New Zimbabwe (London)

25 August 2014

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Succession Fight Spins Out of Control

IN the famous novel Things Fall Apart, renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe uses William Butler Yeats' poem as an epigraph, describing the chaos that arise when a system collapses.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart: the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ... the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere ... surly some revelation is at hand ... ," reads the poem.

In summoning these lines, Achebe refers to both the imminent collapse of the African traditional systems, threatened by the rise of imperialist bureaucracies and the imminent disintegration of the British Empire.

The poem can also be used to describe the chaos in Zanu PF, which is in turmoil as the battle to succeed President Robert Mugabe reaches fever-pitch with party heavyweights publicly indulging in vote-buying, intimidation and manipulation tactics to influence the composition of critical party structures - the women and youth leagues.

The fight has become so brazen that even party bigwigs who used to pander to Mugabe's whims and jump at his every order are now defying him in unprecedented fashion.

This has re-ignited questions on whether Mugabe is still in control of the party or things are now falling apart for the 90-year-old leader who used to run his party with an iron fist.

The youth and women's league conferences have provided further evidence that Mugabe is increasingly losing control of the party and might be becoming a ceremonial president as he has been reduced to whining about manipulation of successive internal elections.

Last week, a visibly angry Mugabe railed at senior party officials involved in vote-buying during the youth and women's conferences after the controversial Youth League elections were won by Vice-President Joice Mujuru's loyalists amid allegations of vote buying, ballot rigging, intimidation and manipulation of the process.

Mugabe slammed what he described as "criminal conduct" by senior politburo officials and ordered them not to interfere with the youths' activities. But barely four hours after his vitriolic attack against party heavyweights, senior party officials swung into action in clear defiance of their leader.

Despite warnings from Mugabe, provincial chairpersons, politburo members and cabinet ministers mainly aligned to Mujuru, openly campaigned for youths loyal to their camp as the battle to control critical party organs intensified ahead of the party's elective congress in December.

At the official opening of the Women's League conference, Mugabe pleaded with women not to be influenced by party bigwigs.

"What was most shameful was the interference by senior people from the politburo ... that was very dirty (indeed)," Mugabe said. "At the December congress, all of us must resign so that new people are elected. The politburo and central committee, we must all resign.

"Some are already campaigning vigorously, dishing out loads of money; so they would want to see the youth and women's leagues producing people whom they think support them and will at congress then combine in electing them. So it is up to you to be vigilant. If you want to be used go ahead and accept their bribes."

This was despite his attacks on senior party officials a week earlier when Mugabe complained about "dirty rubbish" and "political prostitutes" infesting the party.

This is not the first time Mugabe has protested about intimidation, vote-buying and ballot-rigging. He made similar noises during Zanu PF's hotly-contested provincial elections last November -- overwhelmingly won by Mujuru's faction. Before that, he had also complained about the same issues in the run-up to the party's primaries before the general elections. No one listened to him.

Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe director Sydney Chisi said last week's events show that Mugabe is no longer the biggest factor in Zanu PF politics.

"Factions have become more powerful and well-resourced. The factions have become so powerful that the First Family has by default become part of the factionalism," he said.

"The complaints of vote-rigging, the heavy-handedness of senior politicians in the youth conference and the ultimate avoidance of elections by women show that Zanu PF is sitting on the fence of collapse while Mugabe watches from the terraces as he has been reduced to a spectator," Chisi said.

Another analyst, Rashweat Mukundu said last week's events showed that Mugabe no longer has grip on power in the party.

"Mugabe is on his way out one way or the other and the issue remains his succession and his attempts to silence those jostling for power will not yield results," Mukundu said.

"Mugabe's sphere of influence is slowly whittling down and going forward he is far better off openly allowing a discussion on his succession than claiming there is no vacancy at State House when everyone else thinks there will be one soon.

"Succession issues in any authoritarian party and state is always controversial more so when incumbents fail to read the signs of the time."

However, other analysts disagree with Mukundu and Chisi. Instead, they see the fierce infighting among the Zanu PF top brass as a deliberate manoeuvre by Mugabe to extend his stay in power by portraying himself as the party's sole unifying force.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, said the chaos that characterised the youth conference was an organised event for a political outcome that falls into Mugabe's scheme of continued stay in power.

"The chaos that engulfed the youth conference had political figures behind it," Ruhanya said. "Mugabe was involved in all this because his faction, which is the biggest in the party, wanted to emerge as the ultimate winner by breathing life into the conference after the two warring factions had failed.

"Mugabe has survived by playing factions off against each other so that he becomes a unifying force. Each time one faction appears stronger and threatens his hold on power, he is quick to lash at the faction in order to stop the ascendency of that faction and this time around it is Vice-President Joice Mujuru who is on the receiving end."

Bulawayo-based analyst Dumisani Nkomo concurred with Ruhanya, saying he believes Mugabe is in total control of the party.

"It's all political arithmetic at play. Mugabe always appears not to be in control when in reality he would be absolutely in charge," Nkomo said.

"The reality of the situation is that he does not want any of the factions to be too strong and he reacts only to keep them in checks and balances. He did the same when Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa appeared to be victorious in 2004."

Zanu PF disbanded its District Coordinating Committees (DCCs) in 2012 accusing them of fanning factionalism, as Mnangagwa's faction won across the country. The decision to disband the DCCs gave a new lease of life to Mujuru's faction, which made a major comeback in the following party polls.

Mugabe has on several occasions admitted that there is factionalism in the party, but it has now exploded in public and divided the party down the middle in an unprecedented way.

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