Will ZANU-PF survive after Mugabe?

The combination of a nationalist guerrilla movement with the mechanisms of colonial administration has been a recipe for disaster. But close ties to the military and security apparatus mean that only a reformed ZANU-PF can manage a peaceful transition to democracy. Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, has developed over a period of 50+ years as part of the mainstream nationalist movement. Its antecedents were the African National Congress of Southern Rhodesia, the National Democratic Party (NDP), which succeeded it in 1959, and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) whose name was adopted in 1961 when the colonialists banned the NDP. ZANU was formed in
1963 as a breakaway from ZAPU.

A decade or so later, ZANU and ZAPU formed a broad-based guerrilla war coalition known as the Patriotic Front (PF), which in 1979 negotiated the terms of Zimbabwe’s independence in constitutional talks at Lancaster House, London. But the two strands remained essentially separate in both leadership and operations. Their headquarters were in different countries, with PF-ZAPU based in Lusaka, Zambia, under the
leadership of Joshua Nkomo, and ZANU-PF under Robert Mugabe in Maputo, Mozambique.The Patriotic Front coalition became strained in the months following independence, after ZANU-PF won 57 of 100 parliamentary seats in the first general election of 1980. PF-ZAPU picked up only 18. The two parties were merged in 1987 under a Unity Accord, on terms which were less a reassertion of the former Patriotic Front
coalition than a confirmation of the political dominance of Robert Mugabe and his ruling party. The name ZANU-PF was retained.

The foundations of hegemony

The power and influence of ZANU-PF emerged from the state which it inherited in 1980. The combination of a guerrilla army with the colonial apparatus ofthe former Rhodesia created a spectre whose full political and economic significance can be understood only with hindsight. The process was underwritten by Britain, the former colonial power, in the form of technical assistance to the security forces and public service.

Popular support for Mugabe, as the hero of the independence struggle, gave ZANU-PF legitimacy and political leverage. The ruling party was able to crush any threat to its new dispensation of One-Party-One-State-One-Leader. Like most nationalist movements of the era, ZANU-PF was intellectually and ideologically vacuous. The conflation of party and state became a life-line, which continues to bring significant benefits for ZANU-PF, including:

• Key leaders straddling positions in both party and state.
• Access to state resources and organisation.
• Deeply ingrained militarism, reflected in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZANLA).
• A self-legitimating and self-perpetuating political ideology.

This is the framework through which ZANU-PF has been able to maintain political hegemony, contest elections and replicate its systems of control and patronage. The role of the party in the independence struggle is linked, ideologically, to the birth of the state of Zimbabwe. But the Party itself lacks resources and structure, and remains essentially a shell, except at election times. Since 2000, in particular, the  Zimbabwean state has lost the capacity for democratic discourse. The situation is inimical to genuine multi-partyism. Besieged by both internal and external opposition, the party-state is almost consumed by paranoia and a mentality of destructive self-defence.

Against this background, even at the height of the MDC’s strength as a possible alternative to ZANU-PF in 2000, Morgan Tsvangirai had to concede that ZANU-PF was almost indispensable to Zimbabwean society. During an interview on national television in October 2000, I asked Tsvangirai what he would have done if the MDC had won the general election in June of the same year. Tsvangirai replied that he would have formed a coalition with ZANU-PF. Tsvangirai explained that a coalition was necessary because of the control exercised by ZANU-PF over the army and security forces. The implication was that the MDC could not risk going it alone.

The problem of succession

The confusion of party and state has frustrated attempts to unseat Mugabe. The difficulties of succession owe less to the idiosyncrasies ofan incumbent who would like to die in office, than to the organisational weakness of ZANU-PF compared to the state. This confusion provides a loose but convenient framework through which Mugabe has been able to retain control. The Cabinet, the ZANU-PF Politburo and the party’s Central Committee have become instruments through which to pre-empt or manage dissent. Patronage keeps the state apparatus well greased.
However, debate over the succession within ZANU-PF has simmered under the surface since at least 1987, when Mugabe became the executive president. Veteran nationalists Eddison Zvobgo, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Sydney Sekeramai and John Nkomo were mentioned, variously, as possible contenders in the vain expectation that Mugabe would retire by the turn of the 1990s.

Every ZANU-PF Congress since 1994 has held out the possibility of discussion, or even decision, on a plan for succession. This has never materialised, although most members ofthe party hierarchy have never been reconciled to the idea of a president for life. Many were understandably lukewarm in their response to Mugabe’s presidential bid in 2002. Eddison Zvobgo, speaking at a colleague’s funeral shortly before the elections of 2002, likened the president’s refusal to hand over power to “the mentality of a madman who, when given a baton in a race, flees with it into the mountains instead of passing it on.” Interviewed in December 2003, Zvobgo told me that Mugabe had no concept of succession but would, if necessary, “raze the entire country to the ground in order to stay in power”. Sadly, Mugabe has  done just that.

The Tsholotsho succession bid

The issue of succession came to a head in the months leading to the ZANU-PF Congress of December 2004. Two expectations developed, unstated, within the party. First, that Mugabe would retire at the end of his term in March 2008. Second, that whoever was elected by Congress to the vacant post of party vice-president would be Mugabe’s successor.  The contest for vice-president was between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Joice Mujuru. According to party insiders, by August 2004 Mnangagwa had secured support from seven of Zimbabwe’s ten provinces. Joice Mujuru was a surprise candidate supported by the Women’s Congress, on the strength of a resolution passed in 1999 requiring one of the two vice-presidents to be a woman. In the face of this belated challenge, Mnangagwa’s supporters, led by Jonathan Moyo and other party heavyweights, organised a meeting at Tsholotsho in western Zimbabwe. Their plan, which became known as the “Tsholotsho succession bid”, was to oust vice-president Joseph Msika and national chairman John Nkomo in order to prevent the election of Joice Mujuru as second vice-president. The vice-presidential positions were to be contested by Emmerson Mnangagwa and Thenjiwe Lesabe, with Patrick Chinamasa standing for national chairman and Jonathan Moyo running for the position of secretary for administration (in effect, secretary-general).

Mugabe found himself caught between the “Tsholotsho gang” on the one hand and, on the other, Joice and Solomon Mujuru, various political allies across the ten provinces, and their loyalists in the military and security. Most of the “Tsholotsho gang” were exposed by December 2004, and their plan did not succeed. Joseph Msika and John Nkomo retained their posts. Joice Mujuru emerged as vice president in both party and state. In his closing remarks at the Congress, Mugabe inferred that Joice Mujuru had become his successor. Amid applause, he told her to look beyond being just a vice-president.

A balance of forces

The key question raised by the 2004 Congress is to what extent did the outcome of the party elections represent a long-term victory for the ZANLA power bloc within ZANU-PF, represented by Solomon and Joice Mujuru? Did the victory of this army faction upset whatever game-plan Mugabe himself had in mind, including the objective of extending his term ofoffice beyond 2008? The two-year period between Congress in 2004 and ZANU-PF’s annual conference of December 2006 demonstrated that Mugabe had not yet decided to step down, either as party leader or as head of state. Joice Mujuru’s prospects of moving into State House were anything but a fantasy. At the December 2006 annual Conference, in Goromonzi, party members were surprised when Mugabe tabled a motion to extend his term of office from 2008 to 2010.

However, the same elements which had defeated the “Tsholotsho” agenda resisted the 20 I0 plan. Within the party, calls grew louder for Mugabe to quit at the end of his current term. Mugabe himself had intimated in various interviews, albeit outside the country, that he was preparing to leave office. Veteran nationalists Enos Nkala and Edgar Tekere added their weight to demands that Mugabe concede to a peaceful succession.

In a broadcast interview on February 20th 2007, Mugabe accused his detractors inside and outside the Party of unbridled ambition and impatience. He said that he was not going to be “pushed out” prematurely, and expectations that Joice Mujuru would soon succeed him were mistaken. “If I want to lengthen my term I can stand next year [2008] – what prevents me from standing and beating?” Mugabe concluded, “I can stand and then have another six years for that matter…”

Mugabe is still fully aware that a significant section – perhaps even a majority – of the party leadership, senior military and the security hierarchy wanted him to retire at the end of his term in 2008.  Those campaigning for Mugabe’s retirement argue that:

• Mugabe has overstayed his usefulness as leader of party and state.
• He lacks the skills to tackle the political and economic malaise.
• Zimbabwe’s fortunes can be revived under a new chief executive.
• A change in leadership will save ZANU-PF from almost certain doom ifhe stays.
• His retirement would inspire the entire nation, heralding a new era in Zimbabwe.


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