Economy melts down as Mugabe succession battle rages unabated
By Elias Mambo
In one of his short stories, Civil Peace, Chinua Achebe says an African leader who avoids major social and economic issues of contemporary Africa will end up being completely irrelevant “like the absurd man in the proverb who leaves his burning house to pursue a rat fleeing from the flames”.
This could be an apt description of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF party leaders as they continue to be seized with long-running succession power struggles while failing to deal with problems dogging the majority of Zimbabweans, most of which are related to the worsening economic crisis.
Although Zanu PF controversially won elections on the back of a promise to create 2,2 million jobs through the implementation of an ambitious economic blue print, ZimAsset crafted after the polls, little has been done to implement the programme because of a combination of a lack of funding and pre-occupation with factional politics informed by Mugabe’s succession.
On the one hand, while the economy continues to nosedive, with thousands of workers being thrown onto the streets as companies either retrench, terminate contracts on three months’ notice or close shop altogether, the major focus for Zanu PF officials seems to be positioning themselves strategically for life after Mugabe.
On the other hand, the pre-occupation for Mugabe seems to be constantly finding ways to balance the interests of warring parties and playing one faction against another, in the process ensuring he maintains his vice-grip on the fractious party — political gamemanship.
Zimbabwe has experienced massive company closures since 2013 with a record more than 6 000 people losing their jobs in one week following a controversial supremeCourt ruling last week on labour case. The ruling confirmed employer’s right to give their employees a three-month notice of employment termination without reason or the need to fork out a retrenchment package.
This comes as the country’s economy remains characterised by, among others, an unsustainably high government debt, massive disinvestment, de-industrialisation, low productivity and a rampant informal sector that is not contributing to the fiscus through taxes.
An indication that economic issues are on the back-burner is the fact that the Zanu PF politburo — the de facto supreme decision-making body — has rarely discussed the economy since the 2013 elections. A local research group Econometer Global Capital has estimated that industry capacity utilisation is likely to average between 27% and 29% by year-end, down from 33% in the first half of the year. But this seems not to be the main worry for those in power as infighting in Zanu PF continues to grow.
In the build-up to Zanu PF’s December 2014 congress ,several party bigwigs, among them former vice-president Joice Mujuru, ex-secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and spokesman Rugare Gumbo, were purged for allegedly causing divisions in the party and plotting to topple Mugabe by different means, including assassination.
Many analysts interpreted the development to mean Mugabe had settled for Mujuru’s long-time rival, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose faction teamed up with a group loyal to First Lady Grace Mugabe to derail Mujuru’s presidential bid.
But after consolidating power by ruthlessly purging Mujuru’s allies and uprooting the structures she had set up in all provinces, the former allies have now turned against each other. Factional wars have intensified yet again, taking away the attention from economic issues.
Among other factional fights, last week Zanu PF appointed a team led by Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi to deal with infighting in Manicaland province following factional fights which resulted in the ouster of interim provincial chair Samuel Undenge, who has since been reinstated.
Two weeks ago, the party’s Youth League nullified a vote-of-no-confidence on provincial youth chair, Kelvin Manyengavana, who was later reinstated.
In Mashonaland Central, Provincial Affairs minister Martin Dinha alleges he has received death threats through a bullet parcel from unknown persons who want him to resign immediately “or else we get you”.
To cap it all, Mugabe last month warned that people pushing for either one of the country’s two Vice-Presidents, Mnangagwa or Phelekezela Mphoko, to become Zimbabwe’s next leader are creating another “Gamatox” phenomenon and must cease such divisive activities forthwith.
“Gamatox” refers to the faction loyal to ousted Mujuru.
“If you are choosing between my two Vice-Presidents, you are beginning your own Gamatox,” said Mugabe. “If you say you want this one to succeed, you are already bringing division within the people and this so soon after our election.
Former Industry minister Welshman Ncube this week said government officials are caught up in the power struggle and in the process have failed to play a meaningful role in pushing for economic recovery.
“It is clear that the Zanu PF regime is clueless on how to get the Zimbabwe economy back on track. When they meet, instead of discussing ways of fixing the country’s problems, all they ever do is fire each other,” Ncube said.
“They seem to be permanently caught up in a time warp of factional and succession blood-letting.”
And last week Grace, who insisted she harboured no presidential ambitions, accused Zanu PF bigwigs of fuelling reports that she was eyeing the presidency.
“I have never — in any way, in any place, at any time — said I would want to be the President of this country,” she said adding, rather cryptically: “Yes, questions have been asked before and I have answered that ‘I am also a Zimbabwean and who has a right more than Grace Mugabe?”
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said as long as the succession issue is not solved, there would be little focus on the economy.
“It is sad that at each and every meeting Zanu PF concentrates on succession rather than on coming up with solutions to problems of the day,” he said. “It’s a tragedy that the ruling party and government is entangled in power struggles and no one is paying attention to the economy and social challenges the country faces.”
While the Zanu PF congress succeeded in getting rid of Mujuru and her allies through suspensions and expulsions, it did not address the root cause of factionalism — the unresolved succession conundrum. The claim that ousting Mujuru and her allies would end Zanu PF factionalism, dismissed by many Zimbabweans right from the outset, has since been proved baseless, at a devastating expense to the economy. Zimbabwe Independent