via With Mandela gone, Mugabe looms and lingers | BLOUIN BEAT December 11, 2013 by Matt Taylor
If Nelson Mandela’s death presents an opening for South Africa’s opposition to cohere into a potent force, it also serves to highlight Robert Mugabe’s continued stranglehold over Zimbabwean politics, and begs the question of how his approaching departure might unsettle the old way of business there. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF dominates almost every aspect of public life, from economic policy and national security to hiring public employees and dishing out federal contracts. His death would leave Vice President Joyce Mujuru a formidable political machine that has compensated for weak economic output and pockets of incredible poverty with brute force and a complex system of patronage and graft.
Mujuru’s ascent rests, of course, on the assumption that Minister of Justice Emmerson Mnangagwa, a favorite of Mugabe and former guerilla with revolutionary zeal, does not claim the president’s legacy for himself — a distinct possibility. But a splintering of ZANU-PF represents the ideal scenario when it comes to introducing some competition into the electoral process, even if the weak infrastructure of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, means the opposition would be unlikely to capitalize early on. What would really change the game is a new, untainted party that hasn’t bumbled through recent elections — not to mention legitimated the half-baked 2013 constitutional overhaul, which was blessed by the international community in large part because the premier and MDC went along.
There’s also the question of how police and other authorities might respond to the wave of electioneering that will inevitably follow Mugabe’s death. Last year’s constitutional reforms were supposed to enshrine democratic principles into the national fabric, but one obvious shortcoming was the failure to set up a real barrier between politics and the national security apparatus. If we think Mugabe has been liberal in his interpretation of that mandate, there’s no knowing what a panicked successor might do. One need only look to the troubled early months of Nicolas Maduro’s presidency in Venezuela for a sense of how strongmen tend to leave chaos and confusion in their wake. And whereas in South Africa Mamphela Ramphele’s new party and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) present immediate options for those who have had enough of the African National Congress (ANC), it is unclear where reform-minded Zimbabweans ought to be turning right now. Suffice it to say those interested in turning the page on the Mugabe era would be well-served to establish some kind of national profile, and quickly, before his death opens the floodgates.