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2016 political highlights

THE year 2016 will be remembered as one where there was serious internal strife inmajor political parties.
Infighting in Zanu PF and the MDC-T took centre stage and threatened to destroy the parties’ cohesion. The year will also be remembered for a series of demonstrations which rocked the country as ordinary Zimbabweans protested against governtment’s misrule and mismanagement, high unemployment and the liquidity crunch, which resulted in a debilitating cash crisis.

Elias Mambo

Zanu PF

Vicious infighting dominated the ruling party politics throughout the year. Zanu PF’s succession wars were so severe that they spilled into cabinet, paralysing government operations.

The year witnessed clashes along factional lines between cabinet ministers, highlighting the dysfunctionality in government. The sharp differences between Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, aligned to a faction led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao who is in the G40 camp — which has coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe — illustrated how factionalism in Zanu PF was affecting government operations.

The party’s factional wars also spilled into the security sector, putting to test the relationship between President Robert Mugabe and the military. Most senior military commanders including Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga sided with Mnangagwa, thereby attracting Mugabe and Grace’s wrath.

While Mugabe pleaded with the army not to interfere in politics, Grace in February took a swipe at the army accusing military bosses of trying to kill her son, Bellarmine Chatunga. She also said the army was behind a plot to bomb her dairy.

War veterans, who are part of the reserve army, also sided with Mnangagwa resulting in clashes with the First Family. The former liberation fighters organised a demonstration against Grace in February, accusing her of disrespecting and insulting the military, but they were driven away by police using teargas and water cannons.

The clashes eventually led to war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvagwa and members of his executive being expelled from Zanu PF. Mutsvagwa, who was also war veterans minister, was fired from government.

Tension between the police and war veterans resulted in an April 7 meeting between the liberation war fighters and Mugabe at City Sports Centre in Harare.

In the meeting, the war veterans raised serious internal political issues afflicting Zanu PF, among them the illegal suspensions and expulsions of party members, lack of ideological clarity in the party’s commissariat department, proliferation of slogans and derogatory songs to denigrate party members as well as the need to revamp the national disciplinary committee which they said was partisan. Mugabe however ducked explosive internal Zanu PF political issues raised by the war veterans. Tensions between the war veterans and First Family continued and in July, the liberation fighters released a hard-hitting communique where they announced they had withdrawn their support for Mugabe whom they said had betrayed the liberation struggle.

The hard-hitting and emotionally-charged communiqué described Mugabe as a failed dictator, and manipulative self-centred leader, who had presided over the collapse of the economy by among other things failing to tackle high level corruption.

The war veterans said Mugabe had failed to discharge his mandate.

Protests

The government was kept on the edge in 2016 by massive protests that rocked the country. Most demonstrations were organised by social movements protesting against deepening economic crisis, high levels of corruption and the mismanagement of the economy.

The first riots occurred in the border town of Beitbridge at the beginning of July, when hundreds of residents took to the streets to demonstrate against government’s decision to ban the importation of some basic commodities though Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016.

On July 6, Zimbabweans stayed at home in a massive peaceful demonstration, dubbed “Shutdown Zimbabwe”.

The stay-away, organised by the social media movement #ThisFlag fronted by Pastor Evan Mawarire, came after violent clashes between taxi drivers and police that led to the arrest of 95 people in Harare.

The protests became the order of the day until government put together a crack team composed of the military, police and intelligence to ruthlessly descend on demonstrators.

Several protest leaders were abducted and tortured by the crack team which also went around areas considered to be hot spots, where they randomly assaulted people.

MDC-T

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai revealed he was battling cancer of the colon in June after failing to attend demonstrations organisedby his party in Mutare and Bulawayo, despite leading an earlier demonstration in Harare.

In a later interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, he revealed he was diagnosed on May 17.

Tsvangirai’s illness sparked an intense jockeying for his position among senior party officials with a faction consisting of his deputy Thokozani Khupe, secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora and spokesperson Obert Gutu competing with a faction which has coalesced around Nelson Chamisa.

In July, Tsvangirai defied recommendations by his party’s national council (NC) to defer the appointment of two vice-presidents as he imposed Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri.

Coalition talks

Talks of a coalition to upstage Mugabe in the forthcoming 2018 elections also gathered momentum resulting in the signing of the Coalition of Democrats (CODE).

Five opposition parties signed a coalition agreement to confront the Zanu PF led government in the forthcoming 2018 elections.

However, Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First and MDC-T were not part of the coalition. Two other parties, which attended the event but did not sign the document are Dumiso Dabengwa’s ZAPU and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Tendai Biti.

Mujuru and Tsvangirai have however said they are willing to lead a coalition. Dabengwa and Biti have also repeatedly said they are willing to be part of a coalition to challenge Mugabe.

National Electoral Reforms Agenda

The year 2016 also saw some opposition political party leaders signing a document committing themselves to fighting for electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 election under the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA).

The parties that signed the document include the MDC-T, MDC led by Welshman Ncube, Zanu-Ndonga, Transform Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe United For Democracy, African Democratic Party and Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe.

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