This is Zanu-PF play­ing mu­si­cal chairs to a mil­i­tary tune

Zimbabwe has been ‘cap­tured’ for years by its rul­ing party, which is not about to share power

Sunday Times - - INSIGHT ZIMBABWE - By DAVID MONYAE Dr Monyae, a pol­icy an­a­lyst, is co-di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute

Acoup or not a coup? That is the first ques­tion about Zimbabwe this week, and around this there has been a lot of con­fu­sion. There is a fis­sure be­tween the sit­u­a­tion on the ground and the official procla­ma­tion by the mil­i­tary brass.

On the one hand, the mil­i­tary has not for­mally re­moved Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, al­though he has been un­der con­fine­ment.

On the other, the mil­i­tary have oc­cu­pied na­tional key points, from par­lia­ment and the ju­di­ciary to the air­port in Harare, as well as the Zimbabwe Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.

Since the dawn of in­de­pen­dent Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF has en­sured there is no dis­tinc­tion be­tween the party and the state. As a re­sult, in­tra-party in­trigues spill over such that the mil­i­tary, it­self com­posed of Zimbabwe African Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army veter­ans of the Rhode­sian war, has now en­tered the po­lit­i­cal stage.

The army must now seek a ne­go­ti­ated tran­si­tion to avoid an official mil­i­tary coup, or risk fur­ther sanc­tions by the world and the re­gion (at this point, iron­i­cally, Mu­gabe’s best lever­age point), in­clud­ing by South Africa, which (de­spite its fail­ings) can­not over­look an un­der­min­ing of Zim­bab­wean democ­racy.

Mu­gabe, af­ter all, was of­fi­cially elected into power (at the lat­est poll, in 2013, by 61% of the official elec­torate).

Zanu-PF has no in­ter­est in open­ing up space for op­po­si­tion par­ties to be part of the dis­cus­sion about the fu­ture of the coun­try, which is go­ing to the polls again next year.

The Zim­bab­wean mil­i­tary wants con­tin­ued Zanu-PF hege­mony.

There­fore, the main op­tion on the ta­ble for the mil­i­tary junta is to get Mu­gabe to re­sign — from the party lead­er­ship as well — and to place a new in­di­vid­ual in both po­si­tions.

The most likely con­tender in this is for­mer deputy pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, but the prospect for a pro­longed coup re­mains.

This car­ries many dan­gers for the coun­try.


Should Mu­gabe dig his heels in, we may see the ral­ly­ing of the masses on the streets — some­thing that would seal in the junta and give it an air of pop­u­lar le­git­i­macy.

They could also im­peach Mu­gabe through par­lia­ment, which would not be dif­fi­cult as it al­ready ap­pears that the forces for change have gath­ered.

Mu­gabe and Mnan­gagwa once had one of the clos­est po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ships in African his­tory. Hav­ing met in 1962 when both were po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers for op­pos­ing Ian Smith’s Rhode­sia, they came to form a men­tor­pro­tégé po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship.

Mnan­gagwa re­ceived mil­i­tary train­ing in China and Egypt, earn­ing his “Croc­o­dile” nick­name through his acts of sab­o­tage against the Rhode­sian gov­ern­ment.

At Zimbabwe’s in­de­pen­dence in 1980, Mnan­gagwa was ap­pointed min­is­ter of state se­cu­rity, a role he held un­til 1988 when he be­came min­is­ter of jus­tice.

Mu­gabe sacked his deputy last week af­ter harsh crit­i­cism and ridicule di­rected at Mnan­gagwa by the pres­i­dent’s wife, Grace — but the Mu­gabes mis­cal­cu­lated.

Mnan­gagwa’s level of in­flu­ence within the party and the army, the re­sult of decades of sat­u­ra­tion, en­sured that he could re­cu­per­ate and, as he bla­tantly stated, “come back to lead Zimbabwe”.

But why now? What fac­tors al­lowed this coup to hap­pen when it did?

Stu­dents of pol­i­tics know that shifts of this na­ture are usu­ally the cul­mi­na­tion of a num­ber of fac­tors rooted in both the do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion and the global arena.

What hap­pened in Zimbabwe was en­abled by a ter­ri­ble eco­nomic con­text. Un­em­ploy­ment is of­fi­cially es­ti­mated at close to 90%, some civil ser­vice work­ers are not get­ting paid, and the econ­omy has been in free-fall since the early 2000s due to the ap­pli­ca­tion of the sort of 1970s and ’80sstyle Maoist poli­cies that even China it­self has moved away from.

The catas­tro­phe is in­di­cated most poignantly by the mas­sive Zim­bab­wean di­as­pora.

At­tempts at restor­ing the Zim­bab­wean econ­omy have all but fallen flat, with the international donor com­mu­nity fa­tigued by the land­locked dic­ta­tor­ship.

What of the peo­ple? What does this mean for the av­er­age cit­i­zen of Zimbabwe?

More than 60% of Zimbabwe’s pop­u­la­tion are younger than 30 and have there­fore known no other leader but Mu­gabe. For them, this mo­ment of­fers some fresh­ness in the po­lit­i­cal in­ter­face of the coun­try.

Mu­gabe has been in power for 37 years and has vir­tu­ally held the coun­try hostage while he mis­man­aged the econ­omy. He has also had many ac­cu­sa­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions lev­elled against him.

Perpetual tran­si­tion

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is likely to lead to a some­what perpetual tran­si­tion ar­range­ment with the bless­ing of the op­po­si­tion par­ties, who are al­ready con­verg­ing to try to cosy up to the junta.

There is much buzz about the coup be­ing a nec­es­sary rup­ture to usher in an age of democ­racy. This is wish­ful think­ing, how­ever, and those who have fallen into it are in for some dis­ap­point­ment.

In­deed, the great­est sac­ri­fi­cial lamb in this en­tire process will be democ­racy it­self.

What is tak­ing place is noth­ing more than an in­tra-Zanu-PF game of mu­si­cal chairs and restack­ing the deck.

The re­sult that should be re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pected is a perpetual “tran­si­tion gov­ern­ment” ar­range­ment.

Zimbabwe’s story is in many ways sim­i­lar to that of South Africa, and there is much cause for con­cern in this re­gard.

Zanu-PF quite clearly cap­tured the state from the on­set, lead­ing to the out­come that we have seen.

Fur­ther­more, the party lost vi­sion, much as the ANC has done, and be­came caught up in the mi­lieu of cor­rup­tion scan­dals and self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment by lead­er­ship.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, this led to a rot in the na­tion, in which we now find men in uni­form tak­ing over key state in­sti­tu­tions and hold­ing the pres­i­dent to ran­som, di­rect­ing civil­ians with the bless­ing of the international com­mu­nity.

Be­yond this, the old guard needs to give way to the younger gen­er­a­tion with proper suc­ces­sion plans so that power can move from the pi­o­neer gen­er­a­tion to the next.

This step would serve not only for a peace­ful tran­si­tion of power but also to en­sure that lib­er­a­tion ideals are safe­guarded.

Linked to this is the need for a clear eco­nomic vi­sion to en­hance eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

That is de­coloni­sa­tion in its truest sense, some­thing that the ANC needs to bear in mind head­ing to its De­cem­ber elec­tive con­fer­ence.

Fur­ther­more, the sit­u­a­tion in Zimbabwe raises the ques­tion of how much the South African gov­ern­ment it­self is ad­vanc­ing the masses in terms of ed­u­ca­tion — a huge point of na­tional dis­course right now — as well as health, and safety and se­cu­rity, and en­sur­ing a sense of en­fran­chise­ment in the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ar­chi­tec­ture.

South Africa should use the Zim­bab­wean events to un­der­stand and get ahead of re­gional and global trends, guard­ing its na­tional in­ter­est in an era in which na­tions in­creas­ingly have to fend for them­selves.

Pic­ture: Reuters

Zimbabwe’s Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe with his for­mer deputy, Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, with whom he once shared an ex­tremely close re­la­tion­ship.

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