A certain amount of volatility has always accompanied President Robert Mugabe’s long rule in Zimbabwe, especially in his inner circle.
An avid student of colonial history, Mugabe has long perfected the British Empire’s “divide and conquer” tactics to keep himself in power, pitting his allies and his opponents against each other as a way to keep them from challenging the president himself.
It has been an enormously successful strategy. Even today, with the 92-year-old Mugabe struggling to cope with the demands of his office, the deep divisions in the ruling Zanu-PF party — divisions that he created and cultivated — mean that no single faction is powerful enough to seize power from him. Even if Mugabe is no longer pulling the strings, the puppet show he put in motion continues to protect him.
But for how long? The faction fighting is getting uglier by the day. The volatility in the ruling party’s ranks is increasing to unprecedented levels, and spilling into the public eye with alarming frequency.
Take, for example, the fraud and corruption charges filed against Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, a senior figure in the G40 faction of Zanu-PF. These have been accompanied by a virulent smear campaign against the minister in the state-run Herald newspaper, including repeated requests for his arrest.
Moyo has been in trouble before. At one stage in his career, he was expelled from the party. But this is different. A sitting minister is being dragged through the coals in public by institutions supposedly loyal to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction in the party. At the very highest levels of Zanu-PF, there is no longer even a pretence of party unity.
- The ‘presidents for life’ cabal – how Mugabe and other African leaders stay in power
- Mugabe and Zuma – peas in a pod?
Another example of how Mugabe’s divide-and-rule tactics are spiralling out of control are the divisions in the war veterans’ movement. The war vets have long been an important element in maintaining Mugabe’s legitimacy, using their struggle credentials — accompanied on more than one occasion by violence — to bolster the regime.
But even they are now fighting among themselves, with some openly breaking ranks with the ruling party. Earlier this month, one war vets organisation formally dumped Mugabe as its patron, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) openly brags that some war veterans are now on its side. This could lend the opposition some serious political capital.
But even as Mugabe’s power base fractures, possibly beyond repair, so the political opposition is trying desperately to present a united front. It knows some kind of coalition is the surest antidote to divide and rule — and their best chance of success in the 2018 presidential elections.
It’s not an easy proposition. There are more than a dozen political parties to consider, as well as various social movements and civil society organisations, all with competing interests and agendas.
As the largest and most established opposition group, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T has taken the lead in building this coalition, starting with a united front on electoral reform under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda. This is a clever issue to tackle first: all opposition parties are likely to benefit from free and fair elections, and the joint platform provides a relatively safe environment in which to form the relationships and build the trust that will be crucial ingredients for a future coalition.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. When 13 political parties met in Cape Town earlier this month to thrash out the details, the MDC-T was not among them. A senior MDC-T official said the party was unhappy that it hadn’t been consulted about the invitation list. He also made it clear that the MDC-T believed that its long years in opposition had earned it the right to initiate coalition talks and determine the agenda.
Also absent was former vice-president Joyce Mujuru, who formed the Zimbabwe People First party last year after being forced out of Zanu-PF. Although new and untested, ZPF is thought to appeal to disgruntled Zanu-PF supporters in a way that the MDC-T never can, and as such will play a crucial role in the upcoming elections.
Privately, MDC-T and ZPF have already begun their own coalition talks, although progress is slow. One major issue is the proposed coalition’s presidential candidate, with both party principals, Tsvangirai and Mujuru, unwilling to concede the top spot. Tsvangirai is also yet to be convinced of Mujuru’s bona fides, given her long history in Zanu-PF.
“There is a tussle over who should lead the coalition. Morgan Tsvangirai believes he deserves to be the leader,” political analyst Ibbo Mandaza told the Zimbabwe Standard. “His deputies believe that, in an event that he does not want to, it should be someone from their side. Mujuru too believes she can and deserves it. So, in the process, before we talk about other mechanisms and below structures, the people are fighting over the top leadership.”
Mugabe has built his 36-year rule on pitting his enemies against each other. But, for his opponents, the path to success lies in a different direction. To successfully take on the Zanu-PF machine, they need to embrace unity rather than division, an altogether more difficult value to implement. — ISS Today
Simon Allison is a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.