Mugabe trumps Zanu-PF dissidents - for now

Andrew Meldrum reports on how Mugabe crushed an incipient revolt in Zanu-PF and evaluates its significance.

Summary - The recent annual congress of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, held in Harare in December, was like most others – full of dancing women, anti-imperialist speeches and cheering party faithful singing the praises of Robert Mugabe. This time, however, the celebrations masked a bitter power struggle brewing within the party. The congress re-affirmed Mugabe’s leadership and voted overwhelmingly to accept the two candidates he had selected as his vice-presidents, Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru. But when Mugabe embarked on a ruthless purge of Zanu-PF shortly afterwards, it became clear that he had faced down a challenge from within its ranks. Furthermore, a week after the congress an influential Zanu-PF MP, Philip Chiyangwa, and four prominent Zimbabweans were arrested for espionage and a top South African security official was charged with running the spy ring. The Zimbabweans were linked to Mugabe’s erstwhile heir-apparent and now rival, speaker of the house Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mugabe flew off to Malaysia for his annual holiday but squabbles within the party became so serious that he curtailed his vacation and returned to Harare in early January, only to be greeted by nearly a thousand angry demonstrators. These were not opposition supporters but Zanu-PF members, who were protesting against the exclusion of leading party members (i.e. those associated with Mnangagwa) from the list of nominees for the pending parliamentary elections. One might think that by appointing two vice-presidents, Mugabe was settling the question of who would succeed him. But the 81-year-old Joseph Msika cannot be regarded as a viable candidate, and Joyce Mujuru, though young and experienced, stands little chance of success in Zanu-PF’s patriarchal culture. Mnangagwa, by contrast, is powerful and ambitious and a serious potential threat. When he openly lobbied to be appointed vice-president, Mugabe sidelined him by persuading Zanu-PF’s Women’s League to call for a female vice-president. He also let it be known that Mujuru and Msika were the favoured candidates. Information minister Jonathan Moyo then called a meeting in Tsholotsho, attended by numerous top party officials, MPs and the chairmen of six of the party’s ten provincial committees, at which they were urged to support Mnangagwa instead of Mujuru. When Mugabe found out about the meeting he was furious. The provincial chairmen were suspended for five years and Moyo and others, notably justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, were deprived of their seats on the party’s central committee. Moreover, Mugabe announced that Zanu-PF would reserve 30 parliamentary seats for women, including Moyo’s Tsholotsho constituency. In the meantime, the arrest of the spy ring has caused a sensation - and severe embarrassment for Mbeki’s government. According to evidence given in court, the South African handler was paying Chiyangwa US$10 000 a month for information on Zanu-PF, Mugabe and the economy. Although South Africa is downplaying the incident, it appears that it may have been gathering intelligence to influence events in Zimbabwe. This cannot make Mugabe feel secure. The situation within Zanu-PF must also be making him uneasy. The party is openly fractured by infighting, and in the process of clamping down on Mnangagwa’s supporters, Mugabe has created many enemies in the party who may be biding their time until they can get even. Far from being invincible, Mugabe is looking increasingly vulnerable from all sides.

The annual congresses of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, are usually characterised by dancing and singing women in dresses featuring Robert Mugabe’s portrait, speeches full of angry anti-imperialist rhetoric and cheering party faithful. Robert Mugabe is praised as the party’s leader and reaffirmed as Zanu’s generalissimo.

The most recent congress, held in Harare in December, was no different. Except that the exuberant dancing and adulatory singing masked a bitter and divisive power struggle brewing within the party.

Mugabe was not only endorsed to continue leading Zanu-PF but the congress also voted overwhelmingly for the two candidates he had selected to be his vice-presidents: Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru. To all appearances it seemed that, yet again, Robert Mugabe had seamlessly organised to remain unquestionably at the helm of Zanu-PF and therefore in charge of Zimbabwe.

But soon after the congress it became clear that Mugabe had faced down an unexpected challenge within his party. He dealt with it ruthlessly and set out to purge Zanu-PF of all those who had queried his choice of Joyce Mujuru as his second vice president. It was such a thorough political cleansing of the party that key cabinet ministers and members of parliament were left out in the cold.

In addition, a week after the party congress, an influential Zanu-PF member of parliament and four more prominent Zimbabweans were arrested for espionage. A top South African security official was arrested at the same time for running the spy ring. Those arrested were also linked to the group within Zanu-PF who supported Mugabe’s one-time heir apparent but now political rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

By Christmas it seemed that Mugabe had brought his party into line and he flew off to Malaysia for his annual month-long holiday at Langkawi Island, which had been spared the devastation of the tsunami. But in early January there were numerous protests within Zanu-PF about the exclusion of leading party members from the list of those who would be nominated to stand for parliament in the pending parliamentary elections.

The squabbles within Zanu-PF were so serious that Mugabe cut short his holiday and flew back to Harare to quell the rebellion.

When Mugabe’s limousine and motorcade drove up to the Zanu-PF headquarters on 10 January to attend an emergency meeting of the party’s national elections directorate, it was blatantly obvious that the situation was not normal. Nearly 1 000 angry demonstrators confronted the president. These were not supporters of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), or human rights activists. They would have been quickly arrested and dispersed by police. No, the demonstrators were all members of Zanu-PF who were dramatically showing their anger at how parliamentary candidates were being imposed upon them. “President, the party is being torn apart!” read one placard.

Soon Mugabe addressed the crowd’s concerns. “No, Zanu-PF is not dead,” Mugabe said. “We are alive. This is democracy,” he assured them. Mugabe once again stuck to his guns, saying candidates would be selected according to the party’s rules. But it soon became glaringly clear that any party leader associated with Mnangagwa would be pushed aside in the party, booted off Zanu-PF’s two executive bodies, the central committee and the politburo, and prevented from running for parliament.

It was clear that Zanu-PF would never be the same again. As Mugabe approached his 81st birthday, on February 22, he was moulding Zanu-PF into reaffirming its loyalty to him in a calculated attempt to prevent anyone from rising to succeed him. Mugabe made sure that Zanu-PF was a party looking firmly towards its past as a liberation movement and not one planning for its future.

It was thought that by appointing two vice presidents Mugabe would be dealing with the question of who would succeed him by grooming two possible replacements. But at 81, Joseph Msika can hardly be considered a viable successor to Mugabe. Joyce Mujuru is young enough at 50 to be a candidate to take over from him. As a cabinet minister for 25 years, since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, she has ample experience in government. But the overwhelmingly patriarchal culture of Zanu-PF makes it highly unlikely that Mujuru could ever take over as president.

Mugabe, to put it differently, has appointed two vice-presidents, both loyal followers with a history in the liberation struggle, and both of whom would be disinclined to elbow him aside in order to take over the reins of power.

The same cannot be said for Mnangagwa, speaker of the house. For years he was so widely considered to be Mugabe’s chosen successor that many in the party called him “The Son of God”. Powerful and ambitious, Mnangagwa openly lobbied to be appointed vice president, an indiscreet move that led him into trouble.

To avoid having Mnangagwa sitting too close to the throne, Mugabe manoeuvred to have Zanu-PF’s Women’s League call for a female vice-president. The president announced that each of the party’s ten provincial committees should nominate two candidates for the two vice presidential posts and one should be a woman. Mugabe, furthermore, let it be known that the two correct nominations would be Msika and Mujuru.

Mnangagwa was not content to be sidelined by Mugabe’s sudden burst of feminism. He had spent many years building up a network of supporters in the party, in the security network of the Central Intelligence Organisation and in the army. Many of those he cultivated came out in support of him for vice president.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo, another palpably ambitious man, held a meeting in his home area of Tsholotsho, in Matabeleland North province. Many top party officials, members of parliament and the chairmen of six of the party’s ten provincial committees attended it. They were all urged to support Mnangagwa instead of Mujuru. They were told they could form a new regional power bloc within Zanu-PF. The southern Matabeleland provinces, the central Midlands province and the eastern Manica province could challenge the hegemony held for years by the Mashonaland East, Central and North provinces.

Although many of the provincial committees nominated alternative vice presidential candidates, in the end Mugabe’s chosen two won. But it was not until later that Mugabe found out about the Tsholotsho meeting, which had been held without his knowledge. He was infuriated by the insubordination. A political inquest was ordered. Moyo was publicly reprimanded and the six provincial chairmen were suspended from party activities for five years. Moyo and a phalanx of party members associated with the meeting, notably justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, were deprived of their seats on the party’s central committee and politburo.

But Mugabe did not end his purge there. Once again using his new trump card of women’s advancement, Mugabe announced that Zanu-PF would promote the cause of women by reserving 30 parliamentary seats for women. Not surprisingly Moyo’s Tsholotsho area was one of those named as a ‘women only’ constituency.

Many Zimbabwean women activists are critical of Mugabe’s heavy-handed promotion of women. “Joyce no cause for rejoicing,” wrote feminist Everjoice Win. She pointed out that in her many years in cabinet Mujuru had not advanced the cause of women and, on the contrary, had made disparaging remarks about the women’s movement. Many women within Zanu-PF were disgruntled that they would not be able to vote for the candidate of their choice and would, instead, have to vote for a woman about whom they knew very little.

Then came the sensational shock of the spy ring. On 15 December a prominent member of parliament, Philip Chiyangwa, was arrested as he left the House of Assembly. At the same time, the authorities arrested four more prominent Zimbabweans with close links to Zanu-PF’s inner circle. In a simultaneous sting worthy of a spy novel, a top South African intelligence officer was lured into Zimbabwe where he was arrested for allegedly setting up a spy ring involving the five Zimbabweans and securing the supply of information on Mugabe and the inner-workings of Zanu-PF to South Africa.

The five Zimbabweans charged with espionage are: Zanu-PF provincial chairman and member of parliament Philip Chiyangwa, Zimbabwe’s ambassador-designate to Mozambique Godfrey Dzvairo, Zanu-PF security director Kennedy Karidza, a director of Metropolitan Bank, Tendai Matambanadzo and Zanu-PF’s director of external affairs, Itai Marchi.

The name of the South African handler of the ring has not been revealed by either the South Africans or the Zimbabweans. He is said to be a senior officer of the South African Secret Service who is 48 and white.

He was arrested the same day as Chiyangwa when he was lured into Zimbabwe. He had travelled to Zambia’s resort town of Livingstone where he was to meet a senior Zimbabwean intelligence officer. At the last minute the Zimbabwean phoned and persuaded the South African to come across the bridge to Zimbabwe’s town of Victoria Falls where they would meet in a hotel. The South African was arrested when he crossed over to Zimbabwe.

He was allegedly paying Chiyangwa US$10 000 a month for information about the inner-workings of Zanu-PF, Mugabe and the economy, according to evidence emerging from Harare court hearings. Chiyangwa and his alleged accomplices face up to 20 years in jail if convicted of the charges.

The South Africans are trying to downplay the incident as “no big deal”, just a matter of routine intelligence gathering. But it is clear president Thabo Mbeki’s government launched a high-level spying operation on Mugabe that succeeded in reaching the very highest levels of Zanu-PF and the government. It is no coincidence that Chiyangwa and his putative co-conspirators were allied to Mnangagwa’s faction. It appears that South Africa may have been gathering intelligence to influence events within Zanu-PF.

Breaking the espionage ring and catching the South African spymaster was undoubtedly a coup for the Zimbabweans that severely embarrassed the Mbeki government. But the fact that Mbeki was spying on Mugabe and had succeeded in enlisting the help of so many highly-placed party officials cannot make Mugabe feel secure.

The ructions within Zanu-PF have continued. The party’s primaries — the process during which candidates for parliament are chosen — were marked by fraud, chaos and occasional violence, leaving the party openly fractured by the infighting. Four cabinet ministers and five sitting members of parliament failed to secure party nominations for parliament. Many of these were, again, deemed to be supporters of Mnangagwa, or at least not sufficiently ardent supporters of Mugabe.

Interestingly Mugabe has taken no overt action against Mnangagwa, who is expected to secure a nomination to run for parliament. But Mugabe systematically rid the party of the support base that he has taken years to nurture.

Mugabe has succeeded once again in stamping his will on Zanu-PF. But in the process he has created many enemies within Zanu-PF who may well be biding their time until they can get even. Moreover, Mugabe must look over his shoulder at South Africa and wonder what Mbeki is planning.

Finally there is the opposition MDC that continues to press for substantial electoral reforms before it will participate in the March polls. Far from being invincible, Mugabe appears to be feeling pressure on all sides.