via Successor’s subjugation | The Financial Gazette – Zimbabwe News 13 Nov 2014 by Allen Hungwe
THE glaring reality is that the party is going to have to contest the 2018 elections without President Robert Mugabe as a candidate. This will be a first since independence in 1980.
That reality is not at all easy for the party as it has the potential to change the dynamics of not only the 2018 elections but of what will become of ZANU-PF then and thereafter.
President Mugabe has solidly led the party through a centralised control system that has also fortified the allegiance lines towards his personhood.
He has managed to keep a leadership distance between himself and other lieutenants in the party, which has nearly endorsed him as a spiritual political icon in ZANU-PF. That has therefore made him unchallengeable and sacrosanct.
The party is aware that this is likely to be President Mugabe’s last presidential term and what is likely to follow is a scary consideration.
The thinking inside of ZANU-PF is that without President Mugabe as a presidential candidate, it’s going to be a difficult task especially if Morgan Tsvangirai survives as leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).
Tsvangirai’s survival and contestation of the 2018 elections is seen as likely to give a much bigger challenge to any new leader of ZANU-PF. So the hope in some ZANU-PF circles is that the MDC-T should also go through a leadership renewal and that will enable the new ZANU-PF candidate to prevail in 2018.
Anyway, the leadership challenge for ZANU-PF is not merely going to be about winning the elections, it’s going to be about holding the party together as a single unit. This is something that President Mugabe has not really struggled with.
When President Mugabe took over leadership of the party in the late 1970s there were others who resented his rise. They saw his ascendancy as avant-garde leadership coup de tat.
Freedom Fighters like Dzinashe Machingura and others became forefront opponents of President Mugabe’s rise, creating some insinuations of rebellion and mutiny in the liberation movement.
President Mugabe’s strategy was to quickly ensure this was both avoided and the party securitised from similar future challenges to his leadership. He then inculcated a systematic reorganisation of the party’s structural outlook in order to build that insulation.
The party’s highest decision-making unit transformed from being the Dare reChimurenga to the Politburo, which has survived this far. Membership of the Politburo became through appointment rather than election. Final appointments were preserved for President Mugabe and him alone.
He also moved in to unitise the political and military wings of the party. He built in a system that ensured that politics and military matters became controlled under a centralised structure; creating what others have termed a compact politico-military philosophy.
Through these changes, President Mugabe inevitably controlled the three most central components of any political formation, the leadership, the politics and the military.
Throughout his political leadership from that post independence era to-date, President Mugabe has not lost an inch of ground in controlling those aspects inside ZANU-PF.
Many questions have been asked about why President Mugabe’s leadership has never been robustly challenged in the party and why the party would allow him to go so late into his life while still holding onto leadership.
The answer has been embedded in how in the late 1970s President Mugabe built his philosophy around controlling these three aspects and how he has religiously focussed on this philosophical consistency since then.
Any new ZANU-PF leader will face challenges in whichever way they try to manoeuvre, either in maintaining the President Mugabe mechanics of leadership or in reforming it.
The Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa tussle has been going on for a long period. At times when such leadership succession clashes take long to resolve, this leads to the contenders attempting to offer certain concessions in their battle to eventually land the presidency.
President Mugabe’s ascendancy in the late 1970s was not based on an offer of concessions, at least not to many and not much, he became leader on his own terms. This is why he was able to immediately reform the party structures and the establishment of the politico-military posture, while isolating those opposed to his hegemony.
President Mugabe had also been able to critically study the party’s functionality while he was still secretary-general, an opportunity that allowed him to clutch some form of control of the party even before he ascended to its presidency.
The leadership vacuum that was left open by the incarceration of then leader, Ndabaningi Sithole and the death of Hebert Chitepo, who at one time was interim leader, all managed to create cleavages of opportunities for President Mugabe to attain both incremental approaches to leadership as well as the charisma of power even from outside of formal leadership.
Mujuru and Mnangagwa unfortunately do not have these same kind of strategic conditions availed to them.
They have to rely on ensuring that they court many other centres and key personnel in the party in order to “buy” their loyalty and support in the succession race.
This means when any one of them eventually takes over, it will not be entirely on their terms but will have to balance with compromises earlier made to attain the support of certain key quotas and leaders in the party.
Mujuru and Mnangangwa, unlike President Mugabe, do not have the levels of power and influence inside the party which the incumbent had even before becoming its leader. This therefore means that anyone who succeeds President Mugabe will come in from a darker corner, a weaker standpoint and without the single-minded leverage that the ZANU-PF leader had in the late 1970s.
Unfortunately, ZANU-PF has survived for a long time under the mechanics of the leadership of President Mugabe. It will be inevitable that anyone who replaces President Mugabe will be consciously or subconsciously compared to him.
President Mugabe’s leadership in ZANU-PF will for some time remain the yardstick of the party’s regard for its leader. My fear is that given the background I have highlighted and the comparatively less auspicious position that either Mujuru or Mnangagwa will have when they finally ascend the Mugabe legacy will overshadow them.
Mujuru or Mnangagwa will also find it difficult to try and be effective should they want to reform the party from President Mugabe’s historical centralisation of power.
ZANU-PF will not hold if power is devolved from the centre. There are just too many battle lines created during the succession tussle that any insinuation of devolution of power will widen the cracks and threaten the party with splits and irreconcilable divisions.
It is not only the succession tussle that has created these lines. The party also has a fragile ethnic construction. The Manyikas (through Ndabaningi Sithole and Hebert Chitepo) and the Zezurus (through President Mugabe) have had a claim to leadership of the party. The Karangas will most likely be the most vocal on getting a chance, but I cannot rule out the Ndebeles laying claim in not too distant a future.
When President Mugabe became leader in the late 1970s, the party was also seized with the case for ethnic balance in its leadership and top structures. It was again President Mugabe’s strategic appointments to the Politburo and his deployments to the leadership of other political and military structures that kept a semblance of stability to-date.
Mujuru and Mnangagwa will certainly not have the same power of unilateralism that President Mugabe had, which he used to balance out ethnic tensions.
President Mugabe has also managed to deal effectively with the divide of the old guard versus the young Turks. Although President Mugabe is advanced in age, he has not kept himself too distant from an influence on the youths. His grasp of youth leadership has not entirely relied on delegation but he has had a hands-on approach to it.
This is why others have always questioned why President Mugabe attends youth meetings and graces them with his overtly over-age presence. It’s simply strategic.
President Mugabe has found a way of ensuring that his iconic embodiment is not merely presented to the youths, he has made it a live and tangible exposition. Therefore loyalty in the party has cut across even such impatient groups as the youths and those referred to as the young Turks.
Mujuru and Mnangagwa will likely face a direct onslaught from these Turks, as some of them sense it’s an opportune time to now run the party. They will obviously try and make more explicit expressions of their existence in the post Mugabe era; and this may challenge the incumbency of whoever takes over from President Mugabe.
As ZANU-PF prepares for a transition and the post Mugabe era, whoever takes over will have huge challenges awaiting them. President Mugabe has managed to create a leadership ring around himself which has worked well for him.
However, it is the limited transferability of this ring that will get the next party leader “caught in the mud”.
The colossal imposition of President Mugabe’s legacy will turn out to be a huge obstacle for his successor and the party’s future as a united front. Like it or not, President Mugabe’s hegemony will be his successor’s subjugation.