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.”

‘Bi­ased in­ter­fer­ence’

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.

In­clu­sive process

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.

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