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Vol 58 No 13

Published 23rd June 2017


Mugabe the juggler

Harare is abuzz with speculation about upheavals in the ruling party which could change the succession game

A vital meeting of the Politburo of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front was due to take place as Africa Confidential went to press. Such is the turmoil in the highest ranks of ZANU-PF that one of the rumoured outcomes is the political demise of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, currently seen as the likeliest next President of the Republic. All agree on one thing: only incapacity or worse can prevent President Robert Mugabe from leading his party into the elections, due next year. The next most certain point of agreement is that, as ever, the 93-year-old President will confuse the succession issue as much as possible.

Recent weeks have confirmed Mugabe's penchant for what pundits call 'pendulum politics'. His favouritism swings to one ZANU-PF faction, then to another. Once a faction believes itself so well entrenched that it is virtually certain to succeed, the rug disappears from beneath its feet and it finds itself at the foot of the climb once more (AC Vol 55 No 25, Exit Mujuru, enter Mnangagwa ). 

The two main contending factions consist of 'Team Lacoste', which as successor favours Mnangagwa, 74, whose nickname is Ngwenya ('Crocodile', the symbol of the Lacoste fashion brand), and 'Generation 40' (AC Vol 55 No 24, The defenestration of Mujuru). G-40 is managed by the long-time propaganda supremo and current Higher Education Minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo, and the Local Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere. G-40 has no obvious candidate to succeed Mugabe, although his wife Grace Mugabe, 51, was previously seen as part of the cabal.

At the end of last year, it looked as if it was Mnangagwa's turn to be sent to the back of the queue. The ZANU-PF Women's League, headed by Grace, was pressing for the restoration of a clause in the party constitution that required one of the two party vice-presidents to be female. The plan was then for an extraordinary party congress to demand that a woman take one of the vice-presidencies, presumably Mnangagwa's, with no prizes for guessing which woman. 

Kasukuwere has worked assiduously as party Political Commissar to rebuild the gaps in party structures caused by the purges of Joice Mujuru and her followers in 2014 and to stack them with G-40 supporters. He did not proceed subtly, however, and has incurred the ire of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association – unabashed Mnangagwa supporters who have demanded that Kasukuwere be sacked. When Mugabe failed to do that, the ZNLWVA issued an unprecedented statement stridently criticising the President and marking a new fissure in the ZANU-PF edifice. 

Then, in a surprising volte-face, Grace told a Women's League meeting last October that the resolution demanding a female vice-president had been misunderstood, that the League had full confidence in the two incumbents and the issue was only for discussion at the next ordinary party congress, which is due in 2019. The other Vice-President is Phelekezela Mphoko who has been in business with Grace and is part of the G40 network.

At the following meeting of the Women's League last November, Grace denied seeking the vice-presidency, claiming that as she and her husband did everything together, it would be a demotion. 

What would prove to be a series of devastating attacks on senior members aligned with the G-40 began almost immediately. The Lacoste-controlled investigative arm of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission moved to have Moyo arrested for diverting funds from the Manpower Development Fund under his Ministry. He was compelled to seek Mugabe's protection to avoid incarceration, asserting that he had used the funds to promote ZANU-PF activities.

In February, it was announced that Grace would recommence countrywide rallies of the sort which, in 2014, led to the ousting of Mujuru. The First Lady used every opportunity at those rallies to accuse Mujuru of plotting to topple the President (AC Vol 56 No 23, Grace plots for power). The 2017 rallies were expected to target Mnangagwa in the same way but only one was held before Grace fell uncharacteristically silent. Indications that the Grace bandwagon was losing momentum followed soon after with the removal of two key G-40 members and allies of Grace from the Women's League secretariat. One of them, Sarah Mahoka, had tried to humiliate Mnangagwa at a party gathering the previous year by calling him a 'duck' for failing to rein in supporters demanding that he succeed Mugabe. Mahoka and the other ally of Grace's, Eunice Sandi-Moyo, resigned their party positions once it was clear Grace could not protect them. 

Attention then turned to Kasukuwere. He was initially accused of the obscure offence of trying to stop the demonstrations that led to the Women's League members' resignations and of trying to take gold mines in his home province of Mashonaland Central from other members of the League. Then he was accused of seeking to convene an extraordinary congress with the aim of ousting Mugabe. One by one, party structures in all except one of the ten provinces passed votes of no-confidence in Kasukuwere and demanded his removal as Political Commissar.

Premature death
Youth League leader Kudzai Chipanga did not follow suit until he learned that the Mugabe family supported the attack. The normally combative Kasukuwere had no choice now but to deny the allegations against him and pledge undying support for President Mugabe. Yet reports of Kasukuwere's political death were premature. Mugabe insisted on full disciplinary procedures being followed and he tasked a government, not party, functionary, the Minister for Provincial Affairs for Mashonaland Central, Martin Dinha, to attend to the matter. Dinha is a close confidant of Grace Mugabe and, as provincial Lands Officer, had helped her to secure large tracts of land in the province that she now occupies.

Investigations began amid much jostling and confusion, and now Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda has the Kasukuwere dossier. He is expected to report at the next Politburo meeting. In the interim, Kasukuwere has been exhibiting some odd behaviour, seeking medical attention for stress, entering Parliament to shake hands with backbenchers in the middle of a debate and summoning the ten provincial chairpersons who participated in the no-confidence votes against him. The chronic uncertainty of his position appears to be the intended object of the long drawn-out procedures. It keeps other party members on their toes. After all, Mugabe has the power to remove him as Political Commissar at a stroke, although he is always reluctant to administer a coup de grâce in person. But Kasukuwere is confident he has survived and is on the winning side. 

Events do not support a victorious outcome for one faction or another, only the maintenance of a nervy balance between them. G-40 was useful to Mugabe to contain Mnangagwa's ambition but now, one interpretation goes, it had to be reined in lest it get too far ahead. Hence Grace's drawing in of horns and the tribulations Kasukuwere experienced.

Red rag
Other G-40-aligned politicos are in the firing line. The member of parliament for Harare South, Shadreck Mashayamombe, may be expelled from the party, we hear, with the suggestion that Grace Mugabe take his seat with a view to the possibility of taking ministerial office. All ministers but five must be MPs. The possibility of her becoming a vice-president, though unlikely, hangs in the air, given her husband's predilection for not sending strong signals about his intentions. It would also be a red rag to the crocodile. 

Mnangagwa's likelihood of succeeding to the presidency may still be in question but there is no doubt about his grip on the public arena and the media. He and his supporters have significant editorial control of Zimbabwe Newspapers, which publishes the two main pro-ZANU-PF dailies, The Herald in Harare and The Chronicle in Bulawayo, as well as The Sunday Mail. Increasingly, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's television news is also clearly in the Lacoste camp and his advocates are not afraid of using their clout. On 7 May, The Sunday Mail carried a report that Kasukuwere was in a conspiracy with Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa's opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, to oust Mugabe in a coup. The story added spice, if not credibility, by claiming that Lord Renwick, formerly Sir Robin Renwick, one of the British government negotiators at the Lancaster House conference in 1979, was part of the plot. 

All the G-40 could manage as a riposte was Jonathan Moyo's claim this month at a public seminar that Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi was 'senior' to Mnangagwa in the party and a better candidate to succeed Mugabe. In an almost certainly related development, a report in an independent weekly citing 'ZANU-PF sources' declared that President Mugabe had said, on the sidelines of a recent youth rally, 'When the sun sets, it shall rise from Mashonaland East.' That is Sekeramayi's home province. The story could either be a G-40 plant or a further example of Mugabe's continuing efforts to fine-tune the balance among those who want his job. 

The choice of the new Chief Justice, Luke Malaba, who took office in April, may also be part of the balancing act. Mnangagwa had previously tried hard to have his favoured candidate for the post, George Chiweshe, introduced into the selection process but failed. Malaba looks like a compromise candidate (AC Vol 58 No 5, Whose judge is it anyway?).

Meanwhile, Mnangagwa tries to buttress his position through his alliance with the Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, who would pull off an impressive coup if he could bring to fruition the plan devised at the International Monetary Fund meetings in Lima, Peru, in 2015 to reschedule US$1.7 billion in loan arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank. Yet the government is not yet ready to make the key policy changes that would release new finance and is desperately scrabbling for funds to plug the gap until after the next elections. Failure to make the policy changes would spin out the 20 years of isolation from the international financial institutions even further but making them could kill ZANU-PF at the polls.

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