By Tinashe L. Chimedza & Tamuka C. Chirimambowa** (Guest Bloggers) response to Blessing Vava
Factional Theatrics and Elite Contests
Factional Theatrics and Elite Contests
From time to time, Zimbabwe's political landscape is gripped by mass hysteria when the elites in charge of the state spar amongst each other. In fits of excitement and volumes of amnesia, the citizen suddenly becomes ahistorical. The ruling factions within ZANU PF are treated as 'foundational'. Meaning that varied and convoluted interpretations are drawn about the tantrums emanating from the ruling class. Conclusions are drawn up quickly, infantilism writ large, that the ruling party is fissuring, that the kudu horn must be oiled and sounded and gather the village crier for the burial. That these intra-party infractions are so fundamental that they can shift the way Zimbabwe is governed. At the peak of this hysteria, mistaken as a matter of structure, some rush to say perhaps the elites are now tearing each other up and that perchance, not political will, the ruling class will smoulder without organised resistance. But it was Dr Alex Magaisa who summed the ruling class in Zimbabwe as a ‘mafioso’ and elaborated how the ruling structure is a copy and paste extractive class centred on violence and networks of patronage and paying tributary. But consult history, the ruling class is a stubborn collection of power and exploitation. Down in South Africa, the architects of apartheid are gathering force apace and denying apartheid is a crime against humanity - and poor Thabo Mbeki muddled a response.
For now, we turn to an interesting article, written by Blessing Vava, who paused whether these latest factions are a prelude to another 'putsch'. In the article, he concluded that if the President 'buried his head in the sand' then 'the devastating actions by cartels and corrupt businesspeople will only serve to threaten to further destabilise Zimbabwe’ and that the President might not finish his term of office. Others, before him, had already jumped into the vortex, with prophecies of ‘November in February’. That was Professor Jonathan Moyo, who has been furiously grinding his axe, getting millstones ready and roped, salivating and ready to guillotine the architects of the 2017 November Putsch. Blessing Vava broached the question of how factional battles are now raging within the ruling strata in Zimbabwe but as subsequent events showed the youth league has kissed and hugged with the party commissar and accepted ‘party discipline’. The article was timely in the context of two major contests. Firstly, the ruling party seems to have been gripped by heightened instability that culminated in a series of press conferences by some members of the youth league. Secondly, for some time now, within and outside the ruling party there has been widespread discontent over what has been called 'state capture' and 'cartels'. People like former Minister of Finance Tendai Biti, journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, Eddie Cross and a few others, have demonstrated the extent to which key state institutions have been paralysed for private gain.
While the article identified how these factions are playing out it seems the analysis was not carried to its more logical conclusion so that we have a robust grasp of what these factional theatrics portend. In this article, we want to stretch the debate further and start from where he ended chiefly because the article parlayed with the forces in play but ended prematurely without hammering the nail. Firstly, the ‘state capture’ in Zimbabwe is a noticeable variation that can be distinguished from the South African case and this is significant. In South Africa what was called state capture was in dribs and patches meaning that there were some elements of the state, like parts of the intelligence, the police, the military and the judiciary, that remained outside the orbit of state capture. Secondly, in Zimbabwe state capture turns out to be such that of a general and systematic character that state institutions have been subdued, in whole, to the whims of private gain with the collusion of the President and his inner circle. The President has been at the centre of the people who are accused of state capture meaning that for the first-time state institutions, especially the treasury and the central bank, are now under the unfettered control of the President and his network of patronage. What has been called 'cartels' are in fact and practice the different tributaries that the President and his inner circle have subdued to empty the national coffers This is why any fight against cartels is an implicit attack on the President and his backers.
Factions and Elite Fissures in historical view
While the ZANU PF party motto is ‘peace, unity and development’ this is far from the ruling party in practice, the party in power has displayed arrogance of power. The party slogan might well be ‘unity’ in grand-looting and underdevelopment, and this is because the party is unified in looting national resources and especially the treasury. These factions will crop up from time to time but make no mistake, like Dr Magaisa, said in one article this is a mafia structure which allows and sometimes deliberately allows factions to emerge as long as the tributary flows to the ‘don’. To have a firm grasp of how the politics of factions has served the ‘emperor’ in power we must turn to Africa’s tyrants like Robert Mugabe and Kenya’s recently departed, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi. When in power tyrants actively provoke, organise, promote and use carrots and sticks to make sure there are factions raging at each other so that they appear as the neutral ‘arbiter’. In Kenya, for example, President Moi was known to agree to two contradicting advisory notes and let the people with those notes run around believing they had his ear, only to be struck down mercilessly. Confusion within the party ranks is often a creation of the puppet master at work. Bidding time, Machiavelli way. The master of this game was Stalin and he ruled for long, isolating once good friends, former allies, striking them down when it suited him and in that game, he was unforgiving. Trotsky was isolated gently, deliberately and first he found himself exiled and when he blinked, he ended with an ice pick in his brain. Tyrants and tyranny are patient.
Mugabe authored and fed fat different factions depending on the balance of forces within the ruling party. It was a deadly game, when Solomon Mujuru blinked, he was burnt to death. A reading of Blessing-Miles Tendi’s book The Army and Politics in Zimbabwe: Mujuru, the liberation fighter and King Maker (2020), reveals how the former army commander was dispatched when the factional wars demanded that his power be liquidated. At one point it was Edgar Tekere who looked powerful and he was checkmated; at another point, it was Dr Simba Makoni who seemed to gain traction and he was forced out. The game started again, and this time Joyce Mujuru was pitted against Emerson Mnangagwa, and eventually, the emperor showed his hand early and was too thinly spread to swim out of the crocodile's lair - violence. The key characteristic here was that Mugabe always successfully, using party structures, patronage and intelligence service, resolved the factions peacefully. When one faction appeared weak, he urged it on and when the other faction appeared powerful, he struck them down mercilessly and pushed them out of the party. Mugabe was able to play this game until the fateful putsch of November 2017 which carted him off and ended these long-running shenanigans. This time when he struck down the 'Lacoste faction' he exposed his hand thinly and underestimated the way the Vice President had marshalled the gun and tanks to his aid. For the first time in ZANU PF’s post-colonial game plays, the army was mobilised to rescue a specific faction within the ruling party. The precedent has now been set, that anyone who feels aggrieved in the party and can marshal the barracks can walk into Number 1 Chancellor Avenue and announce his or her arrival.
Armed factions, Youthful Opposition and a National revolt
So, what does this portend for Zimbabwe’s unstable political future? As Blessing Vava, pointed to, the attempt to cool down political contests through POLAD has dismally failed. The failure of POLAD became obvious when President Thabo Mbeki came to Zimbabwe. In a few words, POLAD has been ‘weaponised’ for three purposes. One is to buy time within the party and state, increase authority and allow breathing space for the President to assert his hegemony. Secondly, POLAD is aimed at pre-emptying genuine political dialogue by ‘running’ to SADC and AU and say ‘here we are talking’ so that Pan-African institutions are demobilised. Thirdly, more dangerously when the broad dialogue commences POLAD members will be so compromised, such that they will be used to ‘soil the soup’ – they will be a choir of court camarillas doing the bidding for the paying puppet master. This is why anyone who follows the POLAD meetings the government has been very generous with hotels and a budget for 'anti-sanctions' is on the offer. This is the price that tyranny is willing to pay so that when the broad dialogue process commences there will be so much confusion in the process and tyranny will stake its claims against the forces of progress and democracy. Apartheid played the same game, so did white-settlerism at Lancaster, so did Mugabe in 2008.
The President is going to work very hard to provoke factions within the party so that he emerges as the central point or arbiter of these factions. Put simply, the President is trying hard to be puppet master within the party and if this happens then the President will rule unperturbed. This scenario is unlikely because the President, as Professor Mutambara is fond of saying, he is a 'man of minimum ability'. Within one week the youth league went from 'radical' press conferences, well-paid banners at the media centre, getting 'fired' from the Politburo, getting suspended from the party, trying to organise a 'youth rally or movement', refusing to go to the party re-habilitation school of ideology which doesn't exist and finally capitulated when they recanted their misbehaviour and hugged the ruling league Political Commissar. And here is what they said to the Political Commissar, 'from the word go we have emphasised we belong to the party. And we have said we take direction from the party' and they have finally agreed to the 'Political Commissar counselling and he will help to correct us'. This is why any analysis of the factions within the ruling party has to penetrate the structure of power and how this is articulated through society, to ignore the structure of power and its class content is to climb a greased pole of prophecy and that arena is a death of bed on many.
The barracks have tasted political power and the the undisturbed sweetness of the national treasury. Slowly and solidly military women and men have seeped into civilian state institutions where they now hold powerful positions. And they do not hold this power for nothing; the military is a highly regimented structure with a command and control element meaning at any point they can be activated into operational duties. In the present set up of ‘military-nationalists’ this has effectively subverted the constitutional fabric in which the military is subservient to the people via elected representatives. From the diamond fields of the Congo; the open field looting in Marange and the repression; the billions siphoned through the Command Agriculture grand looting scheme; the distribution and re-distribution of gold claims; the militias used for mining and to feed the lines of patronage; the deliberate controlling of the foreign currency market and running opaque preference allocation system for cronies; the comrades of Mgagao are back in full force and for the first time since the 1970s they have under them an unprecedented amount of state, party power and money. Here is how they can be summed up:
The Zimbabwean economy looks to many like it’s being run by people who have no idea what they are doing. One would be forgiven for thinking it’s run by clowns who keep making economic blunder after blunder. But it is not. Our economy is run by top-grade criminals. Geniuses who have mastered the art of looting and disguising it as ignorance. The biggest beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s economic woes is Zimbabwe’s ruling elite (Thandekile Moyo, Daily Maverick, 18 January 2020).
There are three major ‘Harmattan winds’ bearing down on the national political landscape. Unlike the West African winds that are dry and dusty, these political tempests will re-configure the post-colonial considerably. On one front is the determined marshalling of opposition politics by a powerful youthful opposition leader under what has been called the 'five fights'; on another front, a dangerously collapsing political and social life stalked by a drought, and then a ruling party under the grip of factions with access to the national armoury. This is an explosive hotchpotch of forces and the grass is already very dry. In Tunisia, the self-immolation of a student torched a popular revolt. In Algeria self-immolations quickly set off the dispatching of a tyrant. Zimbabwe is back into the vice-grip of the military shenanigans of the liberation days in the 1960s and 1970s; the Mgagao contests, the Badza-Nhari rebellion and what Professor Masipula Sithole called Struggles within a struggle'. But now, unlike then, the military-nationalists have access, not to guerrilla arms caches, but the national armoury and if 'putsch generals' gather outside the command structure the stage will be set for that infamous 'tide of men' that often come in floods to seal fortunes.
With the failure of 'elite' pacts: the 'unity government' of 1987; the global political agreement of 2008; the Constitutional reform process of 2013; and the putsch of 2017 it is becoming clearer that the pernicious road to a national popular revolt is slowly being paved. Zimbabwe’s pro-democracy forces will have to think of a broad political process, to organise and mobilise around a project that will unite urban, rural and especially the disaffected to reclaim the republic from the usurpers of the 'November Days'. Here is Alex Magaisa on ZANU PF:
In dealing with Zanu PF, as in dealing with the Mafia, it is necessary to appreciate that one is not dealing with a mere organisation. Rather, one is dealing with a way of life; the Zanu PF way of life; a circumstance that makes the task a lot harder and also calls for entirely different approaches to the challenges posed (Alex Magaisa, April 2017)
The social, political and intellectual structural process that morphed into the National People’s Convention in the late 1990s and eventually, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) provides many lessons to students of revolt and social change. Considering the generalised character of militarism, of grand-corruption, of systemic state capture and arrogance of power, the road to a national popular revolt has been slowly cooking. It is a national popular revolt that can sweep the ruling elites off quickly, just like it was in Sudan. Only then can a process of re-subduing state institutions to the democratic constitutional fabric begin in earnest- then, and then, the people will govern.
TLChimedza and TC Chirimambowa are Co-Editors of Gravitas.