Friends with benefits
With Zimbabwe’s political future in the balance, civil society is demanding that the country’s citizens be allowed to chart their way forward without the interference of the region’s discredited would-be power broker, SADC
The greatest defensive weapon unpopular, and even illegitimate, presidents have in the region is the Southern African Development Community.
The regional body, established to promote economic development and cooperation among the African countries south of the Congo River, has proved time and again to be little more than a protection racket for despots and heads of state who refuse to hand over power even when their terms in office have constitutionally expired. Just recently, the body gave its blessings to Joseph Kabila’s illegal extension of his term as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s president under the pretence that the Great Lakes’ most populous and tumultuous country was not ready to hold elections.
There are many other instances where the body’s intervention during a crisis was done in a partisan fashion that almost always favoured the head of state against those demanding change.
There is no country where this has been more evident than in Zimbabwe where, even when it was clear that the opposition had won the most votes in the 2008 presidential election, SADC intervention ensured that Robert Mugabe stayed on as president.
It is therefore no surprise that, despite losing control of his country and government to the army, Mugabe is refusing to step down and is banking on SADC and its member countries to save him once again.
‘Peace and security’
If the utterances of regional leaders during the past few days are anything to go by, Mugabe has every reason to believe they will not abandon him. Foreign ministers from Tanzania, Angola and Zambia — who currently constitute SADC’s Organ Troika — met with South Africa’s minister of international relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, this week to recommend the convening of a meeting of regional heads of state on an undetermined date — a move that would buy Mugabe more time and weaken the hand of those who seek to oust him.
President Jacob Zuma, who is the current SADC chairman, made remarks in Botswana on Friday that suggested that he was still entertaining a political resolution to the crisis that would see Mugabe stay on as head of state, even if for a few months while a permanent solution is sought.
“We note with great concern the unfolding political developments in Zimbabwe and hope that they would not lead to unconstitutional change of government,” Zuma said.
“We urge all the parties to ensure that maintenance of peace and security as enshrined in their constitution is not compromised.”
But, as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions — which has been at the forefront of attempts to democratise Zimbabwe since the early 1990s — pointed out, SADC is partly to blame for the crisis and should, therefore, not be given a free hand to manipulate the process to save Mugabe.
“Any decision must be reached on the unavoidable premise that the most important part of the solution is for Mugabe to step down immediately and allow the citizens to chart their preferred way forward,” said ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo.
“We implore SADC to allow Zimbabweans to solve their problems without undue and biased interference. We also remind SADC that when Zimbabweans complained about dictatorship and the tyrannical rule of Mugabe, they took a position that Zimbabweans must solve their own problems.
“The current situation should not be an exception. Zimbabweans must be allowed and given sufficient chance to solve their problems,” he said.
But even if SADC leaders are up to their old tricks, all indications are that it is too late to save Mugabe. His days as the head of the Zimbabwean government — a position he has held since the country gained independence in 1980 — are numbered.
The army is in charge of the country and its reticence about fully assuming control by removing Mugabe as president has to do with SADC’s and the AU’s standing policy not to recognise any government that comes about through military force.
Initially, it appears, General Constantine Chiwenga and other army chiefs involved in the military takeover banked on their actions forcing Mugabe to tender his resignation — hence technically avoiding the change of government being classified as a coup d’état.
But with Mugabe standing his ground by insisting that he should be allowed to serve out the remainder of his current term — which ends next year — the generals and their political allies find themselves in a fix.
Talk in Zimbabwe is that the generals are now looking at taking a political route to break the impasse. They want the ruling Zanu-PF’s central committee, which is scheduled to meet today, to recall Mugabe from office. He will then be replaced as party leader by the man he recently fired as his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Indications by Friday night were that many of the party’s structures would support such a move. If Mugabe still refuses to resign even after the central committee has asked him to do so, the party would push for his impeachment in parliament.
The political route would address SADC’s concern over “the unconstitutional change of government”. After all, SADC raised no objections when the ANC, in 2008, “recalled” Thabo Mbeki from office with just over a year to go before the end of his term.
When Mugabe eventually steps down, it will be a dramatic end to an extraordinary period in which, at one point, he seemed so in control that he was on his way to effectively installing his wife, Grace, as Zimbabwe’s next president — only for the two of them to be tripped up by their own arrogance.
As the Zanu-PF elective conference, scheduled for next month, and general elections drew near, it became clear that Mugabe’s once close-knit inner circle had been split into two factions.
One rallied around Grace and is mostly made up of relatively young turks who go by the name Generation 40 or G40.
The other group — known as Team Lacoste in reference to their support for Mnangagwa who is nicknamed “Ngwena” or “The Crocodile” — has the backing of the military and war veterans.
Mugabe’s fall, coupled with the arrest of a number of cabinet ministers associated with Grace’s faction, may mean the end of the G40 and their influence over the state.
But what of Zanu-PF? Can the party outlive Robert Mugabe, the man it has been so closely associated with for much of its existence?
Clearly that is what Mnangagwa and the generals believe. Unconfirmed reports are that in their meetings with political parties and governments that have been supportive of Zimbabwe over the years, Team Lacoste members are selling their bid to end the Mugabe dynasty as the only way to guarantee the party’s dominance in Zimbabwean politics.
However, so much depends on how the opposition reacts to this crisis.
Already weak, and further hamstrung by internal leadership conflicts, the Zimbabwean opposition seemed to have been caught off guard by the dramatic developments of the past week.
Opposition parties are yet to react with a clear political programme that would ensure that Mugabe’s fall does not lead to another tyrannical administration — one that, moreover, has the backing of an army that has, over the decades, proved to be more than willing to use violence to suppress dissent.
If the current crisis is to lead to a democratic breakthrough in Zimbabwe, talks to resolve it can’t be a Zanu-PF-only affair involving the army, party structures and Mugabe. It should be an allinclusive process that takes into account the views of opposition parties and the broader civil society movement.
And it cannot be facilitated by SADC.