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Who will blink first?

IT is increasingly becoming clear President Robert Mugabe and the military are on the warpath over Zanu PF’s volatile leadership succession battle and the country’s future even though their mutual hostility remains bottled.

Editor’s Memo Dumisani Muleya

One day this might explode with far-reaching consequences unless Mugabe moves quickly — time is fast running out for him given his visible old age frailty — to fix this crisis before it erupts into a deadly conflict. The situation has been simmering since the Victoria Falls Zanu PF annual conference in December 2015 after Mugabe warned security service chiefs against meddling in the party’s internal politics, especially the contentious succession issue.

That was followed by dramatic public outbursts against senior military commanders by Mugabe’s wife Grace, who even claimed the army wanted to raid their vast Mazowe farming empire to kill her son and instill fear in their family for political reasons.

The military did not take this lying down. They responded through fierce protests behind-the-scenes and by proxy. The war veterans were deployed as a surrogate force to resist Mugabe and his wife’s aggression, while also strategically positioning the army in Zanu PF politics and succession.

Skirmishes have been going on since then. Some military commanders want Mugabe to be succeeded by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, not Grace or anyone else. Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, a Mnangagwa ally, said last week during the late Brigadier-General James Murozvi’s funeral war veterans are the “ideological school of the nation, custodians of the revolution and the bedrock upon which Zanu PF shall continue to rely on.”

However, Mugabe in reaction charged that while war veterans fought to liberate the country they are under Zanu PF and its current leadership — drawing the battle lines with Chiwenga and the army, or at least a section of it.

Borrowing from Maoist philosophy, Mugabe suggested that while political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, politics leads the gun in Zanu PF.

The immediate issue here is: Who will succeed Mugabe? Then therein lies the bigger question: Where is the country going? Together with that, it’s about the vested interests of those controlling the politico-military complex.

Their full interests span hegemony, money and security issues.

In short, it’s about politics, money and power.

This should not be surprising at all. Politics, money and power tend to converge. The market economy system just doesn’t place profit above all other considerations; it breeds a culture in which money is the bottom line in everything for some people.

Of course, politicians always deny — an exercise in futility — that there is any connection between their actions, ambitions and money. However, given their fixation with material things and luxurious lifestyles, it is exceedingly difficult to deny this.

By declaring war on ex-combatants, the storm-troopers who backed his ascendancy in the first place, and kept him there through brute force, Mugabe has shown us what the context, dynamics and agenda of this power struggle are.

Since Mugabe relies on political repression to thwart the opposition and prevent popular uprisings, this creates a moral hazard; for the very resources that enable his regime’s coercive apparatus to suppress the opposition also empower the military to act against him. Mugabe has significantly strengthened the role of the army in local politics in recent years, mainly due to the rise of the popular opposition MDC since 2000.

Before that, from 1980, the military was involved in politics largely because of PF Zapu — which Mugabe feared the most as it initially had a guerilla army and weapons, as well as daring commanders prior to disarmament and demilitarisation of both Zanu and Zapu after the war — and other parties like Zum.

Due to Zimbabwe’s militarised politics and the MDC’s popularity which threatened his rule, Mugabe relied on, and fully empowered, the army, whose power is now crowding him out in a delicate equilibrium of military tutelage. This has shifted into the brinkmanship stage. As a result, we now have an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between him and the army. So the question is: Who will blink first?

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