opinionBy Dumisani Muleya
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is paralysed over what to do following explosive WikiLeaks releases which show senior Zanu PF and government officials, including Vice-President Joice Mujuru, have been secretly meeting American diplomats to discuss sensitive issues, including that he should go, behind his back.
The dramatic revelations in Cablegate are bound to cause a sea change in Mugabe's relationships with his advisors and senior party officials named in the disclosures.
The unprecedented situation could also reconfigure the matrix of the simmering Zanu PF succession issue, which features prominently in the secret cables dispatched from Harare to Washington by successive United States ambassadors and diplomats, mainly in the past decade, fuelling infighting and setting off seismic shifts and realignment of factions within the party.
Mugabe, reeling from old age and ill-health apparently due to prostate cancer which has metastasised (something which creates tumours in different parts of the body), remains under growing pressure to quit ahead of the Zanu PF national conference in Bulawayo from December 6-10, particularly before the next critical elections either next year or in 2013.
Off the record briefings of the Zimbabwe Independent by senior officials close to Mugabe, including cabinet ministers and Zanu PF politburo members, this week show that the veteran ruler is in a state of shock and paralysis due to the leaks which have left him exposed and cutting a lonely figure on shifting political sands. "These revelations have gutted the president and left him in a state of disbelief, shock and anger," a senior government official said. "They have put him in a serious dilemma about what to do. Because his close advisors and officials are involved, he is paralysed and incapacitated on what to do.
The trouble is he is damned if he reacts and damned if he doesn't." One cabinet minister recounted how Mugabe last week tried to mend fences with his close courtiers through meetings until Thursday, the day before further explosive leaks were released. The minister said Mugabe was initially inclined to ignore the WikiLeaks scandal until revelations of meetings with Americans involving senior Zanu PF officials and cabinet ministers. "After the new releases he was terribly upset and devastated," the minister said. "Over the past few days he seems to have come around to accepting the difficult situation instead of being in denial, hence he was mellow during the official opening of parliament on Tuesday and during the dinner afterwards.
He delivered statesmanlike addresses." Official sources said while Mugabe is bound to accept the situation and do nothing in public because a backlash against those involved could further divide Zanu PF and government, he was under pressure from senior members of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which brings together army, police and intelligence chiefs, to crack down on his "betrayers". "The president realises that reprisals won't work considering the high profile nature of people involved and the scale of the problem, but he is under extreme pressure from senior JOC members, mainly from the army side, to take strong measures against those involved in this act of betrayal," an intelligence source said.
"Some top army commanders see this situation as a tale of traitors, betrayal and treachery and hence they want him to act swiftly in response." WikiLeaks exposed a long list of senior Zanu PF and government officials, including Mujuru and serving and former cabinet ministers, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Nicholas Goche, Saviour Kasukuwere, Jonathan Moyo, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Dumiso Dabengwa and Walter Mzembi who secretly met United States diplomats to discuss sensitive issues around the political and security situation in the country.
Some of the issues which featured prominently in the secret meetings include Mugabe's succession and national security matters. Other government officials who met American diplomats include Gideon Gono and top army commanders Major-General Fidelis Sakutu and Brigadier-General Herbert Chingono. The late Edison Zvobgo also met US diplomats.
Most of the officials spoke about Mugabe's succession issue and the need for him to quit because of old age and ill-health. WikiLeaks cables show that most Zanu PF, including the late vice-president Joseph Msika, Zvobgo and retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru who died in a mysterious fire last month, co-vice-presidents Mujuru and John Nkomo, Kasukuwere, Moyo, Mzembi, among many others, wanted Mugabe to go. In fact, most Zanu PF senior members and even his close allies want Mugabe to quit although he has resisted this, saying he feared his party would disintegrate if he goes.
One of the cables, marked secret, shows Dabengwa actually tried to challenge Mugabe during the 2007 extraordinary Zanu PF congress but withdrew at the last minute because the process was rigged. This resulted in Dabengwa quitting Zanu PF in 2008. After that Dabengwa and his close ally the late General Mujuru initiated the Simba Makoni project to challenge Mugabe from outside.
A senior retired army commander said while Mujuru and other senior Zanu PF officials are relatively safe, the army officers who described Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga as a "political general" with "little practical military experience or expertise" were in "hot soup". Efforts to get comment from Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba yesterday were unsuccessful.