The Leadership Struggle in Zanu PF

Zanu was founded in the early 60’s and came out of a leadership split which left Joshua Nkomo in charge of Zapu, and Ndabaningi Sithole in charge of the new Party. Before very long the entire leadership of the Nationalist movement found itself in detention or exile. The key leaders were all detained at various centers in Zimbabwe while the leadership in exile established the military capacity to challenge the Rhodesian regime.

While in detention, Sithole was deposed and Mugabe assumed control of the Party and the Zanla campaign. When he fled the country after being released from detention at the insistence of the South African government in 1974, he was greeted by the Zanla forces in Mozambique as a hero and leader. However not everyone was happy with him and his stay in Mozambique was not always a happy one.

When the situation evolved to the point where talks were planned with the British government in 1979, Mugabe was selected as one of the key negotiators and he used his position to inveigle his place at the table into one of dominance in the subsequent process, supported clandestinely by the British and American governments as being the only man who could bring peace. The mysterious death of the commander of the Zanla forces in Mozambique subsequently cleared the way for him to assume complete power in 1980.

Since then he has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron grip – using his acknowledged skills to keep all rivals off balance or simply “dealt with” in whatever way seemed appropriate and possible. The list of leadership debris left by his political career includes many notables and perhaps his crowning achievement was the subjugation of the Zapu leadership in 1987 when the leadership of Zapu collapsed under the pressure of a ruthless campaign that is now classified as genocide.

His reaction to near defeat by the emergent MDC in 1999 was to unleash a Stalinist like attack on the new Party and its supporters. In the aftermath he nearly destroyed the economy and led Zimbabwe down a road that brought about near “failed State” status for Zimbabwe in 2008. He skillfully negotiated the subsequent turmoil and used his residual status as an African icon to hold onto power despite electoral defeats in both 2002 and 2008.

But, like all human beings, age catches up with us all and now, in his 90th year and the 34th year in absolute power, he faces yet another, more difficult challenge; one which will very likely determine his legacy and fashion the future for the rest of us. Like Mao in China and Banda in Malawi, it looks as if he is not going to let go until he dies. The statement last week by loyalists in the Party that he will be the Zanu PF candidate in 2018 just confirms such thinking. However, he is frail and his eyesight not so good anymore. Right now the main problem is that he will not tolerate any policy shifts and is losing control of the centre of power leaving all the rogue elements in Zanu PF (and there are many) free to do their own destructive thing.

In addition to his destructive grip on power and waning control, Mr. Mugabe continues to play the game he has played for 34 years – pitting his contenders for power against each other and dividing the Party so that no one has sufficient influence to take over. In China the Red Army filled the gap and managed the transition to new leadership when Mao died. In Malawi it was elements close to Banda who filled the gap and finally steered the country onto a new path.

Here no such mechanism exists and the contenders are many – Mujuru, Mnangagwa, Sekeremyi, Gono and even Grace Mugabe or her son. If the President, for whatever reason, should be unable to perform his duties as Head of State, there would be an immediate scramble for power and control. The stakes are high and if any one of the leading contenders gains control of the Presidency, they would have to “deal” with their competitors.

In a storm at sea the worst that can happen to a ship is to drift, to try to operate without a rudder to hold the vessel in a direction that prevents it being swamped or tuned over in the rough seas. Zimbabwe is in a storm again – the economy is contracting, firms and banks are closing their doors, we are in a deflationary downwards spiral and revenues to the State are declining to the point where we cannot fund essential State activities. In this storm we need a clear sense of direction, a firm hand on the tiller, a navigator who knows how to hold the ship of State into the wind and waves.

We simply do not have that, we are adrift and the failing central control of the State and uncertainly about policy and State intentions, is paralyzing us and threatens a cataclysmic collapse similar to that of 2008. A single serious error of judgment could result in failed State conditions or at best, a slow shut down of the productive sector, a resurgence of human migration to other countries and increased poverty and formal unemployment at home. A cataclysmic collapse might actually be better because it would force political and economic changes that are essential if we are to resume the short lived recovery we had during the GNU.

Can Zanu PF resolve its leadership crisis and install new leadership that will rescue the State and put us on a new course? At present the prospects look bleak, the old man will simply not let go and he has sufficient latent authority not to permit any change in direction. He is now, just like Smith in 1976, the single most important impediment to progress and recovery.

As in September 1976 and March 2007, South Africa needs to step up to the plate again and force the kind of changes that are needed to get us back on track. To do that they need to do what the ANC did in 1997 when Mbeki took over the operational control of the Government leaving a aging Mandela to continue as President until he could retire and hand over the reins of power. Then we need to remove the old boys club that is the present Cabinet and bring in new blood and ideas. The new team must move rapidly to put the country back on the road towards reengagement with the international community (political reform) and the world economy (economic reform).

Is that possible – of course, South Africa did it before, they need to do it again; leaving this ship of State to drift as it is today, is just not sustainable or wise and certainly not in their essential interests.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th June 2014