17 November 2017

Zimbabwe: China's 'Gang of Four' Tale Replays in Zim

Photo: Flickr
Emmerson Mnangagwa

Harare — FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe's political career bears a striking resemblance to that of the "Gang of Four" which consisted of China's former chairman Mao Tse Tung's fourth wife, Jiang Qing and her allies, known as the "Gang of Four".

Chairman Mao was the founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he ruled as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. Similarly, President Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 when he took over from white rule. Mugabe has ruled for 37 years while Mao was in power for 27 years.

However, the similarities between the political careers of the wives of Mugabe and Mao are difficult to ignore.

Grace, who has been leading Zanu PF's G40 faction, has her political career hanging in the balance after dramatic events which saw the military holding Mugabe hostage as well as arresting ministers linked to her faction.

Some of Grace's key backers namely Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere and Mugabe's nephew Patrick Zhuwawo are in hiding. Moyo and Kasukuwere sought refuge at Mugabe's Blue Roof mansion in Borrowdale, while Zhuwao is out of the country.

Like the "Gang of Four" which was a group of four influential Chinese Communist Party (CCP) figures during the latter years of Mao's rule, G40 has four key vocal members, including the First Lady, although others like Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo operated in the background.

Jiang Qing's key associates were Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, and Zhang Chunqiao.

Wang, Yao and Zhang were all major party officials from Shanghai. They rose to prominence during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, pushing Mao's policies in China's second city.

The backgrounds of the four were similar in that prior to 1966 the four were low- or middle-ranking officials who lacked leverage within the existing power structure.

The Gang of Four's shared traits included their ability to manipulate the mass media, their good standing with Mao.

Moreover they all had a dislike of and subsequent desire to overthrow moderate government officials who clustered around CCP vice-chairman Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping who later took over as the leader of China.

Grace's G40, just like the "Gang of Four", fought against senior officials who showed ambition to succeed Mugabe, who turns 94 in February.

In 2014, Grace during her "meet the people tours" denigrated vice-president Joice Mujuru, accusing her of plotting to unseat her husband. She eventually succeeded in booting her out of Zanu PF in December 2014 at the party's congress.

Members of the "Gang of Four" advanced to high positions in the government and the CCP. Grace, likewise, rose to be Zanu PF's Women's League secretary at the December 2014 congress and most recently had almost every country's province rallying behind her as she eyed the post of vice-president and ultimately the top job itself. The plan was to endorse Grace as the vice-president at next month's December congress.

The campaign for Grace to become vice-president came after she influenced the expulsion of former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa from the party. Grace with her G40 allies convinced Mugabe that Mnangagwa was after his position and has been planning to topple him.

Using her close associates, Grace embarked on a vilification campaign targeting Mnangagwa, war veterans and military allies.

China's "Gang of Four" gained control of a number of government functions when Mao's health began to decline.

Mao died in September 1976 and this was the beginning of trouble for the gang. The group lost their remaining power and were imprisoned and later tried between 1980-81 for their activities during the Cultural Revolution. Jiang and Zhang both received suspended death sentences (both reduced to life imprisonment in 1983); Wang was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Yao to a 20-year term.

Although the Gang of Four sought to take control of the country, in the end, none of the major players took power.

Mao's choice and his eventual successor was the previously little-known but reform-minded Hua Guofeng who ordered the arrest of Jiang Qing and the other members of her cabal.

Similar to events which unfolded this week, Grace's allies such as Finance minister Ignatius Chombo were arrested as the army stepped in to "restore order" in Zanu PF and government. Other G40 members however fled to Mugabe's Blue Roof mansion in Borrowdale.

Grace's fate is yet to be sealed, but the future is not promising.

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