via Reflections on the Zanu PF Congress – Nehanda Radio Dec 8 2014
They came in large numbers, from all corners of the country, clad in their multi-coloured garments of yellow, green, black and red emblazoned with the image of Robert Mugabe, their long-standing leader and Zimbabwe’s long-serving President, the only executive leader the country has known since independence in 1980.
This was Zanu PF’s Congress, billed as elective but, in the end, more of an endorsement jamboree for their supreme leader. They had given him powers to appoint his top lieutenants, effectively usurping the power formerly held by Congress. If anything stood out, it was that it was a Mujuru-bashing event.
The former number two was reduced to a card-carrying member, albeit in absentia. What was the point of coming to face a lynch-mob?
The build-up had been frenetic. Dominated by an unprecedented battle over the succession of their ageing leader, it had already claimed serious scalps along the way, among them the Vice President of party and country, Joice Mujuru, the Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa, 9 party provincial chairpersons, and many more cabinet Ministers who were in the ‘wrong basket’ to use Mugabe’s own words.
Although Congress will be officially recorded as their Waterloo, in truth, they had been massacred long before the first delegates walked into the Congress venue. In the end, Mujuru and her top allies did not bother to attend the event. It would have been foolhardy for her to attend.
It would have been the equivalent of submitting oneself to the mob, which was ready and willing to embarrass and humiliate her. Tsitsi Sekeramayi, Defence Minister’s wife was harassed by party youths who tried to prevent her from attending a party event.
In the end she was saved, but it was a sign of what Mujuru and her top allies would have faced had they come anywhere near the venue of Congress.
At Congress, Mugabe issued a frontal attack against Mujuru, his Vice President. Prior to Congress, it was his wife who had led the attack, or the ‘whistle-blowing’ as she called it. She was vicious, as recorded previously in these pages.
At one point, she even refused to shake the hand of the Vice President. She called her many names and threatened to reveal secretly-recorded embarrassing videos. By the time, Congress began Mujuru had been stripped naked. The lynch-mob had done its job, led by Grace Mugabe and there would be no recovery.
At Congress, Mugabe merely inserted and hammered the proverbial final nail in the coffin. She was a thief, a traitor and simple-minded, he said. She had plotted to oust him and had consulted traditional healers to achieve her goal.
He told Congress how one traditional medicine-man had put two tad-poles to combat, one representing Mujuru and the other Mugabe, all to divine that Mugabe would soon meet his end. He described that she had consorted with foreign governments and the opposition MDC.
A popular misconception on Zimbabwean politics is that, somehow all these events are managed by some master strategists who also manage Mugabe. I am not sufficiently persuaded. I think Mugabe is his own strategist. He knows what he wants and he uses those around him to meet his ends, even if that credit is bestowed on others.
That Grace Mugabe should become head of the Women’s League was his own idea. Her actions prior to Congress had her husband’s blessings. Those who know him say the man is known to keep his cards very close to his chest. He rarely reveals his hand, and he keeps even the closest guessing as to the nature and effect of his next move.
Uncertainty and that element of surprise are powerful instruments in the hands of a leader – it ensures those around are never sure, never safe, indeed, never relaxed.
This is why on Saturday, when most people were expecting news of the new leadership structure, he chose to keep everyone stewing for a little while longer – demonstrating who is in charge. He said he needed time to study the names before announcing his top team.
But it is impossible to imagine that Mugabe did not already know before Congress whom he wanted to deputise him. The moment he decided to get rid of Joice Mujuru, Mugabe must have had a replacement in mind. He can’t be groping in the dark, unsure whom to appoint in her stead.
In any event, the politburo is his executive, more like his party Cabinet. He has always had the power to choose the Politburo, so there is nothing new in this process. He knows whom he wants in that executive. Why therefore, the delay? There are probably two reasons, one of which should worry those who thought they had sealed their place.
First, the delay is Mugabe’s way of asserting his power by demonstrating that he has the power to choose and he will exercise it when he wants and not when everyone expects him to do so.
Second, and more ominously for those who thought they had it bagged already, he may be waiting for a quieter moment to drop a bombshell. He would have known that the expectations at Congress within one faction were very high because indeed, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Mnagngagwa would be named as Mujuru’s replacement.
Bookmakers would have long stopped taking bets on Mnangagwa before Congress. But Mugabe is a master of surprises. If he has a different choice, a choice that was unlikely to be well-received at Congress, he may have decided to make the announcement in a quieter moment – far away from the crowds.
It is still very unlikely that he will overlook Mnangagwa again, as he did in 2004, but with Mugabe, you can never be certain.
If he does not appoint Mnangagwa, who will be the surprise choice?
There is still a remote possibility that he may choose his wife to be the Vice President. This is too remote however but there is nothing to stop him if that is what he wants. What we have seen so far is that Zanu PF will accept whatever he wants, however unreasonable it might appear to the rest of the world.
But even if he does not, he might appoint her Minister of Women’s (and probably children’s) Affairs, so that in addition to the Politburo, she will also sit in Cabinet. That way, she will build her own constituency in the political structures, setting her up for a bigger role in future.
Meanwhile, he could appoint a pliable and less threatening VP – probably Edna Madzongwe, and he will say he is replacing a woman with another woman. But in reality, Madzongwe will merely be warming the seat.
Meanwhile, Grace Mugabe will effectively be the de facto number two, both in the party and Government – a scenario that ultimately weakens whoever will be appointed as VPs. Many may find that the condemned former war veterans leader, Jabulani Sibanda, may not have been far off the mark after all, when he made comments about a ‘bedroom coup’ having taken place.
So Mugabe has been endorsed by his party as their candidate for the 2018 elections by which time he will be 94. They came and danced for their leader, anointing him as the “king of kings”. They gave him more powers and they exalted him. The rotund Mai Mahofa, keen to prove her loyalty, danced all the way to her collapse in the hot tent.
Mugabe himself had a couple of embarrassing moments or “Kamuzu moments”.
On one occasion, he said that Tsvangirai had won the 2008 elections by 73 per cent. He was quickly corrected by the Generals who were in the meeting. Loyalists claimed it was a slip of the tongue.
Then, in full view of Congress he is said to have chanted the slogan, “Pasi ne Zanu PF!” (Down with Zanu PF!), when he actually meant to chant the traditional slogan, “Pamberi neZanu PF!” (Forward with Zanu PF!). Loyalists have had a more difficult time defending that as a slip of the tongue.
I am reminded of a story narrated by a Malawian colleague of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s last days in power. Addressing a rally one week before the elections, he had made a statement referring to “elections next year”.
In subsequent broadcasts, the State broadcaster had to cut out the reference to “next year” and include a voice over to say “next week”. It had slipped the nonagenarian’s mind that the elections were not next year, but the very next week!
It is from this that we derive the ‘Kamuzu moments’.
Dr Alex Magaisa can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his blog: http://newzimbabweconstitution.wordpress.com/