The response to President Mugabe relieving Emmerson Mnangagwa of his post as Vice-President has generated considerably more heat than light. From David Coltart suggesting that this is the beginning of a “perfect storm” to the Zimbabwe Independent suggesting that Mnangagwa has been “fired from ZANU PF”, it seems that few really believed that this would happen. However, the events of the weekend were a clear sign that he was probably on the way out, and now he has been both fired and expelled from the party.
However, this is merely the final stage of a long process. Perhaps too many commentators had bought into the notion that Zimbabwe was in the throes of a major faction fight over succession, but too few examined an alternative hypothesis: that the Lacoste-G40 struggle was actually a purge of Lacoste by the state. Dealing with Manangagwa was always going to be a different task to that of Joice Mujuru, and that purge taught ZANU-PF some salient lessons.
The first of these was the uproar that followed Mujuru’s purge. Not only did she go, but eight senior ministers had to go too, and members of nine Provincial Co-ordinating Committees. This was followed by the axing of a further two senior ministers and five deputy ministers. And, worse than that, the surgery started to roll down through the party, and by the end a total of 141 Mujuru supporters had been fired as well. The party was being gutted, and the question was obviously who would fill their places, and who would they support.
Thus, wielding the axe in this blunt fashion had clear risks, and, any plan to rid the party of Mnangagwa’s influence in this way would leave the party shattered.
The second had to do with timing. The purge of Joice did offer her the opportunity to re-build. It took place far enough ahead of the elections slated for 2018 that she could well have built a substantial base. Events have shown that she could not, and neither could the faction-ridden opposition develop a coherent alliance that was attractive enough for the Mujuru supporters to join. The chaos and confusion in the opposition has protected ZANU-PF from most of the adverse effects of the 2014 purge.
Purging Emmerson Mnangagwa was altogether a different matter. It was evident to most that he would stand the most to gain from the ousting of the Mujuru faction, and additionally he seemed to be the candidate of choice for most Western nations, probably many other nations too. Making him Vice-President, and under the peculiar dispensation of the 2013 Constitution, together with the aging and the apparent ill-health of President Mugabe, Mnangagwa seemed to be a shoo-in as successor.
However, few seem to remember 2004 and the Tsholotsho fiasco, except perhaps Robert Mugabe and Jonathan Moyo. The first would have certainly have seen the extent of Mnangagwa’s ambition, and the second would remember the humiliation that followed the imposition of Joice Mujuru as Vice-President, as well as his banishment.
Thus, the ousting of Joice (and the earlier death of her husband) solved one problem, only to create another. Ever practical, the state began to address the new problem, and has now solved this in a brutal fashion. The detail of the process need not detain us here, and will inevitably fill the pages of the press for weeks to come.
The big question is what happens next.
Already, and building on months of speculation, the scuttlebutt is that this is a preliminary to the appointing of Grace Mugabe as the new Vice-President. This may well be, but its always wise to listen more carefully to what the main protagonists say about themselves. Robert Mugabe has consistently, and repeatedly, stated that he will not appoint a successor: he says the successor will be elected by the party! Whilst Grace Mugabe has stated openly that there is no reason why she could not be president, she also says just as emphatically that she doesn’t need to. Are both just playing mind games, or is there a coherent plan for succession? Is there a plan for renewal and the continued hegemony of ZANU-PF for the future?
A very serious possibility is that there will be a “perfect storm”: not for the country, but for all opposition political parties.
Consider just this thought. The failure of governance, with the attendant economic crisis, has been predicated on the solution of ZANU-PF’s internal problems: no coherent economic direction could be implemented when the party was in turmoil. It is worth remembering that this turmoil had been developing since 2008, and the undermining of ZANU-PF (and Robert Mugabe) through the covert bhora musango campaign, and probably the Tsholotsho process as well.
If the internal struggles are now solved, and the party has been re-configured to the form that was desired, what now will stop ZANU-PF from “winning” an election? They certainly are advantaged by the incoherence in the opposition. And, having won an election, what will happen when they undertake all the reforms that are so necessary to solve the economic crisis? Is this all so implausible, and do we not think that at least one faction in ZANU-PF has been considering how to retain power AND fix the economy?
The really big question for the citizens, however, is the need for the kind of comprehensive reform that will remake for an inclusive state, and that will not be on the cards if the above takes place. A “reformed” ZANU-PF is not necessarily a party committed to doing this, and hence the opposition political parties need to consider the options for preventing this. It is not evident that this can be achieved through an election, and perhaps it is time to think about pressure for a new political settlement.