Grace Mugabe, Zanu PF instabilities and the looming political cul de sac: A warning to Zimbabwe’s pro-democracy movement

By Maureen Kademaunga

This opinion seeks to reflect on the recent developments in the ruling party (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front [ZANU PF]) and their potential ramifications to the country and its politics. The uncomplicated logic and common-sense of it is that the occurrences in the ruling party have a direct bearing on our lives given the current balance of the 2018 elections.

Maureen Kademaunga
Maureen Kademaunga

Simply put, it may determine the political choices that we may have to make in Zimbabwe. Perhaps, one may question: why not writing about the very important and topical subject of voter registration. Furthermore, others may quiz why not dwell on the state of opposition politics or on the marks of the pinching, grinding and blighting poverty that are getting darker by the day or on the cash crisis and our strained fiscus, or on our underperforming economy or on the tragic health care system.

These vital matters occupy a distinctive place in any meaningful political debate and discourse in Zimbabwe. Respectfully and rightfully, many may argue that they must be the mainstay of every right-thinking Zimbabwean and anything other than this is an unnecessary digression.

The argument advanced is: you must attend to your business or that of the vendor, and not to the noise in the market. I will respectfully disregard this wisdom and attempts to rank and determine what is critical and not. My simple argument, is that all debates are critical, hence my delving into the implication of the current instabilities within the ruling party.

I make this argument in an attempt to highlight the following factors that the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe needs to pay close attention to: ZANU PF may not necessarily be on the decline; there is a seemingly deliberate effort to rebrand ZANU PF’s politics and woe youths to the party and lastly, that Grace appears to be only a forerunner like the biblical John the Baptist and not the anointed new Czar of ZANU PF.

It is my warning to the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe that an obsession with ZANU PF ructions, instabilities and hatred of Grace Mugabe may cloud our judgment and lead us into a political cul de sac.

Mnangagwa’s dismissal from government and his expulsion from the ZANU PF is in essence a cleansing of the old guard and its baggage. Mnangagwa and his compeers in ZANU PF are notorious for helping Mugabe perpetuate a system of domination which has been aided by structurally organized and state sponsored violence.

It is a system that coerces, criminalises or disposes those who resist the one centre of power. Interestingly, Mnangagwa and many of his allies that are in the process of being disciplined or booted out of the ruling party have been some of the architects of this system that is now decimating them.

It would seem at this point that Mugabe has abandoned his time-honoured comrades and decided to be forward-thinking and give succour to the younger cohorts who are determined to dismantle the political infrastructure that aided militarist organising in ZANU PF.

He has virtually removed himself from the hustle and bustle of the political milieu and has assumed the role of a place holder on the presidency and that of a kingmaker where the future leadership of his party is concerned. Save for a few incidences were he has posed as the lead antagonist such as the ranting at the Bulawayo Youth Interface rally, he has managed to blend with the background and let his wife and her allies fight from the frontline.

Perhaps, the most recent demonstration of his new-found politics is that he allowed the announcement of Mnangagwa’s dismissal to be made by someone else other than him. The symbolism of having Simon Khaya Moyo, the government spokesperson, make such a high-level proclamation that Mugabe would ordinarily make himself reaffirms the point that he has tactically detached himself and is allowing for a political changeover to ensue.

Perhaps the most central detail in this scheme is that there has been a deliberate portrayal of Mnangagwa as the sole architect of the ugly episodes on Zimbabwe’s political timeline. The media sound bite and spin control, steered by Jonathan Moyo, has served a strategic purpose of retelling history and emphasising Mnangagwa’s personal involvement with the ugly and horrific massacre of innocent civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the 1980’s.

What’s more, Mnangagwa himself has openly and arrogantly declared that he was the chief executor of the terror campaign to reverse an opposition victory in the 2008 general election! Admitting to maiming and killing political rivals in an effort to subvert the people’s will must surely come with its punishment.

In recent times and consistent to his image of a cruel and dangerous politician, he vainly organised nationwide protests aimed at gunning down ZANU PF’s national political commissar, a strong pillar of his rival G4O faction.

The media was awash with images of his mobilised pugnacious mob who carried coffins plastered with Saviour Kasukuwere’s face, practically confirming a fear harboured by many that a Mnangagwa Presidency will mean intensified political violence and clampdown on political contenders.

To add to these political blunders and in trying to put across a reasonable argument of the need for representation in our national politics, he inadvertently instigated politics of regional division and politically motivated ethnic tensions. He invoked very strong anti-Zezuru (Mugabe’s tribe) and pro-Karanga (his tribe) sentiments, a regrettable regression to the primitive, essentially anti-modern politics that have no place in the future he is fighting so hard to be part of.

I cannot say with authority what his intended end goal was, if it was to inherit the Presidency after Mugabe’s departure and turn around the country’s fortunes then as I explain above his actions have betrayed his goal. Actions that are cynical and vicious, whatever their intent, will inevitably condition and deface the quality of the ends that are achieved.

His actions to date have played into his rivals’ scheme whose aims is the portrayal of Mnangagwa as a violent man who is unwilling to reform. In addition, this was worsened by his (Mnangagwa) continued association or his intentional perpetuation of the perception that he is the Godfather of the violent War Veterans and Military hawks (Joint Operations Command).

Inadvertently, outside Mugabe, Mnangagwa became the face of the evils and horrors committed by ZANU PF since independence to the present. The G40 faction intelligently maximised on his strategic blunders and miscalculations and managed to polarise the traditional ZANU PF supporter’s aggressive impulses and redirect them toward a new form of politics.

This new form of politics has the G40 faction led by the First Lady Grace Mugabe and supported by her outbound husband presenting itself as the modern-day liberator through embarking on a decontamination and sanitisation process of ZANU PF, the global effect of this on Zimbabwe’s politics cannot be overstated. The possibility of a reorganised ZANU PF with prospects of abandoning the culture of violence and promoting the culture of open debate, the culture of calling out corruption and being beholden to the people will surely impact on the broader scheme of politics.

The G40 faction carefully elected its message bearer, the First Lady Grace Mugabe, who has played her role with tact and precision, presenting herself as candid and standing up to “intimidators” who want to abuse war credentials to silence “reason”.

She has put on some bloodcurdling political showdowns at rallies were she openly challenges the military to put her before a firing squad for speaking her truth against corruption and unbridled ambition that comes at an expense to the people.

She has dismissed notorious pockets within the war veterans’ association for their misplaced sense of entitlement and has continuously emphasised that every member (young, old, war veteran or born free) has an equal claim to ZANU PF. This may well be an act full of political hypocrisy and lack of sincerity on her part, but never-the-less an act seemingly applauded and embraced by the common person in and outside ZANU PF.

For the first time since 1980, ZANU PF will see a first Vice President with no liberation war credentials who will . It is a giant step towards the ultimate change-over. There are quite a number of people who belong to the Mnangagwa/Mugabe cohort who have been spared the axe because they have displayed willingness to reform and to play a supportive role in the generational transformation agenda. This is why I think that neither Ednah Madzongwe nor Sydney Sekeramayi who are being touted to take over from Mnangagwa will be appointed at the December extra-ordinary congress.

Theirs is a role similar to that of Mugabe, to provide stability and to pacify the remnant of the liberation war in the party who are panicked on the idea of being abandoned as the new takes shape.

It seems, ZANU PF is undergoing some kind of structural transformation ala Tanzania’s Chama ChaMapinduzi style when it transformed itself from the Tanzania African National Union and the policies of Ujamaa that had made it unpopular. If this prognosis holds, this may present serious challenges and more homework for the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe.

There are two myths that this narrative aims to debunk: The first one, is the commonly held sentiment that ZANU PF is weakened which is contra to the prevailing reorganization, detoxification and regeneration of the party. ZANU PF will emerge more united and with a new look seemingly filled with exciting political possibilities.

At an address at the party’s headquarters on the 8th of November where the politburo’s decision to expel Mnangagwa from ZANU PF was announced, Mugabe spoke to the regeneration plan saying “We have always said it that to us, the sun is setting but to youths, it is just but rising. Since the sun is rising, they have a long way to go…”

In essence, confirming my assertion that he has been intentional about the purging of the old-guard and of those who are stuck in typically retrogressive politics of unwarranted entitlement and is playing the midwife to the birthing of a new ZANU PF trajectory.

The second myth is that Mnangagwa will not go down without a fight and will possibly organise military style retaliation. Mnangagwa stands isolated at this point, and although it may be true that his friends in the military may have shared the view that Mugabe must now be retired, they are not necessarily convinced that Mnangagwa is the best to take over.

As it is, it appears these friends have already demobilised and are now toeing the party line. In addition, they lack the political clout and stamina to challenge Mugabe.

Suffice to say, they dare not challenge the Prince, because they know by the tick of a second they can lose all the benefits of patronage, just by the stroke of a pen as happened with Emmerson. Lest we forget constitutionally they have reached retirement age and served their full terms, a convenient and opportunistic weapon to deal with those who do not toe the party line.

What we are witnessing is the inevitable ascendency of Grace Mugabe to the position of Vice President as part of a grand plan to usher a new dispensation within the ZANU PF party. I however have doubts that she will go on to serve in the capacity of President. I would liken Grace Mugabe to the biblical John the Baptist; she is on the road to be the first Vice President without liberation war credentials to serve in an Executive with a sizable number of relatively young Ministers with no liberation war credentials who were appointed/retained by Mugabe in the last cabinet reshuffle.

Some were appointed to run critical Ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Public Service and Local Government. Mrs Mugabe is likely to only be a forerunner of yet another young entrant, yet to be known or named, who will succeed Mugabe as President. If we have it all figured out then the pro-democracy must brace themselves for a tough election against a fresh-look ZANU P.F and an even tougher five year period where ZANU P.F may complete its renewal process. Or maybe as Hillary Rodham Clinton rightly put it “It’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war”.

Maureen Kademaunga is a Doctoral Fellow, The Human Economy Research Programme, Center for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria