Riding the Tiger

In Asia they have a saying that you must be careful when you try to ride a Tiger – if you fall off you may be eaten. In Zimbabwe the Tiger is the struggle for political power and this has been going on ever since MDC emerged to challenge the entrenched hold that Zanu PF has held since 1980.

Those holding power (riding the Tiger) know full well what they will face if they are to fall off. They came close to that in 2008 when they lost the March elections only to be rescued and put back on the Tiger by the actions of Mr. Mbeki, then President of South Africa. They know that if they were to lose power, they would face the wrath of the people accumulated over the past 34 years – the genocide of 1983/87, the harsh suppression of all opposition Parties between 1987 and 2005, the mass destruction of homes in 2005 and then the savage violence against their opponents through to today.

Those who have accumulated wealth on the back of those who hold power today – many as a result of illegal activities and the expropriation of private assets or simply access to State resources and opportunities, know full well how transient wealth is, they know what it is to be poor, they fear losing it all.

There are four centers of political power in Zimbabwe at present, the MDC led by Mr. Tsvangirai holds popular power; most observers hold the view that if we were to have a genuine election here, free of all the manipulation, violence and intimidation that have become the norm that he and the MDC would be returned to power. The recent upheavals in the MDC leadership are just so much froth on the surface of the sea, get down into the water and he still holds sway. Mr. Biti and Mr. Mangoma, like Mr. Ncube and his crew, are discovering that if they try to ride the MDC Tiger, they will be discarded and eaten. All that is left of the Ncube challenge to his leadership in 2005 are bones in the bush.

Then there is the centre controlled by the Mujuru faction in Zanu PF. This has control of the Parliamentary elements of the Party, the majority of the old timers brought back into Cabinet in August 2013 and many of the more progressive elements that make up the Party. In any Party activities this faction has clearly shown that they control a working majority in Zanu PF. But they are not popular, are regarded as being very largely responsible for the failure of the Party in government. Mr. Gono, former Governor of the Reserve Bank, is clearly in this grouping and is sometimes talked about as a possible future leader, but he has no credibility and without Mrs. Mujuru to hold his hand could not win a contest for leadership in the Party.

Mrs. Mujuru is the Vice President and given her entrenched position in the Party should be the clear favorite to win the race to succeed Mr. Mugabe as President. But she has stumbled badly in recent months, given responsibility for selecting the Cabinet after their victory in the July 2013 elections; she ignored the younger elements in the Party and brought back many who were not only corrupt but also incompetent. She has tried to defend many of her key supporters in the Civil Service and in the Executive who have been exposed for corruption and abuse of office and this has gone down in the country like a lead balloon. One well connected observer said to me two weeks ago – she is already half eaten by the Tiger and is now unlikely to make the grade.

The third centre of power is grouped about Mr. Mnangagwa, currently Minister of Justice, formerly Minister of Defence and before that, Security; known commonly as the Crocodile. As the head of the Joint Operations Command (the JOC), he virtually runs a parallel State in Zimbabwe and while the Marange bonanza was available, had at his disposal resources that challenged those of the Ministry of Finance. More than any other, he was responsible for the ruthless and efficient exercise that the Military and Security elements carried out to support the re-election of Zanu PF in the July 2013 elections. He was not rewarded for his efforts and is very angry and bitter about that, a sense that his colleagues on the JOC share. This was one occasion when the “divide and rule” tactics of Mr. Mugabe may have boomeranged on him.

There is no doubt in my mind that the real power in Zimbabwe (as opposed to democratic power either in the country or the Party) rests with this group. They have the capacity to make things happen and act with speed when required. They control much of the State administration as well as the Military in all its different forms.

Then there is the fourth centre of power grouped around the “Old Man”, Mr. Mugabe. He is in the last years of his life and is often seen as being frail and ill. But his mind is clear and he is still the master at manipulation and control. In 2004, Mnangagwa and a large group of leaders in Zanu PF tried to force him into retirement in an operation that became known as the “Tsholotsho Plot” they were simply brushed aside by the crafty old fox. In 2005 when a group led by retired General Mujuru tried the same exercise, supported by the South African intelligence services, he again brushed the threat to his leadership aside.

Even now he is feared and respected and will not relinquish control. He has constitutional power as the ZBC and ZTV affirm a dozen times a day – he is “Commander in Chief”. I view the Zanu PF government as a collection of old guys in a broken down bus that has no diesel and poor tyres, with Mr. Mugabe at the wheel, asleep and unable to give effective control to the bus but denying anyone on the front seats behind him the right to take over. He wants to die at the wheel, with disastrous results for all those who are passengers.

Clearly the main play at present is not in the MDC where the centre of power is in fact pretty firm and beyond challenge. It is in Zanu PF where the three other national centers of power are competing for control of the steering wheel of this broken down bus that goes by the name of Zimbabwe. Time is not on their side as the economy (which cannot be rigged) is sliding towards a point where they will not be able to pull any more rabbits out of the hat and pay the Civil Service. Everything they have done since they resumed full control of the State has simply deepened the hole they are in.

They have to accept major changes in the way they are managing our affairs and to do so they are going to have to decide who can ride the Tiger. Believe me this Tiger will be a challenge to anyone – corruption is out of control and endemic; Zanu PF policies have failed and will not deliver growth and stability, just more collapse and poverty. The old guard, are simply incapable of making the changes that are necessary to put the Country back on its feet. Then there are all those who think they should have a crack at power in the Military, it’s no secret that the Commander of the Army uses a number plate on his Mercedes Benz that reads “ZIM 2”.

There are many in Zimbabwe today who have given up hope and who see no possibility of real change and development. However I see possibilities in the impending outcome of the struggles in Zanu PF and like the changes that followed the death of Mau in China and the subsequent changes to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, this might just result in the emergence of new leadership that will turn things around. The new leadership must accept that if they do adopt the required reforms to our economic and political policies that far from being thrown off the Tiger, they will have found the secret of staying in their seat without coercion and control and the rewards could be equally great for all of us.

Eddie Cross
Harare 3rd May 2013