Smoke & Mirrors, Lessons from the elective congress that wasn’t.

The much-hyped ZANU PF elective congress finally took place last week in Harare from Tuesday to Saturday and there was no shortage of fireworks throughout. With the frenetic talk of factions in recent months many expected a showdown like never before but in a move to preempt this the outgoing politburo recommended that rather than elections the First Secretary appoint the new politburo and this was approved by congress. This gave President Mugabe sole discretion to appoint his two vice presidents and second secretaries, the national chairperson, the heads of departments of the politburo, the committee members of the politburo and the deputies to the heads of department.

President Mugabe was expected to announce these appointments on Saturday night but in another move to possibly keep the peace he said:

“I could not rush to choose people. I would want time to look at the new names, new people that have come into the central committee and see which hands we could put to the politburo,”

“…I haven’t seen what the provinces gave us. I don’t want to rush it, so be patient. By mid next week, by Wednesday or Thursday, we will make an announcement. We will let you know because we cannot go far. We will have to choose the two vice presidents and the chairman, and the secretary, one who is in charge of our secretariat, the job Mutasa was doing.”

In a week where everything seemed to be going right for the first couple as they secureed their leadership positions in ZANU PF and in effect Zimbabwe, this would have brought finality to internal strife that has gripped the party in recent months. There is much speculation as to why he did this ranging from his advanced age to him wanting to enjoy the extended grovelling by those seeking appointments. I have another theory.

The President now effectively has sole control of ZANU PF’s decision-making structures which means the party’s fortunes rise and fall with him now more directly than before. Once appointed every politburo member can now rightly claim they have been directly appointed by the President and that they speak on  his behalf. As they are no longer voted for who is to say that anyone else’s authority beside’s the President’s will be adhered to going forward? The politburo itself may now be of little meaning as a decision making body. President Mugabe may be wondering if, by appointing the wrong people to key positions how will he control them considering the alleged coup plot that has caused such ructions in the party? This may explain why throughout his speeches on Saturday President Mugabe continually emphasised service to the party and the nation saying at one point

“I want to say thank you. I know I am not greater than people. As a leader, I am your servant, . . We must treasure and take care of Zimbabwe.”.

Maybe realising the delicacy of the task President Mugabe said he needed more time to consider politburo and presidium candidates. Now I am not sure, but I assume the ZANU PF constitutional amendments do not allow for the central committee to review politburo appointments made by the President. ZANU PF has guidelines for who is eligible to contest which post based mostly on experience but this has been rubbished by the unopposed election and subsequent appointment of Grace Mugabe as Secretary For Women’s Affairs without her having held any prior position in the party. This is not to mention her vicious attacks on various senior members in previous months without being challenged whilst she was still an ordinary member. This apparent suspension of the rules can only make the pending appointments more difficult and less predictable. President Mugabe is famous for taking his time to make seemingly key appointments and I would not be surprised if come Friday there is still no decision on the politburo, presidium and the vice presidents, remember second Vice President John Nkomo died in January 2013 but his replacement is yet to be announced.

It is not unreasonable to think the events of the last week have left an old man drained and he needs time to come to terms with the fact that he has, amongst other problems,  a potential constitutional crisis on his hands with a Vice President he has publicly accused of treason but has taken no action against. These events have also brought about the realisation that he is surrounded by people who no longer take his word as gospel but now merely pay him lip service. Considering how he went on at length about the liberation struggle only to be passed a note from his wife saying he should wrap up, is President Mugabe now realising just how out of touch he is with the relative youths in ZANU PF leadership? The liberation struggle was such a simpler time, you were either with or against the movement, nowadays there are factions within factions and unparalleled intrigue.

It could be too that the purges of the last two months finally took their toll on him. Despite the lack of blood so far, these events remind me of Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s where family members accused each other of treason and the allegations got more fantastic by the day. Jacob Mudenda took the allegations against Vice President Mujuru to new levels with this gem

“This plot involved some among us, under the leadership of then Vice-President Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru and her cabal of senior politburo members, who had been enticed by the Americans and some Europeans with promises that they would pour billions of dollars into Zimbabwe once they succeeded in allying with the opposition formations to oust Zanu PF and its iconic President and first secretary from power.”.

Not done yet Mudenda went on in classic purge mode to encourage the accused to repent and ask for forgiveness before evidence is produced against them. The accused are yet to respond.

With power games at such a high level it is not unusual for the protagonists to continue communicating via back channels whilst in public they excoriate each other. Consider that Vice President Joice Mujuru has only made one public statement and along with her co-accused did not attend congress. Whilst President Mugabe and others publicly heaped scorn on her throughout the congress it is significant that she is not currently in jail considering the seeming seriousness of the allegations against her and others. I would wager that the President is weighing his options as any punitive moves against VP Mujuru may weaken his position. President Mugabe is a master of isolating threats and the best way to do this right now would be to retain Joice Mujuru whilst whittling away her perceived support base effectively making her a lame duck VP.

Being the obedient party cadre that she is, VP Mujuru has kept a disciplined silence and not challenged the first family on their allegations against her. My guess is this is part of a plan for a post-Mugabe white knight campaign for the presidency. As others fall over themselves to make accusations, denials, threats, insults, retractions and counter-accusations, she is the only one who has not descended to this level, making her relatively clean. I imagine VP Mujuru sees the current situation as unsalvageable and could wait out the next few years till elections whilst those who have hounded her tear each other apart. It is much easier to fight a battle on one front against a tired enemy than the current situation where brazen attackers and accusers abound. Already the ranks are thinning out with some perceived candidates for the vice presidency retiring from the race.

President Mugabe may have won this round but the battle for the presidency is far from over and time is not on his side. Despite ZANU PF and the state media’s declarations as to his abilities and inferences to his immortality, the signs of age were there for all to see on Saturday with him making a number of notable gaffs. If the congress taught us one thing it is that the race to state house will be won by the one who bides their time, not by shock and awe tactics which fizzle out into hot air.

2 Replies to “Smoke & Mirrors, Lessons from the elective congress that wasn’t.”

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