Zimbabwe And The Contagious ‘Life Presidency' Phenomenon

By Blessing Vava

The concept of leadership change and Organisational Renewal is the height of democratic practises promoting innovation, adaptability and seizing opportunities ahead of competitors. In a political organisation it seeks to integrate the aspect of introducing new ideas and revamping structures and entities in a dynamic political and contested environment. In institutions, entities and states that underpin their value system on democracy, it has been a culture that leadership is recalled expressly or voluntarily after major political events that may have a bearing on the success and progression of a political movement. In a democratic structure, open dialogue on succession as well as engagement with structures is not outlawed but enhanced. In a similar fashion leaders who have a tainted personality trait(s) would normally voluntarily disembark at the helm of a movement as a strategy to rebrand and protect the integrity of an institution Bill Clinton and Strauss Kahn are such examples, in the region Nelson Mandela’s divorce to Winnie Madikizela Mandela is one such case. In a failing political system it is normal for leadership to be recalled before congress. In some scenarios the leader would voluntarily step down after a denting political defeat that may have a dampening and demobilising effect if not divisive. In Zimbabwe leadership renewal and succession is taboo, internal democratic systems do not exist in political parties and some civil society formations.

Earlier this year the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai was plunged into turmoil following a letter penned by Elton Mangoma to party President Morgan Tsvangirai, advising the latter to step down. Thus calling for an early elective congress for the party to reflect and come up with new strategies especially after the embarrassing defeat at the hands of 90 year old Mugabe and his party ZANU PF.  The issue of leadership renewal and succession in Zimbabwe’s political movements is a hot potato. The ruling party ZANU PF’s template of ‘Life President’ has been copied by Zimbabwe’s opposition parties, cascaded and pasted to the so-called pro-democratic organisations. I hasten to say that the failure to renew leaders has had disastrous implications on solutions and ideas generation for the normative and has further weakened not only ZANU PF, but opposition parties and the civil society.  ZANU PF has had one leader since 1975, and it is the liberation’s movement’s failure to nature succession politics that has plunged Zimbabwe into a monarch. The MDC-T has had Tsvangirai since 1999, same with some Zimbabwean civil society leaders flouting their constitutions to stay in power .Those who dare challenge the status quo are quickly labelled ‘enemies of progress.’

In  the MDC the calls for leadership renewal   attracted a lot of discord and violent scuffles that at its worst resulted in the physical attacks on the Deputy Treasurer Elton Mangoma and other senior officials  at the party Headquarters on Saturday 15 February 2014. Tsvangirai hung on and those who were calling for leadership renewal brokeaway from the Tsvangirai group and are now fronting a faction calling itself MDC Renewal Team.

Unlike in ZANU PF, leadership renewal is a concept enshrined in the MDC-T party’s founding principles and document. And indeed it was a legitimate call that resonates with movement building and reconnecting with the masses in the face of an electoral defeat on 31st July 2013. In sticking with both moral and the party’s congressional mandate established in 1999 the party has since reneged from its founding principles, i.e. the National Working Peoples Convention of 1999, which gave birth to the party. As the Tsvangirai group is now preparing for its congress, fissures and division are already manifesting and the party will emerge weaker and further divided after the congress.

For ZANU PF the script is even much worse, Mugabe’s failure to deal with his succession is now haunting him. It’s no longer a secret that President Mugabe is now too old and whatever science, rocket or African will remake the President, the man is old and he needs rest. He has presided over chaos, dictatorship, corruption and destroyed the economic fortunes of this ‘once beautiful nation.’ Change management is a key component for healthy democracies and a preservative to institutional memory beyond individual tenancy. A good leader is seen by his ability to groom other leaders to take over after his departure, something that President Mugabe overlooked during his reign. For his selfish reasons it is all about him and no one else or maybe his wife Grace that are capable of leading.  Interestingly the recent events in the ruling party are reaching the boiling point and the writing is now clear that the party will face insurmountable problems when Mugabe is no longer in the picture. The emergence of his wife is nothing but the extension of Mugabeism in ZANU PF to protect the business empire of the first family after his departure. However, not even the ascendancy of Grace will save this raptured political outfit from demise. If we had a strong opposition 2018 was going to be a waterloo for ZANU PF. Political movements should never be personalised, leaders should come and go-that’s the essence of democracy. The events in ZANU PF are a huge lesson to opposition parties, never to idolise or immortalise rather, leaders should be seen as servants of the party and not ‘saviours.’



Blessing ‘Vuvuzela’ Vava is a defender of the Peoples Charter he writes in his personal capacity from Chipinge,Zimbabwe and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com.