HARARE – President Robert Mugabe is confronted by a whispering crusade within his beleaguered Zanu PF party started by some of his deputies and lieutenants vying to succeed him.
Mugabe also faces unprecedented pressure from the opposition MDC which has begun the first impeachment proceedings against him in Parliament when both Houses end the two-week recess on June 7, to urge him to end his 36-year rule.
Amid escalating economic hardships, the removal proceedings were pushed forward by Mabvuku MDC MP James Maridadi, as Zimbabwe slips deeper into a crisis that has hamstrung decision-making even while the economy suffers one of its worst downturns since independence in 1980.
On June 7, at the first sitting since Parliament adjourned on May 19, Maridadi hopes to get the green light to his opposition motion for the president to be ejected from office on allegations that he broke fiscal laws by failing to account for $15 billion in diamond revenues and handing over $600 million worth of energy contracts to dodgy dealers.
Mugabe’s Zanu PF has come out fighting, with governing party chief whip Lovemore Matuke expressing his party “outrage” at the MDC’s decision and saying there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Mugabe.
Although Zanu PF boasts of the “tyranny of numbers” in Parliament, the opposition claims at least 70 Zanu PF MPs backing Joice Mujuru’s ZPF, had promised to support the impeachment motion, if voting is done through secret ballot.
As the 92-year-old leader struggles with Zimbabwe’s severe famine, cash and power shortages, economic collapse and international criticism, he is also confronted by growing pressure from ambitious officials in his own party.
Dialogue with higher-ranking members of Zanu PF shows that substantial elements of the governing party think it is time for Mugabe to go.
But it is indignantly divided over who should take over and remains at a loss for a strategy for pulling the country out of its most severe economic free-fall and famine ever.
“Look, everyone is alive to the fact that we have lost a significant part of the population because of these mounting economic hardships,” a Zanu PF politburo member told the Daily News yesterday.
“Cabinet ministers and party officials sit over whiskey and admit we have failed the people. But when mukuru (Mugabe) arrives, everyone sits up and tells him what is palatable to him. Everyone is scared my brother.”
They fear that the ruthless nonagenarian will cut them out of the party’s inner circle of wealth and power and many fear his retribution. Some Cabinet ministers privately
say they are miserable with the status quo but are scared stiff of violent revenge if they resign.
Disgruntled war veterans regularly warn that Zanu PF is not just a political party but a ruthless liberation movement that fought a bitter and bloody war to gain power and is not afraid to spill blood now to keep power.
Mugabe, though 92 and visibly waning, shows no sign he may step down anytime soon.
His endorsement by the December 2015 Zanu PF national conference to represent the party in the 2018 elections, props up a coterie of dependents and defers the divisive succession issue, analysts say.
While in the last year, Mugabe’s control has slipped as his energy and capacities diminish, he is likely to stay in office until he can no longer function, they say, adding his support for an economic and political reform agenda is tepid.
He has limited criticism of reformers but has also not censured elements of his government that are critical, even hostile, to re-engagement with Western countries and financial institutions.
“Zanu PF is its own biggest threat,” said Piers Pigou, a Southern Africa senior consultant at international conflict prevention organisation International Crisis Group (ICG).
“Its constitution is unclear about how to select a new party leader, and by extension president, if Mugabe becomes incapacitated or dies in office. That the party will not countenance open debate on this has led to incessant backroom political jockeying and unprecedented turmoil,” Pigou added.
Mugabe’s use of the army, police, war veterans and youth militia frightens many people, but he cannot intimidate an economy back to prosperity or win back popularity.
As it is, Zimbabwe’s banking sector has been hit with massive withdrawals by risk-loathing depositors, with banking sector sources indicating that reports of the looming introduction of bond notes have further unsettled bank customers.
This comes after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya announced plans to introduce local bond notes and imposed new caps on cash withdrawals in a desperate bid to ease mounting cash shortages.
A former ambassador said there were many who were hoping to succeed Mugabe when he is gone, but now fear the nonagenarian is dragging the party down with him, denting any iota of a chance in power.
“That is why they want him out now,” he said.
But Stephen Chan, a respected professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London told the Daily News: “As long as the Zanu PF factions cannot agree upon a successor, or agree to give way to whomever emerges triumphant in the succession struggle, . . . Mugabe will continue as president.”
Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s deputy, is widely considered to be Mugabe’s likely successor.
“He is powerful but deeply unpopular,” said a Zanu MP MP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Speaking to tens of thousands of pro-Zanu PF backers and social activists who gathered for a “one million-man” march in Harare last week, Mugabe said: “There should never be little groups to promote so and so. Those little groups are treasonous groups, they spoil the party.
“Let us not hear discordant voices from whomsoever. All this thing about factions is new to us, it destabilises the party,” said the Marxist leader, describing the march in his support as a “great revolutionary act” by Zanu PF youths.
Party leaders can rattle off other factions vying to succeed Mugabe, but virtually all of the various challengers, pointedly the G40, comprising ambitious Young Turks linked to Mugabe’s wife Grace, are devoid of any new economic policies to reverse Zimbabwe’s decline, analysts say.
Innocent Chofamba-Sithole, a former newspaper editor and blogger, said the G40 appears totally outmanoeuvred on all foreign policy fronts, adding Mnangagwa’s so-called “Lacoste” camp has covered all bases and all it lacks presently is executive presidential authority to effect reforms in Zimbabwe’s international relations.
“EU re-engagement, led by the inclusive government between 2009 and 2013, and taken forward by (Finance minister Patrick) Chinamasa, a Mnangagwa ally, has borne fruit and resulted in the resumption of direct financial support to the government of Zimbabwe, with some €200 million finding its way to Treasury in 2015,” Chofamba-Sithole said.
“Chinamasa is currently leading re-engagement with Bretton Woods and has kept the (IMF) Staff-Monitored Programme afloat.
“He has steadfastly resisted the immature and chaotic meddling of Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, whose threats to foreign companies and banks sent alarm bells ringing across the bows to international investors, prompting his uncle (Mugabe) to come out and announce a review of the indigenisation policy.”
On relations between Zimbabwe and its former colonial master UK, Chofamba-Sithole said the Brits have for some time now made their preference clear that they want Mnangagwa to take over, much to the chagrin of not only G40, but also the opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti’s opposition PDP.
“G40 have no response to all this, they have no foreign policy agenda in action right now because their game plan has failed to graduate from that of spoilers — and that’s inevitable because there’s an attempt to stretch this out as long as possible by appearing to stand behind Mugabe and then use their proximity to power to assume power,” he said.
“Now, that is a highly-uncertain strategy.”