‘Army to decide Mugabe successor’

HARARE – Our chief writer Fungi Kwaramba sat down with respected University of Zimbabwe Political Science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, to unpack the thorny succession issue in Zanu PF, which has caused discord in the ruling party, and also talk about prospects of the opposition coalition involving National People’s Party leader Joice Mujuru and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC.

Below are excerpts of the interview.

Q: Do you think Zanu PF is going to resolve the succession issue anytime soon?

A: It is a matter of time frame; they will certainly be a succession in the near future, probably five to seven years at most. That is the pessimistic scenario for those who want to see the back of the president. I don’t think he is going anywhere anytime soon.

Certainly not before the 2018 elections, as some would like to speculate. I think that is wishful thinking for those who think that he will be departing from State House or retiring. I don’t see that possibility. Maybe after the elections, but it is still a long shot. The earliest, which I don’t really subscribe to, is him retiring from government and retaining his (party) position, like (former Tanzania President Julius) Nyerere, who retired as State president but not as chairman of Chama Chapinduza.

The president may walk the same path because he would like to retain a considerable degree of control of the party that forms government. In the scheme of things, according to President Robert Mugabe, the party is supreme to government. If he retains control of the party he will be able to control the State, so I don’t think he will retire from political or public office even after 2018.

Q: But considering that he is now old, is he still in control and can he still hold the party together?

A: Governance is never a solo effort, it is selective and even though Zanu PF has described the president as the one centre of power, it’s evident that they are multiple centres. If you look at the present government you will see that portfolios have been delegated to the two vice presidents so that he gets a lighter load.

Anyone who knows African traditional political systems would realise that the chief, no matter how old, will still maintain his official position but in practice, he would have given effective running of his empire to his indunas or brother or his sons and we are likely to see that scenario.

Q: So, are we going to see the president appointing any of his relatives to the throne, maybe his wife or son-in-law, considering that he seemingly does not trust anyone in Zanu PF?

A: It’s a question of responsibility. He may retire from the State but retain his position as president of the party. He will be able to supervise. I doubt that he would disengage completely. He will delegate more and more to his subordinates.

You can see that one of the vice presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa (ED), is in charge of the State not the president and certainly not VP (Phelekezela) Mphoko. I think that kind of delegation is already underway. At a practical level you can see that Mnangagwa is already in charge that is why he is attracting considerable attention from his rivals.

Q: Do you see Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe?

A: That is an open-ended question. One thing that contributes to the uncertainty in this country, and uncertainty is the key definition of the current politics and most likely of future politics in the short run, is the question of who will take over. It is the biggest unknown in Zanu PF and Mugabe wants to keep it that way.

He likes to outsmart and outwit his rivals in Zanu PF and hence his ability to balance the factions in what I have called the pendulum factionalism in Zanu PF. I don’t think he wants to decimate any of the factions because he can only balance two factions.

In 2014, we saw the decimation of the Mujuru faction and people thought that now there is only one united faction and that Mnangagwa was going to take over State House once the president is gone, but soon after a rival faction emerged to counter Mnangagwa and it fits in his Machiavellian power politics and I think Mugabe is a shrewd political operator.

Q: Does he have a hand in the G40 faction?

A: He benefits from the existence of two factions and he will not destroy it because if he does, it will create a disequilibrium that would result in ED becoming more powerful than he presently is. The extent to which he has been involved in the G40 faction is matter of speculation. His wife (Grace) has been mentioned in the media, suggesting that there is something. If it is true that there is no smoke without fire, then the First citizen might still have a hand in the faction. That is probably why no action is being taken against the political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere.

Q: G40 alleges that Mnangagwa has captured the State and also that the army top brass is embedded in his faction; to what extent is this true and what is the role of the army in Zimbabwe’s politics?

A: To use the word derived from Turkey in the Middle East, the country has a deep state, meaning that the army is not overtly in command but overtly it plays an interventionist role in determining who goes to the State House. In Zimbabwe, the genesis of what we are talking about is that you have to go back to the liberation struggle where you had two wings; the political wing headed by a political figure and the military — the commanders of Zanla.

There was a symbiotic relationship between the military and the politicians and it outlived the country’s independence. The party and the military are still there and that is what we still have. I am not talking about the foot soldiers, but the security chiefs.

They have historical experiences with the political establishment and it is an imperative. It is compelling for them to be actively involved in the affairs of the party and that includes a determination of who will succeed Mugabe. I have absolutely no doubt that the military will be a decisive force in determining the Mugabe’s successor.

Q: Is there possibility of bloodshed or a coup, if Mnangagwa does not succeed Mugabe?

A: That doomsday scenario, I don’t accept it. In any case, it will be restricted to the elite level. This level does not involve you or me or the 13 million Zimbabweans. It is an elite struggle. The scary moment is when there is a vacancy, those 90 days when in this case Zanu PF will be debating on a candidate, if Mugabe departs. That is where things could go bad. You could have blood flowing but not in the streets or villages but among the elites, it is an elite struggle that will be resolved at that level.

Q: Is there a possibility of a dark horse like Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi or First Lady Grace Mugabe taking over?

A: That is a serious proposition. The likelihood of that happening is very high but it has to be done while the president is still alive. It cannot be done post Mugabe. He must do it now so that he will engineer the whole process then market his pick, not to Zimbabwe, but to the key constituencies in his party. I don’t see that happening after he is gone. If there is a worst case scenario that he is incapacitated or dies, I think the key beneficiary is likely to be Ngwena (Mnangagwa’s moniker). The dark horses scenario can only be implemented by Mugabe by anointing someone and galvanising support for that candidate.

Q: Afrobarometer has indicated a dip in the support for the opposition. Do you foresee the opposition winning next year’s elections?

A: Laughs…the opposition winning? It’s completely out. Coalition or no coalition, the opposition will emerge second best. I have no illusions on who will emerge victorious. Maybe you can debate about 2023, not 2018. Zanu PF has already won. The opposition, with a big tent coalition, the best it can achieve is second best and it should work for that to prevent Zanu PF two thirds majority. Zanu PF has a super majority and it can do whatever it wants because of the sheer number it has in Parliament and it is for that reason it will win.

Q: But considering the state of the economy, can Zanu PF win or it is a repeat of 2008?

A: People get used to a crisis, such that what is clearly abnormal is normal. Clearly, things are abnormal, but look at the born frees, look at someone born in 1997 when the economy collapsed, here is one person who was born in a crisis, who has lived through a crisis, he knows no other Zimbabwe but crisis Zimbabwe. That person has an idea of a better Zimbabwe from others who will be telling about a wonderful past but there is no evidence. He has no empirical evidence. His reference point is crisis Zimbabwe and that is the complication for the youths who have no idea of a better Zimbabwe.

Q: Do you see Mujuru and Tsvangirai ever joining hands?

A: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. There is a lot of wishful thinking among some Zimbabweans. The Afrobarometer showed that a large majority, including some in Zanu PF, would like to see a coalition but we know the role of egoism in and out of politics. Joice Mujuru was in government for 34 years and now you want her to be number two again, no ways. She was expelled because she had presidential ambitions and those in the MDC are saying our leader is the face of the opposition. He has fought dictatorship and bears the scars and also beat Zanu PF and on that basis, he has credentials.

Those are hardened positions, each of the two parties has followers who are rooting for their leader to lead that is why you see MoUs being shredded, both leaders are signing their separate deals with other parties and so the possibility of a grand coalition is very remote. We may have this coalition project taking off but it will not fly high or far and I think it will collapse on egoism and on who gets what.

Q: Independent presidential candidates, what are their prospects?

A: They are spoilers, I agree with those who say Nkosana Moyo is another (Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader Simba) Makoni in 2008. They will spoil the broth.