By Tafi Mhaka
When Grace Mugabe called out a shamefaced Kazembe Kazembe at a Zanu-PF Youth Interface Rally in Bindura earlier this year, to rebuke him over calls he made for Saviour Kasukuwere to resign, it was really part of a well-planned First Family strategy to humiliate, debilitate and silence an ambitious rival step by step and week in and week out. President Robert Mugabe has outsmarted scores of foes since 1975 and made his close colleagues rich and powerful men and women at the same time.
So these bouts of repeated and embarrassing humiliations cannot be lost on the powerful securocrats who lead sophisticated lifestyles amidst increasing impoverishment. So when Emmerson Mnangagwa stands accused of threatening the First Family this will inspire communal displeasure among the men and women who owe much to Mugabe and have been with him for a long time.
History has shown how strongman rule often leads to dynastic rule and the continual domination of a small class of economic and political elites. Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon with an iron fist for 42 years and built a massive fortune for his 53 children, was succeeded by his son Ali Bongo in 2009.
In Egypt a wealthy and high-powered Gamal Mubarak had been tipped to take over from President Hosni Mubarak before the Arab Spring of 2011 swept the longest serving Egyptian leader from power. Over in Angola it is not inconceivable that Isabel Dos Santos, the super rich daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the influential CEO of Sonangol, the Angolan national oil company, might one day become the first female president of the southern African nation.
Voters often back famous political candidates. So political and economic actors will often coalesce around a brand name candidate in a meal ticket like scenario. That explains why a clownish ideological warmonger like George W Bush became the 43rd president of the USA in 2000 and an uninspiring, naive and error-prone Hillary Clinton ran for the White House last year on a Democratic Party ticket.
Former US First Lady Michelle Obama could have an excellent run in US politics off the back of her surname. While Cristina Kirchner actually succeeded her husband as the president of Argentina in 2007. So can an inexperienced and gaffe strewn Mrs Mugabe. Perhaps that is why her husband does not trust that Mnangagwa will buy into his cryptic succession plans.
Loyalty and trust can be worthless qualities in strongman politics. Mobutu Sese Seko played a leading role in the execution of a deposed Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961. And Blaise Compaoré had President Thomas Sankara murdered for his Marxist ideals in a bloody coup in 1987. Every politician is expendable in the bigger scheme of strongman machinations. But colleagues who show no ambition for the highest office in the land and seemingly mind their own business within an authoritarian regime – people like Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, can thrive in humble silence.
And although the alleged suspicions and fantastic ridicule engulfing Mnangagwa make for excellent media material and exact a measure of karma for his Gukurahundi and alleged Godfrey Majonga exploits, you cannot escape the fact that politics in Zimbabwe is laced with tomblike fear and dark intent that belie the peaceful democracy and significant well-being the nation has craved since 1980.
Once Mnangagwa has been banished all efforts will be directed towards the 2018 elections and here is why the comrades can afford to have a playground fight real close to a crucial election period: the opposition has lost its mojo and run short of fresh ideas.
See, you could do all that is right in this tough situation – such as run a clever campaign built on solid ideas and mobilise people to register to vote in numbers – but still lose the elections. The same underhand plans and resources that have been employed to render Mnangagwa a harmless and hopeless Crocodile Dundee comic character will be magnified a thousand times over and focused squarely on opposition forces.
Only a fearless leader with a clear and fresh strategy and a sense of boundless self-sacrifice can help deliver a new and brighter Zimbabwe. Zanu-PF will accept a few losses here and there in the next elections, because of the economic situation, but still expect to win overall. Suffice it to say, such a victory will not resolve an economic quagmire and inspire fresh hope.
What then will it take to force Zanu-PF to enact far-reaching media, security sector and electoral reforms in time for the next elections, especially when almost all external actors – this includes the AU and SADC, have grown numb to the political schisms that cause seismic challenges and disagreements within Zimbabwe all the time? People must embark on ceaseless legal and peaceful protests.
Without colossal shows of unhappiness on the streets and the simultaneous application of targeted, lawful pressure on selected state officials the chances of realising positive changes will remain slim at best. And without a leader who is willing to give up all for a national cause and lead the people to the next phase of social, economic and political independence nothing will change and the nation might descend into a Venezuelan dilemma with no caution.
Unless there is a candidate who can go toe-to-toe with the Mugabes in an extraordinarily hostile and lopsided climate and win the presidential election so convincingly well the victory will be incontestable in court things will head south again. American civil rights icon and peace activist Martin Luther King died on the battleground.
But before he passed on he had proposed and led a host of huge, impactful and peaceful political campaigns that compelled a racist and rather reluctant government to enact fresh rights for much-repressed African-Americans. Zimbabwe will have to unearth its own Martin Luther King Jnr soon, if change is ever to materialise in the near future, or else “Her Excellency Grace Mugabe,” with her supporters and securocrats in tow, will succeed her husband.