My goodness, it’s not Business as Usual

Last week when I looked into my crystal ball and asked it what on earth was going on in Zanu PF, my ball said that the most likely outcome of the cat fight was nothing. Mugabe would be appointed President for life (hopefully that is not too far into the future) and keeping Mrs. Mujuru as Vice President. The bid by the Minister of Justice for power seemed to be falling short of the line.

But since then the attacks on the Mujuru elements in the Party have continued and even intensified and the President, always the proverbial schemer, seems to be taking sides with his wife and therefore against Mujuru. But you cannot discount the Mujuru elements in the Party – she controls a majority of the structures through her support base and in any secret ballot election at Congress I am sure she would prevail.

As usual it comes down to what will the “Old Man” do this time? In Zanu PF itself, there seems to be near panic as the “Old Man” seems less and less capable of holding the centre and enforcing his will on the Party. Power is slipping from his grasp and the problem is that no real alternative exists; he has failed to do the one thing that any chief executive must do and that is to identify and nurture the succession to his command. Instead the State and the Party are a mess of conflicted and competitive centers of power, all capable of doing damage to the other and none really able to establish ascendency. It is both dangerous and unstable and the outcome depends on a failing geriatric who has less and less authority and yet will not let go.

In the middle of this political crisis – the worst in his long political career and in the context of another economic collapse, he has gone off to Austria to address a summit of land locked States as if he had any wisdom or special skills to offer. He leads a country that was once a middle income State, the second most sophisticated and diversified economy in Africa south of the Sahara and is now at the bottom of just about every index of development and growth in the world. His administration of our affairs has been little short of catastrophic and yet he continues to imagine that he has some standing in the world; perhaps in some parts of Africa, but surely nowhere else.

If Mr. Mugabe fails to sort out the awful tangle in the leadership of his Party and then leaves the stage sooner than expected, he will compound his failures in administration and government by a factor of ten. We who have survived his tenure (many have not) would then have to deal with trying to craft leadership of the State from many conflicting elements – none of whom have any real claim to succession. Physical violence is a very real possibility and it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that only the Army might feel it has the cohesion and the strength to take power and sort out the State. This is very dangerous.

The talk is that Mr. Mugabe might ask Mrs. Mujuru to stand down as Vice President of the country. He could do so and has the authority to do this but the consequences would be considerable. Mrs. Mujuru controls the Party and she and her supporters represent a very significant and important part of the Government. She is not taking the attacks on herself lying down and this could get very messy, even violent. I think that she has the support of key members of the security establishment – the head of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the head of the Prisons and the Police and probably the most professional officer in the senior ranks of the Army, General Sibanda.

Then there is the issue of what next? Who would Mr. Mugabe appoint in her place – there are very few contenders. Mnangagwa would be an obvious choice (as Grace Mugabe has already said) but he is a Karanga and the spirit of Tongogara hangs heavy over Zanu PF. He also has a small base in the Party and perhaps even less in the country. However he is a “strong man” and has the support of the Joint Operations Command as well as a number of key political players and many top officials in Government. He would be ruthless and may be able to “ride the Tiger” and intimidate his opponents.

But I doubt that he could take power without the “Old Man” tapping him on the shoulder and recognizing him as the top contender for the job. No one that I have spoken to recently has indicated that this is likely.

So what we have left is a huge degree of uncertainty. As the Chinese leadership asked some weeks ago, “who are we dealing with when we talk to Zimbabwe?” The markets hate uncertainty and in our case this translates into a freeze on new investment, maintenance of existing investment and in our international relations. This is something that we can ill afford in the middle of a massive slump in all economic activity.

Zimbabwe is in a situation that might be termed a “nightmare” by political leaders anywhere in the world. We have a government that was constructed for a $30 billion dollar economy that is only generating half of that figure. As a result we are spending three quarters of all our tax income on salaries and there is very little left for anything else. This baseline position is deteriorating by the day.

Our productive sectors are in tatters – agriculture is still shrinking in overall output, farms are derelict. Industrial sites are grave yards – the buildings representing grave stones that mark the places where once thousands of workers made a decent living. The mining industry is limping along, crippled by taxes and royalties that bear no relation to the realities of their operations.

We boast about our education system and fail to recognise the reality that 90 per cent of the kids in school are learning very little and most will come out of the system neither literate nor numerate. Speak to any employer and they will confirm that reality. Our border posts are crowded with people fleeing the country. Our tertiary institutions are packed with young people trying to get a skill that will give them an entry to the job market in other countries.

Our judicial system it totally subverted by judges who are politically appointed or subject to patronage and corruption. The rule of law is dysfunctional and property rights and contract law violated with the approval of those in power. When negotiating with the State for anything, the one side never knows who they are dealing with or what their authority is, so that when the Russians came to Zimbabwe the other day and negotiated a mining venture, they dealt with the Ministry of Defense and the deal was so one sided that we estimate that the loss to the exchequer over the life of the venture would be in excess of $10 billion.

Diplomatically we are a polecat, ranked with countries such as North Korea and Eritrea. We are a nation that is totally cowed by a tyrannical regime that will use maximum force to maintain their grip on power. To change our government there is little point in waiting for the next elections – they are a sick joke and everyone knows this. And now, on top of all this we have near total uncertainty about just who will be in control of the State tomorrow.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 5th November 2014