Unravelling of Mugabe's rule (II): Plot after plot after plot

By: 
Jaan Raath

Emmerson Mnangagwa

(The first article in this two part series can be read here.) 

In 2004, Emmerson Munangagwa made his move. President Robert Mugabe declared he had chosen Joice Mujuru as his new first vice-president. Voting by the party’s 10 provinces would be a formality. But Munangagwa at the time was in the ascendant, and had the support of a majority of provinces. The “plotters” gathered at a small school in the scruffy town of Tjolotjo in western Zimbabwe to finalise their “coup” that was meant to see Munangagwa voted as vice-president, a rare direct challenge to Mugabe’s authority.

Mugabe got wind of what became known as the “Tjolotjo Declaration.” He was apoplectic with fury. He denounced the schemers as “witches” (a common theme in Mugabe’s discourse). They were all were expelled from the party. Munangagwa, ever mindful of his own welfare, stayed away from the meeting and escaped expulsion, but got demoted to minister of the non-existent portfolio of “rural housing.”

So Joice became first vice president. But in 2006 Mugabe again found himself challenged by General Solomon Mujuru. Zimbabwe’s elections, parliamentary and presidential, were held at different times, and Mugabe decided to “harmonise” them. However, the way he wanted them arranged would have presidential elections shifted forward to coincide with the parliamentary vote, and add two extra years to his five year term, without being elected.

The general blocked him, leading opposition in party structures to his move, forcing Mugabe instead to shorten his term to two years. After that, Joice said last week, Mugabe’s demeanour toward her became cold. “He never told me things anymore.”

Again in 2008, before elections scheduled for that year, the general again defied Mugabe. A paper by Zimbabwean historian Blessing-Miles Tendi on the succession struggle recently (Feb.12) in Oxford University’s African Affairs Journal, says Solomon urged Mugabe, 84 at this point, to resign and make way for a younger candidate. Mugabe refused. The paper says the general then sponsored the younger former finance minister Simba Makoni to start his own party, a sort of moderate, business-friendly ZANU(PF), to draw away party faithful disenchanted by Mugabe’s disastrous policies.

Mujuru chickened out of appearing Makoni’s inaugural press conference. In the first violence- and intimidation- free election in Zimbabwe’s history, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the pro-democracy MDC, won the first round with 47 percent of the vote, but he needed 51 percent to win outright. Mugabe got 43 percent, Makoni only eight percent. The fact that it took five weeks for the result to be announced makes it clear that the numbers were cooked and that Tsvangirai very probably should have become president.

A second round was held, with Munangagwa as Mugabe’s “electoral agent.” He took it mean carte blanche to get his boss elected. Munangagwa is blamed for the ensuing butchery of 200 people and the torture of thousands more, ensuring victory for the elderly pasha. But Mugabe blamed Mujuru for his humiliating first round loss, disregarding the fact that voters were unlikely to be impressed with 500,000 percent inflation his policies brought about that year.

Then on August 15, 2011, the general drove home at dusk after his usual sundowner at the small hotel in the village of Beatrice, some 50 km south of Harare. Shortly after he was incinerated at the farmhouse in flames that experts at the inquest into his death said could only have been produced by a chemical accelerants, like phosphorous. The magistrate was unable to make a finding but few are in any doubt that it was a political assassination.

A Cuban doctor told the inquest that the post mortem on the general he conducted was not at any of Harare’s main hospitals, but at the clinic of 1 Commando military base. He said he was following instructions. The base lies on the main road from the city to Harare international airport.

The doctor said Mugabe’s motorcade pulled in to the base. The president was on his way to the airport for a trip abroad. He alighted from his bomb-protected Mercedes Benz and entered the clinic. He looked at the general’s charred remains and left.

Farewell to an old comrade, or...?

Interestingly, the executor of the estate of the man reputed to be worth many millions in diamonds, land and businesses, said his worth was a debt of US$2 million.

Solomon’s death did not end the succession struggle. If anything, it invigorated Joice. By late 2014, her faction dominated the cabinet, controlled most of the top positions in ZANU(PF) and ran nine out of the 10 provincial councils, which elect the party’s leadership.

Later that year, Mugabe’s vulgar wife, Grace, 50, had launched a series of political rallies across the country. It appeared to be a campaign to establish herself as a likely successor to Mugabe. Then in September she launched an attack against Joice. It became clear that Mugabe had switched his usual strategy, and that Grace was running a carefully orchestrated campaign on her husband’s behalf against his vice-president.

Grace’s invective against Joice became increasingly foul-mouthed with each taxpayer-sponsored rally. In October she had this to say:  “Dumping the baby (Joice) in the street so she is devoured by vultures is the best option. When we expose your rotten, smelly and corrupt body, even flies and dogs will not go near you.”

At the ZANU(PF) congress in December Mugabe had his turn. He claimed that Joice was using witchcraft to assassinate him. A traditional healer had told her to put two different coloured tadpoles into water. “One should be named Mugabe and the other should be called Mujuru. They were made to fight and if Mugabe’s tadpole died, then she would rule.” And of how she, naked, conjured spells against him.

Thus what goes for presidential gravity in Zimbabwe.

Joice, wisely, did not attend the congress. Mugabe expelled her from the vice-presidency and the party, and Munangagwa was named her successor. Immediately there followed the mass expulsion of most of her followers at all levels throughout the party. Irrespective of whether they were good, honest servants of the people or wastrels, they went.

It seemed the way was clear for Munangagwa and his coterie, known as “Team La Coste,” the fashion brand, presumably for their leader’s suave manner.

However, the removal of Joice gave room for another group that had been circling for a few years. It calls itself G40, short for Group 40 and representing the younger generation in the party leadership. Three of them admit to membership, one of them the remarkable political party hopper and former academic, Jonathan Moyo. Another is Mugabe’s cousin, and the third has been accused of being gay (and denies it).

Hovering above them without acknowledging any link, is Grace. The expulsion of one woman official for “undermining the first family” (i.e., Grace) when she shouted “Down with G40” at a party meeting this month clears up any doubt about that.

Mugabe plays his cards very close to his chest, but repeated remarks like that leave people in little doubt that he is planning a dynasty. The trouble with Grace is that she is probably the most disliked politician in the country, and commentators advise that when her husband finally dies, she should have an aircraft waiting at the airport with engines running.

Crooked? In the late 90s she grabbed an elderly white couple’s farm in the rich Mazoe farming area 30 km north of Harare, and continued to add more large chunks from adjacent farms. On this she built an orphanage , a high-fee private school and a family mansion. No explanation of the source of funds, apart from a mention in the state media of a US$4 million Chinese “donation.”

Each report in the propaganda state press of her rallies ends with a list of goods she “donated” to the people of the area: up to 500 tonnes of maize at a time, hundreds of new tractors and farming machinery, as well as blankets, clothing and, at the most recent this week, 1,000 pairs of shoes. There is no indication of the provenance of payment. The maize is reported to have come from government stockpiles. It turned out the tractors and machinery were part of a rural aid programme supplied by Brazil.

“They said I am giving people the goods as a way of buying votes,” she said on one occasion. “It’s okay, it’s better to vote for someone who gives you something than someone who does not.”

In November, dozens of “La Coste” backers found themselves expelled for “fanning factionalism.” The night of the long knives resumed in February when the Mugabes came back from their Christmas holiday in Dubai. At her first vitriol-laced rally this year, Grace launched a shocking array of accusations at Munangagwa. She did not name him, but she didn’t need to.

He had plotted to kill her youngest son, Bellarmine, and was behind an alleged attempted bombing of her sinking dairy business just north of Harare, she said, “to intimidate us into handing power to you.” She went on: “There is no vacancy at State House (the official presidential residence). I am still there.”

Her remarks against Munangagwa ruffled the feathers of the lawless, violent, arrogant militia Mugabe uses for mob violence to enforce the country’s climate of terror. The subtext for this is that the “warvets” are firmly in Munangagwa’s camp on February 18. Several hundred of them marched on ZANU(PF) headquarters, but halfway there, they turned round for another destination and were dispersed by police water cannon and teargas. People watched the rout in disbelief. For the last 16 years, the warvets have been untouchable, free to do as they please.

The war veterans, unprosecuted after thousands of incidents of murder, torture and destruction of property, wailed at “police brutality.” It was nothing compared to the broken limbs and fractured skulls that activist group Woman of Zimbabwe Arise repeatedly suffer from police.

The head of the war veterans was accused of “insulting the first family and undermining the authority of the president” and expelled. It was a high risk manoeuvre and it underlined how deep Mugabe’s mistrust of Munangagwa lay.

Mugabe promised to meet the war veterans over the expulsion of their popular leader, but by now it is almost certain that he will not appear before what is becoming an increasingly rebellious constituency. It is not just a critical loss to Mugabe, but the birth of a new foe.

Harare’s daily newspapers are dominated now by reports of “votes of no-confidence” being held by members of one faction against members of other factions, and then being reinstated, and then the original expeller group being expelled itself, giving birth to the neologism, “counterexpel.” Sub-factions are being born and violent clashes have broken out. The party is in chaos and Mugabe appears unable to check it.

To add to it, Joice last month broke her year-long silence after her expulsion to launch her political party, Zimbabwe People First (a play on her former party’s initials). Joice almost certainly still retains a network of influential backers and grassroots supporters.

Mugabe has managed to seal dispute and division within his party by crushing factional tendencies by his own terrible menace and the creation of a cult of worship. Aged 92 now, his ability to terrorise has weakened. The sacking of Joice was an acknowledgment of the existence of her supporters as a major faction. It has been quickly followed by another huge crack in the surface of his party - between Munangagwa and G40.

Anyone will tell you that once this process of chaotic fission has started, it is irrevocable.

“ZANU(PF) has been unravelling for some time,” said political analyst Andrew Chadwick. “It’s now in its second phase. It’s a fallacy to say Mugabe continues to control all the mechanisms of state power.” The accelerating rate of expulsions “is a strategy that perpetuates itself and in the end destroys the party.”

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