mujuru partly drew on what her detractors claimed was authentic surveillance footage of her without clothes, performing witchcraft acts aimed at killing Mugabe so that she could take over the presidency sooner rather than later. Accusations of witchcraft are highly gendered.

Accusing Mujuru of witchcraft was also an attempt to legitimise her expulsion from the Zanu PF leadership, and it made her open to rhetorical and physical attacks.

To be continued next week.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading