Cooking in a Three Legged Pot

I often say to people who have an interest and concern for what is going on in Zimbabwe that if they are not confused; then they have not been here long enough. The confusion arises from deliberate misleading information in the public sphere, and often just because events move fast behind the scenes and the various players are trying to outmaneuver each other.

Since 2000, three centers of power in Zimbabwe have emerged and are engaged in a savage struggle for supremacy. Each of these power centers have subgroups and divisions of their own – but remain today as coherent centers of power. These are: -
- The JOC, a military structure inherited by Mugabe in 1980 from the Rhodesian war which has evolved into a form of a military Junta in the past decade. It is dominated by the military but has a number of senior hardliners from Zanu PF in its ranks;
- Zanu PF under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, a clever, if reclusive and aging leader who has maintained an iron grip on the Party and the State through a mixture of intelligence, hard discipline sometimes involving targeted assassinations and patronage on a massive scale;
- and the MDC under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai, a genuine democrat who has long association with Zanu PF but who split with the Party in 1997 after concluding that Zanu PF had to be removed from power if Zimbabwe was to make progress.

The emergence of this third leg in the power structure gave rise to a massive reaction from both the JOC and Zanu PF which essentially destroyed the economy and eventually drew in the region in an effort to halt the carnage and limit collateral damage on Zimbabwe’s neighbors.

While these three centers of power struggled for ascendancy over the past decade, the intervention of the region gradually metamorphosed into the form it has today and this is critical to understanding the present situation and assessing any possible outcome.

In 2000, South Africa, the regional super power, concluded that a MDC victory in the struggle in Zimbabwe would not be in its interests and over the following three years they used their diplomatic and regional power to back Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe, the JOC occupied a supportive role and MDC was totally outgunned – its only power source being its growing cohesion and popular support.

In 2004 and 2005, South Africa decided first that Mugabe had become a liability and sought, with the help of senior Zanu PF leaders and the JOC, to have him replaced as leader of Zanu PF. In 2005 South Africa concluded that both Mugabe and Tsvangirai were a hindrance to securing a workable solution and worked clandestinely to have both men removed from the legs of the power pot that they represented.

In 2006/7 the South Africans decided that their strategies in Zimbabwe were not working and they moved to support a process of negotiated change in Zimbabwe which would bring into being a workable government that would be able to attract international support and enable recovery in the economic sphere and stabilize the political situation. This gave rise to the GPA process and eventually created the present Transitional Government in which Zanu PF and the MDC share power.

The main problem was that the new nature of the new government was a recipe for deadlock and did nothing to resolve the underlying power struggle. It did however give the MDC real power for the first time, for many this was a burden, not a new opportunity, and spurred efforts to co-opt the MDC and blur its image as a real agent of change. MDC meetings have become associated with rows of luxury vehicles where in the past only mini busses and broken down jalopies attended MDC meetings – all the result of its new links to the power and patronage structures of government created by Zanu PF over the past 30 years.

But the new arrangement has halted the decline in the economy and started a recovery. This has been retarded by deliberate subversion of the economy by Zanu PF because the recovery is seen as being a sole MDC construct. It has also complicated the nature of the political struggle. Images of Mugabe and Tsvangirai working together have muddied the water in which the struggle is being waged.

The other major change has been in the nature of South African engagement. This has been driven by ancillary developments in the region – the change in leadership in South Africa, changes within the ANC and then changes in the nature and character of SADC support and intervention.

While this situation has metamorphosed into what faces us today, the situation within the three pillars of power in Zimbabwe has changed. In Zanu PF the major development has been the decline in the health of its leader, Mugabe. It is now clear to all associated with our crisis that a leadership change in Zanu PF is only a question of time. How it will happen depends on the leadership of Zanu PF itself and the continued ability of Mugabe to maintain his grip on power within the Party and in Government.

In the MDC leg to the Pot, power has consolidated around Tsvangirai who is clearly the man of the future. The other factions of the MDC that are products of the 2005 machinations of South African meddling have faded into irrelevancy.

The JOC remains intact but has been severely damaged by preemptive strikes from South Africa. Denied any possibility of an independent attempt at grasping power using its military and political power, the leadership is contemplating how they can grasp control of the leadership in Zanu PF, now their only hope of remaining relevant. The belief that they can take control and assume the leadership of Zanu PF and thereby the Presidency, is astonishing and is characterized by supreme unjustified arrogance.

For Zanu PF the Rubicon is approaching in the form of their National Conference next week. If they stick to Mugabe as their President and candidate for any coming election they will be the laughing stock of the country. Mugabe is clearly no longer able to campaign or manage the State effectively.

Last week we understand the South African Cabinet agreed to a new strategy for resolving the never ending crisis in Zimbabwe. As the case in the past this will be pivotal in determining what happens here in the next few weeks and months. For me, the way is clear; South Africa will force the parties to the crisis in Zimbabwe to negotiate a compromise. This will bring Tsvangirai to power as President under a revised constitution and create a reformed National Unity Government that will dissolve the JOC, normalize the environment for eventual elections and allow the full recovery on international relations and the economy.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th November 2011