The Herald today posted a video of President Mugabe speaking to the military Generals and leaders of the war veterans. The meeting between Mugabe and the Generals and the posting for the video serves a number of important political purposes.
First, it is a show of control and in particular, that Mugabe is still in charge of the security establishment notwithstanding the unprecedented period of turmoil and confusion that has engulfed his party in the last three months as it has grappled with the succession question. Questions were being raised as to the position of the military in all this. The meeting and the public show of Mugabe speaking authoritatively and, for the most part, cordially with his Generals was a sign that he remains firmly in charge, even if there was any disgruntlement in some quarters. If those who have lost out in the succession battle thought they could gain some sympathy from the military or elements of it, Mugabe has demonstrated that he is still very much in charge. He spoke and joked and they laughed heartily like old buddies. He has them under his thumb.
Second, it was a show of force not just to the Mujuru faction but also to the nation at large. The statement made by the meeting and the public show was that the Generals are on his side and that they will back him in his political choices. Defence Forces supremo, Gene Chiwenga stated a few months ago that politicians should resolve their issues and now, it seems, Mugabe was telling them that those issues had been resolved. We have known already that Zanu PF and the military are closely wedded together, since the days of the liberation struggle and that the leadership question has been both a civilian and military question. Mugabe is simply telling adversaries and the nation at large, that the Generals are onside and that there is no threat of instability from that quarter. Similarly, if there were elements in the security stricture that were sympathising with Mujuru, they will have felt the weight of Mugabe stamping his authority. Even if there were unhappy elements, they will now gravitate, if they haven’t done so already, towards the winning faction, which as we have now seen, is led by Mugabe himself.
Third, it was a confirmation of the fact that Zanu PF is not an ordinary political party but is a quasi-military outfit. The opposition and the rest of the world often deal with Zanu PF on the basis that it’s a normal political organisation with civilian structures only. In truth, Zanu PF is more than that. It is a quasi-military outfit, with roots going back to the liberation struggle and those bonds are still intact. While the new Constitution tries hard to depoliticise the security establishment by establishing principles and rules of political neutrality, the reality is that in Zimbabwe, the security structure and Zanu PF remain inseparable. No one is paying any regard to those constitutional rules on political neutrality. And that is the single biggest impediment to liberal democracy and free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. The opposition will always be fighting a losing battle against a Zanu PF that is backed by the country’s powerful military.
In a normal environment, a normal political organisation looks to and depends on its ability to woo voters in order to win elections and retain power. Zanu PF does not care much for that. Its strength lies in its relationship and control of the security structures. It has been said that the military played a crucial role in ensuring that Tsvangirai did not win outright in the March 2008 elections. In that election, results were delayed for an unprecedented 6 weeks before they were announced. When they were announced, Tsvangirai was given a victory with 47% beating Mugabe to second place. But this meant there had to be a run-off election, which was marred by gratuitous violence in a campaign that was said to be orchestrated by the security establishment.
Separately, the video makes an interesting, albeit inadvertent disclosure about the controversial 2008 elections, when Mugabe states that Tsvangirai got 73% of the vote when he beat him. It was the Generals who quickly corrected him to say it was actually 47% but the damage had already been done. It has long been suspected that in those six weeks, the results were doctored to ensure that Tsvangirai did not get an outright victory. Now Mugabe, in that memory lapse, seems to have suggested that indeed, Tsvangirai got an outright majority. It’s incredible that the video was posted by Zimpapers’ propaganda machine without removing that embarrassing bit of detail.
Mugabe’s supporters will, no doubt, insist that it was a mere slip by a man of advanced age. They will say that all people make mistakes and that Mugabe is human, too. But others have been quick to say that the figure stated by Mugabe before the Generals’ frantic correction betrays the actual truth which, while his handlers are keen to avoid, was stuck and more prominent in the more elderly memory.
But this is not the first time that President Mugabe has made similar gaffes in recent months. Earlier this year, when he was being interviewed by the ZBC on his 90th birthday, he was asked a question about the 2013 elections. Viewers were shocked that in response to that question about the most recent elections, he went on talk about the 1980 elections, in which Muzorewa was a contestant and there was a separate roll for the white voters and Nkomo’s PF Zapu was also contesting. It was an embarrassing gaffe and it was incredible that the ZBC bosses had not removed it from the edited copy. Given the succession battles that have since claimed many of them, I would not be surprised if they are accused of sabotaging the President by showing the looseness of memory.
Overall, though loyalists will claim that the meeting of Mugabe and the Generals was normal State business that would merely be a fig-leaf cover. This was more Zanu PF business than purely for the State. After all War Veterans were in the meeting and they are not a formal component of the State. This was Mugabe demonstrating to his adversaries that he still very much in charge of the military and that the military are behind him. This was Zanu PF demonstrating once again that it is no ordinary political party but one that is in many ways, a quasi-military entity. And that whatever it does, it always has the backing of the military. It is an ominous reality for the opposition or for anyone who wishes to challenge the establishment, including the new outcasts who have suddenly fallen out of favour.