WAR veterans’ emotionally-charged attacks against President Robert Mugabe in which they bluntly accused him of being a manipulative, self-serving and failed leader consumed by hubris, personality cult and genocidal politics in the aftermath of their crucial meeting in Harare yesterday were as shocking as they were instructive.
Editor’s Memo, Dumisani Muleya
Premised on Mugabe’s betrayal of the ideals of the liberation struggle and misrule, the ex-combatants’ hard-hitting communiqué after the meeting, which had echoes of their 1975 Mgagao Declaration — the springboard of the veteran ruler’s turbulent ascendancy to the Zanu leadership after the ouster of founding party leader Ndabaningi Sithole — raised fundamental questions about Mugabe’s rule, consequences of his leadership, prospects and future of the country.
Framed like Leon Trotsky’s book The Revolution Betrayed — What is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going?, the communiqué touched on a number of issues spanning Mugabe’s political history, how he ascended to power, led the struggle, became president and ruled the country. It also raised questions about his vision, competence, capacity, how he has managed the economy, the social and material conditions of the people, corruption and the future.
Mugabe’s running of the party and national affairs loomed large in the war veterans’ discourse and pronouncements.
Most importantly, the former freedom fighters’ attacks on Mugabe were in sync with what the majority of Zimbabweans have been saying for years criticising his corrupt and incompetent regime. Their discerning assessment of the national mood, reflected by the recent anti-government protests triggered by economic turmoil, particularly company closures, job losses, cash shortages, imports restrictions and failure to pay civil servants on time, was spot on.
Zimbabwe is currently characterised by rising social discontent and unrest largely due to economic failure, poverty and suffering. The recent protests are likely to flare up again and spread as the economic crisis deepens and popular anger grows. Pastor Evan Mawarire and his #ThisFlag social movement — guided by its civil disobedience philosophy — is likely to grow and become a national phenomenon.
Authoritarian regimes, which are fragmented and thus lack cohesion amid elite infighting and factionalism, hardly survive well-organised, co-ordinated and systematic civil resistance.
If the war veterans join forces with the national resistance movement driven by civic groups and backed by churches and opposition parties, Mugabe, already on the ropes and hanging onto power by fingernails, could soon face his Waterloo.
The war veterans’ historic stand against Mugabe could be Zimbabwe’s political augenblick — decisive moment. It might be a turning point of epoch-making proportions. More so because the war veterans demanded he should quit, saying economic recovery would not be possible under his leadership. Ominously, they said they would not support him during the watershed 2018 elections.
This cannot be taken lightly. The war veterans helped Mugabe to come to power, to radicalise the political dynamic in 2000 through land seizures, intimidation and violence when he was facing fierce opposition from the then newly-formed opposition MDC, which posed a threat to his survival.
They rescued Zanu PF from defeat in 2000 and Mugabe in 2002. In 2008, they also saved Mugabe from the jaws of defeat, although he lost the first round of the presidential election to his bitter rival, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Crucially, the war veterans, whom Mugabe recently described as “dissidents”, are backed by the military. So effectievly, battle lines are drawn between Mugabe and the army.
Mugabe is in a serious quandary: he has to rely on repression to prevent a popular uprising, but this creates a moral hazard, for the very resources his regime’s repressive agents use to suppress the opposition, also empower them to act against him. We have an interesting scenario here as popular opposition to Mugabe, both from within and outside, is surging creating conditions of brinkmanship bargaining. A complicated strategic calculus between Mugabe and war veterans, backed by the military, is clearly underway as he faces an endgame of tragic dimensions.