Zimbabwe: Unravelling Zanu PF's Extraordinary Congress

IS President Robert Mugabe facing extraordinary circumstances within his ruling Zanu PF that are threatening to turn his controversial hold on power into history?

The examination of this question has become urgent following the formal adoption by the Zanu PF politburo on Wednesday -- to be followed by its central committee today -- of President Mugabe's astonishing decision to convene an extraordinary congress on December 14 with two substantive agenda items, the main of which will be to declare and confirm him as the ruling party's uncontested presidential candidate in the 2008 general election.

If the decision has any political message about Mugabe, it is to be found in the adage that when roses are gone, nothing is left but the thorn. Bereft of his disputed rosy appeal and with the vagaries of his old age combining with his arrogance from having been in power for too long, Mugabe has now become an irksome thorn that is hurting not only the soul of the bleeding nation but also the interests of his own besieged party.

Mugabe's decision to convene an extraordinary Zanu PF congress solely to receive a report of the party's central committee on the Sadc mediation and thereafter to declare and confirm him as the ruling party's presidential candidate is in itself extraordinary, unprecedented and therefore astonishing to the core. The fact that Mugabe has used his party's politburo and central committee this week to finalise such a decision without debate or opposition demonstrates that Zanu PF has indeed become a sunset party with no capacity to pursue, articulate and defend its own ideological and political interests beyond Mugabe's whims and caprices. The ruling party no longer has the content, never mind the leadership, to survive Mugabe.

Curiously, the Zanu PF constitution does not have a provision requiring the convening of an extraordinary congress for the sole purpose of declaring and confirming the party's president and first secretary as its presidential candidate in an impending general election. The issue is dead matter because it is common cause that, as far as the Zanu PF's constitution currently stands, whoever is the party's president and first secretary is also automatically its presidential candidate in national elections.

Even the most uninitiated in Zanu PF know that the party's annual people's conference has an obligation to declare and confirm the incumbent party leader as its presidential candidate in a general election. Ahead of the March 2002 presidential election, the Zanu PF annual people's conference met in December 2001 in Victoria Falls where it declared and confirmed Mugabe as the party's presidential candidate. It was that simple.

Therefore, given the leadership outcome of the 2004 Zanu PF congress and notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the elevation of Joice Mujru as one of the two vice-presidents, there is nothing extraordinary about the determination of Zanu PF's presidential candidate in the 2008 general election to warrant an extraordinary congress.

An extraordinary circumstance would have arisen had the person, and that is Mugabe, elected as Zanu PF president and first secretary at the party's last congress in 2004, retired or if he intends to vacate his office by December 14 or if he does not want to seek reelection in the 2008 presidential poll.

So what then are the extraordinary circumstances that have arisen to cause Mugabe to convene an extraordinary Zanu PF congress with two agenda items for the purpose of declaring and confirming him as the ruling party's 2008 presidential candidate when that formality could have been constitutionally and neatly discharged by the Zanu PF annual people's conference as has happened before?

Upon closer reflection, the answer lies in the historic 2006 annual people's conference in Goromonzi which rebuked and humiliated Mugabe by rejecting his fanciful 2010 plan under which he sought to extend his even more controversial presidency via the backdoor through which he would have been appointed for two years from 2008 to 2010 by parliament when his current term expires next March.

The Goromonzi conference not only rejected Mugabe's 2010 petty project but it also set in motion a very charged political process in Zanu PF within which the party's influential provincial and other lower structures, that have been battered by the biting economic meltdown, started to openly and confidently express themselves against Mugabe's continued leadership in favour of his succession by March 2008.

At that time, and well into the first quarter of 2007, at least seven Zanu PF provinces were decidedly against Mugabe's leadership and these included Mashonaland East, Harare, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo, Masvingo and the Midlands. Others such as Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Mashonaland West were anxiously sitting on a knife edge virtually ready to follow the rest. The only visible but unconvincing support for Mugabe then was coming from the top leadership of the youth and women's wings of the party, particularly through the half-hearted efforts of Saviour Kasukuwere and Oppah Muchinguri respectively.

Mugabe's securocrats were able to read from the fallout of the Goromonzi experience that Zanu PF provinces opposed to Mugabe's continued leadership were not only in the majority but were also developing a capacity and gaining momentum to use the 2007 annual people's conference to show Mugabe the exit door. The fact that the 2007 annual conference was scheduled for Mashonaland Central, Joice Mujuru's home province, added more anxiety to that prospect and created uncertain and extraordinary circumstances for Mugabe and his securocrats.

The political writing on the wall was clear: Going ahead with the 2007 conference in Bindura as per the Zanu PF constitution would not only run a very high risk of reproducing the Goromonzi challenge to Mugabe but would also open the floodgates for sealing the victory of that challenge.

As a result, Mugabe and his securocrats had to come up with a counter strategy to respond to these developments which they saw as extraordinary circumstances:

  • Drop Mugabe's 2010 plan rejected in Goromonzi;
  • Get Mugabe to declare his willingness and readiness to seek reelection in 2008 by planting the story in the media -- which Mugabe did in February while on an official visit to Namibia;
  • Try and get the central committee to support and confirm this and if it fails -- as it did on March 30 -- call for an extraordinary congress with a limited agenda, as the party's supreme body, to endorse Mugabe's 2008 reelection bid beyond any internal challenge by declaring and confirming his candidacy; and,
  • Get the fearless if not provocative Jabulani Sibanda to operate under the convenient platform of the liberation war veterans to preach Mugabe's reelection gospel by turning Mugabe into a superannuated idol and by rubbishing party leaders -- especially former PF Zapu elements in Matabeleland and among Mujuru supporters -- who are not playing ball and party structures that are not following the line.

The above are the key elements of the new post-Goromonzi plan that came into effect last February and now in full swing. Mugabe's convening of the extraordinary congress, and the uncritical adoption this week of a two item agenda for that congress by the Zanu PF politburo and central committee, have put a sudden and complete stop to the politicking and scheming that has been going on in the party's provincial structures in the hope of ousting Mugabe.

This is because, whereas provincial structures are very involved in contributing to the formulation of the agenda and resolutions of the annual people's conference, they have virtually no role in designing the agenda of an extraordinary congress that takes place due to extraordinary circumstances which are not coming from the provinces.

The two main agenda items of the forthcoming extraordinary congress, namely, receiving a report of the central committee and declaring and confirming Mugabe's candidacy, have been formulated by Mugabe who then used the party's secretary for legal affairs, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to announce the items at the politburo meeting on Wednesday as he will do at the central committee meeting today.

While it is now a forgone conclusion that the extraordinary Zanu PF congress will declare and confirm Mugabe as the ruling party's 2008 presidential candidate, the fact that this will be achieved through extraordinary measures when the issue was otherwise pretty ordinary means that Zanu PF will go into the 2008 election campaign as a fundamentally wounded and deeply divided party. As things stand, the Jabulani Sibanda factor, which is central to Mugabe's reelection strategy, has already cracked open tribal faultlines within Zanu PF and has virtually put paid to the Unity Accord.

Mugabe's reelection campaign team will have to perform miracles to win back the support of disgruntled and abused Zanu PF leaders and their followers. Also, the team will need divine intervention to win the hearts and minds of ordinary voters who have already been put off by Sibanda's shocking death call for Zimbabweans to "support Mugabe with our empty stomachs and empty shelves" to the point of dying for him.

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