What is left of Zanu PF?

In 1980 when we came to Independence, the party known as the Zimbabwe African National Union was a monolith. They had taken over 80% of the vote in the elections and controlled all aspects of government. Only in the south-west of the country, where the Zimbabwe African People’s Union had dominated, was the control of Zanu PF challenged.

By Eddie Cross

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa with President Robert Mugabe
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa with President Robert Mugabe

Over the next seven years, conflict between these two parties raged to and fro across the land, culminating in the eventual collapse of Zapu and its integration into Zanu PF. Having cemented its hold over the country, Zimbabwe entered an era as a virtual one-party state. Opposition groups came and went but the hold that the party had over national activities remained absolute.

Then came 1999 when the trade union movement in Zimbabwe launched a party, the Movement for Democratic Change, the era of one-party hegemony virtually came to an end. At this stage the only measure of the relative strength of the Zanu PF party was their performance in the elections that took place in 2000. In those elections they took just over half the support they had received in 1980. This was a decline of one third and marked the first real sign that support for Zanu PF was on the wane.

In the following 16 years there were four more elections and, in my view, the 2002 Presidential election was lost to the MDC by a significant margin. In the 2005 elections Zanu PF was able to claw their way back into the field and secured a two thirds majority.

In 2008, the March elections were held under reasonable conditions and Zanu support fell to less than 30% of the vote, losing both a majority in the House of Assembly and the presidency. In the 2013 elections, the party repeated what it had done in 2005 and secured another two thirds majority in parliament.

What was not apparent in this process was the changing nature of the party on the ground. In 1980, the party was firmly entrenched in the country with structures in every electoral district and ward. These political structures were reinforced with the war veterans and, together, they constituted a formidable political organisation. In the intervening years, the party has treated the state as an extension of itself. In the process, they have moved party cadres into key positions in the civil service and also into parastatals and the private sector.

The security services of the state have become effectively, at a high level, extensions of the party. This process was built upon the integration process that followed independence. After 2000 when the MDC began to contest for power, the Zanu PF party was forced to recognise that their field structures were no longer able to perform the way they had in the early decades of independence. To remedy this, the security services were drawn upon to fill key gaps, a senior officer was recruited into the party head office as CEO and in the 2008 and 2013 elections, the army and other branches of the security services deployed staff in every district and ward.

To augment these systems, the party then used its position in control of the state to employ tens of thousands of youth militia in various capacities and used these as a party militia. These were then employed on party programmes and to bolster party activities such as rallies and demonstrations. It was these militia that were used so effectively in the 2013 elections to secure the results that they obtained.

Then came the process of party disintegration that set in following the 2013 elections, the health of the President was deteriorating, his grip on power waning and the succession issue came to the fore. Despite all efforts, the different potential candidates for his shoes began to build alliances and factions in the party began to appear.

In 2013 it was Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who engineered the Zanu PF victory using the military/security/party structures that had been established after the 2008 debacle. Having delivered the massive victory that he was personally responsible for in 2013, he expected to be rewarded. The vice-presidency at the very least, the public assurance of succession prospects would have been his goal. Instead the old man played games with him and the others in the race. Joice Mujuru was promoted and given the job of nominating the new cabinet. Mnangagwa was demoted from defence to justice. He was furious.

Within months plans were laid for the removal of Mujuru from the vice-presidency — eventually in October 2014 this was achieved after First Lady Grace Mugabe had been released from her genie’s bottle and set loose in the party. December comes and Mnangagwa is appointed Vice-President, his final goal in sight. But the genie was out of the bottle and would not go back.

So the final struggle for the control of the party and government began. In 2015, this struggle morphed into a two-horse race — the Mnangagwa group and the G40. The circle of close support for the President shrank down to next to nothing. By the end of the year he was virtually alone and isolated although still holding the keys to State House in his hands.

Mnangagwa still controlled the state — virtually all arms of the administration and all key power brokers were in his camp. The G40 controlled little but in a series of swift actions secured control over strategic funding and, by the middle of 2016, secured effective control of what was left of the Zanu PF party. At the center of this process was the President’s wife who was enjoying her new status as the Women’s League chairlady and party activist. They built up the militia and brought them under their direct control, using them to exercise ground control of party structures.

So by August 2016, the G40 had got themselves into the position where they could use the Politburo to remove Mnangagwa elements from the administration and the party. The stage was set for a final confrontation at the annual conference of the party to remove Mnangagwa from the post of Vice-President. If this happens, all that would be left of the Zanu PF party would be a tiny group of people with little grassroots support, no support from the veterans of the war and the active opposition of the major factions in Zanu PF — the Mujuru and the Mnangagwa groups. I doubt if what would be left would represent more than 5% of the party that once was such a dominant monolith in local politics.

I cannot see any possibility of a reconciliation of these factions and one or the other has to emerge supreme. If it is the G40, then I would expect that the state structures that have protected their base in the country would for the first time be separated from the tentacles of the Zanu PF party. Like the war veterans, they would be obliged either to maintain their independence or to affiliate with one of the other players on the political playing field.

This sets the stage for the emergence of a government which, for the first time since independence, will have a form of real separation of the different elements that make up the state.

The final moves are being taken as we go into October 2016. It is the question of just how a new government to replace the present one is to be achieved. In my view, the only option that has any chance of success is an election. Success; in the sense that the process will produce a government that has legitimacy, democratic foundations and international acceptance. Nothing else can realistically address our present crisis situation. For what is left of Zanu PF, this is the end of the road.

Cross is an economist, industrialist and MP for Bulawayo South. These New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. E-mail: kadenge.zes@gmail.com and cell no +263 772 382 852.