WEDNESDAY’S million-man march organised by the Zanu PF Youth League with active support from President Robert Mugabe proved to be a succession tactic and manoeuvre by the embattled leader, ruling party insiders and analysts say.
By Elias Mambo
It also showed Mugabe is feeling the pressure from his opponents and critics in Zanu PF and outside the party, who are increasingly challenging his faltering leadership amid growing calls he should quit.
Mugabe has of late come under scrutiny from war veterans and senior Zanu PF officials, who have openly told him that under his watch, Zanu PF has abandoned the people and thrown away the ideals of the liberation struggle, among other things.
The war veterans rattled Mugabe in April after telling him point blank that Zanu PF has abandoned constitutionalism and allowed lawlessness to prevail in both the party and the country resulting in massive corruption and abuse of power.
Prior to the April 7 meeting in Harare the war veterans, who enjoy the support of the military and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, had blasted his wife First Lady Grace Mugabe for attacking army commanders and disrespecting the former freedom fighters, creating explosive instabillity in the process.
Zanu PF officials toId Zimbabwe Independent this week that the march was a counter to war veterans protests. Mugabe also wanted to remind his critics that he still has a social base, hence the masses’ support for the march, they said.
“The march was about what’s going on in the party. It gave the President an opportunity to flex his political muscle and demonstrate he is still very popular. His leadership is being questioned and the war veterans are openly defying him; so he felt vulnerable and weak. The march was a show of power,” said a Zanu PF official.
“In 2007, a similar march was organised by Jabulani SIbanda. At that time Mugabe was under pressure from the late retired General Solomon Mujuru and his allies such as Dumiso Dabengwa and Simba Makoni who did not want him to run as the party’s candidate in the 2008 elections. The Mujuru faction had successfully blocked his attempt to extend his stay in power until 2010 without going for elections.”
Following the march and an extraordinary congress in December 2007, Mugabe was endorsed as the party’s candidate in the 2008 elections.
Mugabe used Wednesday march to tell his critics that he would not relinquish power, while Grace and members of the G40 faction insisted he would rule until he dies. The First Lady dramatically declared he would rule from the grave.
“Anywhere tiri tese (we are together). I am at the service of the people. If the people say I shoud go, I go. But as long as I feel I can serve the people and I can do my best as I have done in the past, I will do my best and when time comes I go. Hapana kwandinoenda (I am going nowhere),” Mugabe said.
Grace, who is leading the G40 faction which has been involved in an intense succession battle with the Mnangagwa camp, said Mugabe would be president for life
“As the Women’s League, we are going to support you. Some want you to be life president, but we say you are irreplaceable to the presidency,” she said.
“We will appoint you president even in your grave at the National Heroes Acre because you are our unifier. All the children gathered here have come to meet their beloved leader. The leader they respect.”
Zanu PF deputy secretary for youths, Kudzai Chipanga, a G40 member, also declared that Mugabe would rule Zimbabwe till he dies. He challenged those with ambitions to take over from Mugabe to bet with him that he would not be removed from his post. The march was, however, poorly organised as people bussed to Harare from all over the country went unfed and tired throughout the day.
“We woke up at 3am and travelled all the way from Mutare. Since that time we have not eaten anything and it seems there is no food here,” said one of the angry marchers from Manicaland.
Others were left stranded, hungry and angry in the cold as they could not find transport to go back to the provinces.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director and political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said Mugabe organises such marches whenever he is under pressure and when there is lack of cohesion in Zanu PF.
“Mugabe organised a similar so-called one-million-man march in 2007 under Jabulani Sibanda’s war veterans. Mugabe does these bogus marches as public show of support when there is lack of both elite and grassroots cohesion in Zanu PF as well as the state because of apparent contradictions and infighting around his sunset leadership.
“This march, more than anything else, was all Mugabe’s desire to maintain his hegemony in both party and state. It was about showing rival factions and those entertaining hopes to succeed him that despite his advanced age, he is still very popular in Zanu PF.
“These marches are usually organised amid growing chaos and weakness within the party; so this march was a way of stamping and cementing authority. It also sought to react to opposition protests amid a regressing economy he is presiding over.
“As Zanu PF is already in the 2018 election mode, this march served to show that despite growing tensions between war veterans and Mugabe himself, the party can do without them and rely on the youth to deliver victory. It then remains to be seen whether or not Mugabe will be able to avoid another bhora musango (electoral sabotage) campaign and another embarrassing defeat in 2018.”