IF any further evidence is needed at all to prove President Robert Mugabe’s unresolved succession problem will eventually destabilise or throw the nation into turmoil, the battle over who becomes the next chief justice provides that in abundance.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
While there have been blazing public confrontations and rows over Mugabe’s succession between rival Zanu PF factions grouped around Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and First Lady Grace Mugabe, especially from 2014 up to now, underscored by war veterans’ revolt against the veteran leader’s authority, the fight on who will replace Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku is particularly vicious and telling.
All masks and facades have irretrievably fallen; smokescreens shattered and we can now see who is who in Zanu PF and government in relation to Mugabe’s succession which is engulfing the whole nation.
Of course, before 2014 there had been so many fierce battles fought around the issue which has been raging since the 1990s, with many political high-profile casualties recorded along the way.
Even the death of retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru in a mysterious fire at his Beatrice farm in 2011 is linked to the Mugabe succession fight and the vicious purges that have been going on.
However, the current clash over who succeeds Chidyausiku has intensified the combat to frightening new levels. Even those in positions of influence are scared: they are reinforcing their securities to avoid being victims or collateral damage.
The latest round of fighting is unique in that it now involves open political warfare between the Mnangagwa and Grace camps, with daring challenges to Mugabe’s authority and blatant disregard of the constitution and the law.
There are also audacious manoeuvres to use judicial and political processes to manipulate the succession outcome.
What is happening in the judiciary is a microcosm of the wider scenarios and plots by factions desperate to capture the state and secure access to public resources. The conflict now engulfs many other critical state institutions, including the security agencies.
This has brought us to a dangerous stage of brinksmanship between the military – the current regime’s pillar of strength – and Mugabe, the commander-in-chief, as army commanders take sides on who should come in. It’s a volatile cocktail of agendas and intrigues that could explode, plunging the nation into conflict.
There are precedents all over the world, including in Africa and in the region, on how succession battles can push countries to the brink of fighting and upheaval.
To minimise risks of explosive successions disputes and political transitions, and preserve their legacies, some long-serving leaders have groomed trusted allies, their sons or other family members to take over.
However, in some countries leaders have done little or nothing to resolve contentious succession issues timely and amicably. Zimbabwe falls in this category.
Mugabe has taken no visible steps to resolve the issue by preparing a successor, and this has put the nation on a perilous path to a bumpy and even violent transition.
This is now unintentionally destabilising the entire regime and nation, jeopardising peace and stability. The political and security situation is uneasy and uncertain.
After covertly forcing Chidyausiku into early retirement before Mugabe fortuitously intervened to bring him back to preside over the process to select his successor, Mnangagwa yesterday fuelled the crisis by seemingly challenging the list submitted to Mugabe to appoint the new chief justice from.
Judges and politics don’t mix. This is what this case is demonstrating to us. Depoliticising the judiciary to avoid such problems must become a priority for the next government. Reading Alexander Hamilton’s federal papers would help a great deal in that regard.
This clumsy fight over who becomes the next chief justice shows central authority in Zimbabwe can no longer hold and the nation is in grave danger of sliding into conflict and chaos over Mugabe’s unresolved succession conundrum.