At 87, Mugabe is obviously not at his best. Like all geriatrics, Mugabe is emotionally and physically dependent on those around him. Evidently his political grip is weakening. Some critics have pointed to the upsurge in Zanu-PF perpetrated political violence at a time when he is publicly denouncing party sponsored violence as a sign that Mugabe’s hold on power is weakening.
Mugabe has in the recent past called for an end to political violence with the most recent being a collective position taken at the occasion of the meeting of leaders of political parties in the inclusive government (IG), namely Welshman Ncube- (MDC-N), Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF) to deal with political violence . Barring attitudes about whether Mugabe and Zanu-PF are sincere, and the fact that violence has been the sole mobilization strategy by Zanu-PF, Mugabe agreed with other political leaders that there is need for tolerance and respect of diverse political opinions in the country. Assuming this is a policy within Zanu-PF, drivers of political violence within that party are simply violating the position of their leader and party.
There is a crisis of gargantuan proportion within Zanu-PF. At his age and with his health faltering, Mugabe is increasingly facing the prospect of becoming a life president, choosing to stay put until he has exfoliated on the post of the presidency of Zanu-PF and the country, just like Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Msika and Simon Muzenda who died still clinging on to their party and government posts. This seems like a culture in Zanu-PF. The failure to deal with internal leadership succession is fostering a multifaceted and multilayered crisis within the former but now unraveling ruling party.
The death of Solomon Mujuru seems to have intensified the publicly recorded schism between the Emmerson Mnangagwa and late Solomon Mujuru factions. Cracks within the party have spread to the lowest structures at ward levels, a good example being factional fights in Mashonaland West.
What remains a mystery about the death of Mujuru, and a serious issue is Mugabe’s position with respect to the suspicious death of the General. Its increasingly emerging that inspite of his king making role in respect of Mugabe’s rise to leadership of ZANU PF in 1974, the two had fallen out. Some analysts point to the view that Mujuru’s demise could be associated with a ZANU PF potential split with the former engineering a move towards the pro-democratic movement. Ultimately, this deepens suspicion in the strife torn party pointing to the culpability if not conspiracy of the top echelons of that party in the death of the General.
At a very closer look, the level of polarization between factions within Zanu-PF is to a certain extent reminiscent to polarization between Zanu-PF itself and the mainstream MDC. The treacherous and secretive politics of fear, intrigue, manipulation, plotting and clandestine covert operations is dominating the Zanu-PF political theatre. There is serious succession plotting that is tearing the party between the two main factions, those that have stuck with Mugabe as faction leader, a grouping that Jonathan Moyo has referred to as generation forty, the military and a coterie of opportunistic hangers on and bootlickers who are only associating with the different factions to sustain their economic interest for self survival. Zanu-PF is either suffering from a lack of leadership or a crisis of leadership. It is clear that ZANU PF is caught in succession cul-de-sac.
Taking a closer look on recent past history of African liberation parties one can conclude that political party succession plays an important role in transition politics. The case of Julius Nyerere and CHAMA cha MAPINDUZI, Daniel Arap Moi’s KANU and Jerry Rawlings’ NDC are clear pointers to the mixed political fortunes that can consequently emerge out of the failure or otherwise, to resolve succession issues. For ZANU PF they are faced with successfully addressing the succession issues and legitimising the leadership again before the Zimbabwean electorate, itself a tall order in Zimbabwe’s contemporary politics.
In the past few weeks, media in Zimbabwe was abuzz with speculation that the forthcoming ZANU PF December Conference will be turned into an Extra Ordinary Congress that should deal with intensely crippling succession induced factional fighting amidst Mugabe’s worsening health and old age. Last Tuesday, ZANU PF Spokesperson Rugare Gumbo refuted such speculation stating that he was only aware of a conference and not a congress. Political analysts have noted that Mugabe shot down the position to turn the December conference into a congress after realizing that factions in his party had ganged together to push him out of the leadership of the former ruling party.
It is evident that Mugabe is not willing to retire. Barring life presidency and leadership of his party until he dies, there is no doubt Mugabe can only exit the political stage only if he was sure of engineering a succession that could install a candidate he can hand manage as leader of ZANU PF and President of Zimbabwe. The later option is obviously past him as evidenced by intense lobbying and dangerous plotting for his post outside his control from a multiplicity of interested factional interests within his party as exposed by the Wiki-leaks.
Inspite of the self evident destructive consequences of his stay to his party and the country, Mugabe’s reluctance to exit the political stage is informed by his personal and family fears and his political role post retirement. His already lost opportunity to pass power to a loyalist is informed by a desire to protect himself from possible prosecution over his ‘genocidal rule’ given the fast changing global dynamics and his massive wealth inexplicably accumulated over three decades of his reign.
Mugabe has known no other life other than politics. He has been at the center of Zimbabwean politics since his putsch for ZANU PF leadership against Ndabaningi Sithole in 1974. Mugabe is clearly concerned with his legacy and especially, political role post retirement. Having a Mugabe protégé on the leadership of ZANU PF and of the country would secure his future in two otherwise very worrying ways for him, he would gain leverage on the pliant proxy thereby keeping politically active and secure from any possibility of prosecution or any of his perceived would-be Western instigated machinations against him.
Mugabe’s decision to stay is encouraged by a faction around him that would not survive the internecine fighting and would lose access to state patronage without him. Their view is that the party would implode without him hence no Mugabe no ZANU PF. They further argue wrongly or rightly that, Mugabe is the only ZANU PF candidate with the political gravitas to face the immensely popular leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai in any election.
But can Mugabe “point a finger” in identifying a successor like Moi did in Kenya towards that country’s 1992 elections or submit to a ZANU PF process very much tied to party hierarchy. In both cases does he still control the party to allow him to maneuver without disintegrating it? There is a possibility of serious alienation with whichever move he takes. Mujuru loyalists would be happy with a process that abides with the norm of seniority because it favours Joice Mujuru, wife of the late revered General .
Those who prefer Mugabe pinpointing a successor are pushing for his candidature in the next elections with the hope that he will sail through to nominate their preferred candidate as leader of their party and the country, irrespective of his increasingly failing health, old age and obvious unpopularity. For now this position seems to be closely held by the Mnangagwa faction, given Mnangagwa’s increasingly closer proximity to Mugabe post the Wiki-leaks revelations. It also seems to be the other avenue through which the candidature of Sydney Sekeramayi, who could be presented as a unifying figure of all factions, can be pushed. The two main factions (Mnangagwa and Mujuru) in ZANU PF can only hope that one of them could ascend to the leadership of that party and the country.
Mugabe has created a crisis in his party which will not be dealt with at this December congress. It remains Mugabe’s strategy to play the two main factions in his party against each other. He is intent to remain at the top of ZANU PF and Zimbabwean politics possibly until death inspite of the fact that this will throw his party and the country into a deeper crisis.
Whatever Mugabe’s position, the future of ZANU PF will be conditional to the extent of alienation or otherwise Mugabe’s maneuvering will generate. On the national scale and with respect to the process of transition in general, ZANU PF’s succession dynamics will have an impact on voting patterns, the extent and nature of political violence and its impact on any election outcome. There is no doubt that ZANU PF’s violent political machinery is now in full swing anticipating early elections.
In line with our assessment, the future of ZANU PF is dependent on the strategic choices that will be taken by individual actors in that party. Their strategic errors or efficiency and effectiveness will have a bearing on Zimbabwe’s politics of transition. More importantly it is evident that ZANU PF is practically trapped in the past in terms of its leadership representation and outlook, hence it is a party of the past and will not survive any election now or ever. We want to also state in our conclusion that the outcome of any national election will depend on how effective the MDC will deal with political violence in particular, the possible implosion of ZANU PF and more critically the issue of power transfer given that its more apparent that the MDC-T is more likely to form the future government of Zimbabwe.
Gideon Chitanga is a PhD Fellow ( Politics and International Studies) Rhodes University, Trust Matsilele is a Masters of Philosophy Journalism candidate, Stellenbosch University