Mugabe keeps everyone guessing


Zimbabwe’s crucial elections are just six months away but President Robert Mugabe is keeping everyone, including his own lieutenants, guessing. No one knows exactly when the elections will be held. But more importantly who will be contesting especially from his own party.

Mugabe has been endorsed as the party’s presidential candidate and only God now stands in his way. He received crucial backing from war veterans on August 29 when more than 5 000 former freedom fighters marched in the capital in solidarity with him.

War veterans won Mugabe the 2000 parliamentary elections which were nearly swept by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change which lost by only three seats. They also won him the 2002 presidential elections.

Ironically, the war veterans were led by Jabulani Sibanda, who was expelled from the party in 2005. Sibanda was one of the most trusted lieutenants of former vice-president Joshua Nkomo but senior former ZAPU officials hate him because he was the one who nominated Mugabe for the 2002 presidential elections when he was chairman of Bulawayo province. They felt it was ZAPU’s turn to take over. Sources say Sibanda has told Mugabe that no one can expel him from ZANU-PF because it is his only party.

The backing of the war veterans has boosted Mugabe’s morale and stature and is reported to have stunned those trying to push him out including his fiercest critics from within his own party – Solomon Mujuru and Dumiso Dabengwa.

Solomon Mujuru chairs a committee that was set up to restructure the war veterans association and Dabengwa is his deputy. The two were trying to get rid of Sibanda.

Mujuru, a former army commander, has openly told Mugabe to go and did not support his nomination at last year’s annual conference at Goromonzi in Mujuru’s home province of Mashonaland East. He has kept the pressure despite Mugabe’s nomination. This year’s annual conference is being held in Bindura, his wife’s stronghold, in the first week of December.

Dabengwa, the Bulawayo and Matabeleland kingpin is opposed to Mugabe’s candidacy because he believes that under the unity accord of 1987, it is now ZAPU’s turn to rule, otherwise the accord was a sham. Jabulani Sibanda and war veterans from the country’s second city have been his biggest stumbling block.

Bulawayo province is so far the only party province without an elected executive. The party has 10 provinces. It was supposed to hold elections in April but they were postponed after war veterans showed national political commissar, Elliot Manyika, that the Dabengwa faction wanted Mugabe out but did not have the support of the people.

Another key member of the committee is retired general Vitalis Zvinavashe, who was a close ally of another presidential contender Emmerson Mnangagwa. Zvinavashe is now reported to have crossed to Mujuru’s camp.

Other members are Richard Dube, a retired colonel, Getrude Moyo, a retired lieut. colonel and Alex Mudavanhu, a retired major.

Following their successful march during which Mugabe technically endorsed Sibanda’s leadership, war veterans are now calling for the dissolution of the committee. If they get their way, which is very likely, this would be a major blow to Mujuru and Dabengwa.

Though Mugabe has now been assured that he will be the party’s presidential candidate, jostling for power within the ruling party has never stopped. The party is now divided into three major factions— those that want Mugabe to stay on, those who want him to go but are loyal to Mujuru and those that are loyal to Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mugabe has the backing of the war veterans and the women’s league and the youth wing which is led by Absolom Sikosana. The women’s league is led by Oppah Muchinguri, a former liberation fighter who could have become the first lady after the death of Sally Mugabe. She is so loyal to Mugabe that she has threatened to undo anything or anyone who stands in his way. The Women’s League is very powerful and because women constitute the majority of the country’s voters, she holds the trampcard.

It is not clear how much support Sikhosana has nationwide but he can count on the support of war veterans who are behind Mugabe.

Observers say the problems in Bulawayo, a stronghold of the Movement for Democratic Change and the old ZAPU led by Joshua Nkomo, reflect the conflict within the ruling party. The young turks want Mugabe to stay because they argue that he is the only leader who is principled enough to fight against imperialism.

They argue that he has stood his ground despite the battering and demonising from the West and should therefore stay until the country is completely liberated. Anyone else, they argue “will not withstand the pressure from the West” and would reverse the gains of independence especially that of the land issue, the main reason why freedom fighters went to war to liberate the country.

Ironically, the young war veterans that are backing Mugabe are also the ones that support Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa now seems to have entered into a truce with Mugabe. He will not challenge him but should be assured of the top post should Mugabe step down.

This is now easy to implement as Mugabe is amending the constitution to allow Parliament to appoint his successor. The present constitution says the country can only have a president that is elected by the nation. Elections have to be held within 90 days of the president stepping down. All Mugabe now needs to do is to make sure that Parliament is staffed with people that are loyal to him. The party is calling a special congress before the elections to effect this.

Mugabe is enlarging both the House of Assembly and the senate. Parliament currently has 216 members, 150 in the House of Assembly and 66 in the senate. He wants to increase this to 294 with 210 in the House and 84 in the senate.

Mujuru is therefore the only senior party official still fighting to get Mugabe out. But whispers say the man who has all along been reported to be Mujuru’s choice, Simba Makoni, has deserted the general. He seems to sympathise with other technocrats like Gideon Gono.

For some reason, analysts say Mujuru does not really want his wife to take over. One of the reasons often cited is that they are no longer living together as husband and wife but are just keeping the pretence to retain Joyce’s high post and maintain her profile of a stable mother of the nation.

Mugabe now seems to have an upper hand even at provincial level. Though members of the politburo in Bulawayo are against him, Mugabe can count on the young turks led by Jabulani Sibanda.

He has the backing of Obert Mpofu in Matabeleland North. Mpofu has always been considered Mugabe’s inside man in Matabeleland since the Willowgate car scandal of the 1980s. He tells Mugabe who his enemies in Matebeleland region as a whole are.

Mugabe can count on the support of Andrew Langa, another young turk in Matabeleland South. Naison Ndlovu is the most senior man in the province but he had been ditched by his own colleagues and was rescued by Mugabe. Kembo Mohadi is a force to reckon with but he is likely to go with the winning side. He has too much at stake to protect.

Midlands is Mnangagwa’s base. His only opponent is Rugare Gumbo, a former rebel within ZANU-PF while still in Mozambique but Gumbo will not stand in Mugabe’s way because he was elevated by Mugabe to keep Mnangagwa in check.

Nathan Shamuyarira remains Mashonaland West’s kingpin. He is loyal to Mugabe because Mugabe protects him from his FROLIZI shadow which has sometimes been used to silence him by the younger stalwarts.

Mashonaland Central is Joyce Mujuru’s stronghold but Mugabe is backed by Elliot Manyika, the national political commissar. He can also count on the support of people like Chen Chimutengende.

Mashonaland East is Solomon Mujuru’s turf. He is backed Ray Kaukonde who is also his business partner. But when it comes to the crunch he can count on old hands like Sydney Sekermayi, Olivia Muchena and even young turks like David Parirenyatwa.

Mugabe enjoys the blind loyalty of Didymus Mutasa the most senior man in Manicaland, but Oppah Muchinguri is his tramp card. He can also count on Joseph Made but more importantly on Patrick Chinamasa.

Chinamasa and Mnangagwa were the only two senior officials that survived the Tsholotsho debacle of 2004 in what was intended to be a “smart coup” to oppose the elevation of Joyce Mujuru to the post of vice-president.

Mugabe kept Chinamasa because he needs him. He is a legal expert. He is the man who knows his way around the constitution. But more importantly Chinamasa is the man that can legitimise Mugabe’s victory. He knows how to navigate his way around the Southern African Development Community’s guidelines for democratic elections.

The most senior man in Masvingo is now Zvinavahse. He is reported to have crossed from Mnagwagwa to Mujuru. But he probably did so because of bitterness. Zvinavashe retired from the defence forces thinking he would take over vice-President Simon Muzenda’s post but this was not the case. He can therefore easily be swayed if someone offers him what he wants.

Mugabe’s worst enemies are therefore God and the Movement for Democratic Change. God has to let him live long enough to contest the elections. The MDC wants him out and has vowed to contest against him.

But Mugabe is probably more afraid of God than the MDC because the opposition is now divided and will not fight the election as a united body. This will therefore split their vote in Mugabe’s favour.

Arthur Mutambara, leader of one of the factions, has already announced that he is in the process of selecting candidates for Parliament. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction, was supposed to launch his election campaign on 9 September but this was postponed.

It looks it will be an easy ride for Mugabe because he has the state machinery and the war veterans behind him. The opposition currently appears to have nothing to offer, except that Mugabe should go. Instead, they seem to be spending more time demanding a level playing field and complaining about rigging. They also claim that the voters’ roll is in shambles and that Mugabe has manipulated the latest registration exercise to bring in rural voters into the urban centres.

Though their complains may be genuine, observers say MDC demands are a mirage and a fallacy because elections are a contest and no incumbent will ever offer a level playing field. Even in sport, teams employ dirty tricks to psychologically weaken their opponents.

The observers say the MDC should just campaign and tell the people what the party has to offer. If it really has something to offer and people believe it, the party will win despite all the obstacles. They cite the example of Mugabe himself in 1980. All the odds were against him.

Abel Muzorewa, the Prime Minister at the time, had all the machinery to win an election at his hands: government vehicles, helicopters, the army, his private army Pfumo Revanhu, the media and the backing of Rhodesian Front leader Ian Smith, but he only won three seats.

Mugabe, on the other hand, had less than a month to campaign. He had no offices to operate from. His lieutenants were constantly arrested disrupting his campaign. He had no access to the media. The only paper that supported him had its presses bombed. But he still won 57 of the 80 seats being contested, something that even surprised him.

Mugabe had something to offer. He could end the war.

The MDC has something that it could offer, an end to the misery that people are going through under Mugabe’s rule. But it has to sell that to the people. It has to convince them that it can really turn around the economy.

While all the odds are against it, the MDC should stop being a crybaby. It has been argued all along that Mugabe uses the rural vote to keep him in power. This is a very lame excuse because it assumes that the rural voter cannot think.

Despite its economic meltdown, Zimbabwe still has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. Its people are highly intelligent. They look more at what you can offer them, and do not follow someone blindly. That is why, despite Mugabe’s election machinery, he has failed to win Matabeleland. It strictly remains ZAPU territory and anyone who offers to shut Mugabe out gets their vote. One can bring tonnes of food or thousands of heifers as Mugabe has already done but this will not sway their vote.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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