President Robert Mugabe wants to retire from politics but his efforts have been thwarted by both his own ZANU-PF party and the surprise performance of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Sources say, President Mugabe, had hatched a plan under which he would have retired by December this year but this was scuttled by his own lieutenants and the strong showing by the MDC in the just ended elections.
It is believed, however, that Mugabe has not yet abandoned the plan. The election of former Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa as Speaker could be a feather in his cap which could enable Mugabe to find a noble exit.
There has been considerable pressure on Mugabe to resign, or to bring forward the presidential elections, following ZANU-PF’s narrow victory in the just ended general elections in which it scrapped through with 62 seats with the MDC winning 57. Some of the new ZANU-PF MPs and the old guard who retained their seats have been quoted as saying Mugabe should resign by this year’s annual conference in December.
One of the disgruntled party members was quoted as saying: “We lost the election because people are fed up with Mugabe’s leadership of both the party and the government. . ..We are presently consulting and our common position is that he should step down by the time we hold our annual conference in December to save the party. Anything short of that means we will face massive defeat in the presidential polls.”
Civic organisations, including the National Constitutional Assembly which masterminded the “No” vote in the referendum for the new constitution which saw Mugabe taste his first defeat, say they will mobilise mass action to pressure Mugabe to bring the presidential elections, set for 2002, forward.
They also say they will fight for sweeping reforms in the constitution and the abolition of separate presidential and parliamentary elections.
Sources say although Mugabe has been playing tough guy since 1997 when he started openly contradicting his lieutenants including then Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa, Lands Minister Kumbirai Kangai, Defence Minister Moven Mahachi, Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa and his own favourite, Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, he has been desperately seeking a noble exit which would allow him to retire a hero, or at least with some dignity.
But his efforts have been thwarted because contrary to what he has always publicly stated, Mugabe wants to leave a successor. Mnangagwa appears to be firm favourite. Mugabe has repeatedly stated that he will not groom a successor.
The first step to prop Mnangagwa flopped at the national congress when he failed to clinch the post of national chairman.
Mugabe’s lieutenants, feeling his hand everywhere, even refused to give him the mandate to appoint members of the powerful politburo. But, not to be outdone, he is said to have hatched a plan that would have enabled him to get his way through the general elections.
Under the plan, he had to deliver a two-thirds victory for ZANU-PF as well as land. “Mugabe would have wanted to tell the people after the election: ‘I have delivered a victory to you and given you the land. There is no reason for me to stay on, ‘ but his plans were shattered by the overwhelming No vote in the referendum.”
Desperate to secure a two-thirds majority, which the referendum had clearly shown was impossible; Mugabe is reported to have resorted to violence and farm occupations to ensure that he fulfilled his ambitions.
Sources say Mugabe needed the two thirds majority so that he could amend the constitution, and adopt sections of the rejected constitution which would have favoured him. “Part of the plan was to introduce a two-tier house with the senate being approved within two weeks of the elections,” a source said.
“The senate would then have served as a retirement home for all the senior party members.” The term of the senators would have been longer than that of the national assembly. A figure of seven years is mentioned.
MPs serve for five years and the president serves a maximum of two-five year terms. The draft constitution is silent on the term of office for senators.
The idea would have been to make retirement lucrative but at the same time retain the support of the senate for major changes. It was also meant to ensure that ZANU-PF retained a foothold on power if there was a change of government.
With a two-tier house, Mugabe would have appointed his favourite candidate as Prime Minister. Mugabe would then have stepped down, allowing the Prime Minister to take over.
Under the draft constitution, the Prime Minister acts as President if the office of the President becomes vacant or the President is unable to exercise his or her functions as President.
This plan was thrown off track not only by the electorate, which was desperate for change, but by some senior ZANU-PF officials who were against the appointment of a successor. Mugabe himself admitted the divisions at the party congress this month when he said: “We went into the elections riven by factions and bereft of meaningful structures, hence our slender victory.”
While it was clear from the beginning that ZANU-PF had lost the urban vote, it could still have secured 71 seats ensuring it a two-thirds majority, if it had remained united. The intimidation perpetrated in the rural areas was meant to secure this two thirds majority had it been spread throughout the country especially in Matabeleland where ZANU-PF lost dismally.
Though on paper, ZANU-PF lost dismally, it only needed nine more votes to secure this two- thirds majority. It could easily have secured them because of its traditional support in areas like Mashonaland West, Masvingo, the Midlands and only needed perhaps two more seats in Matabeleland North.
But there were major disagreements within ZANU-PF itself over the use of violence. People like Masvingo provincial supremo Eddison Zvobgo, for example, are said to have been against the use of intimidation because the referendum had clearly shown that if ZANU-PF won a two-thirds majority, no one would believe the result.
Sources say Zvobgo was reported to be of the opinion that it had to be a clean fight otherwise they would be viewed as dictators who wanted to cling on to power at any cost. This has led to wide speculation that Zvobgo is a borderline case with some saying he has some sympathies for the opposition MDC.
These whispers say he has some 21 MPs he could cross the floor with if the worst comes to the worst. There was even talk before the appointment of the cabinet that he was not being considered because of this.
Matabeleland did not want any violence at all and this probably lost ZANU-PF the election as the party won only two out of 23 seats in the province.
Sources say, although former Matabeleland North governor, Welshman Mabhena has been blamed for the party loss in that province, the entire top leadership was united never to allow intimidation to spread into their territory.
Reports say the senior leadership warned people in Matabeleland of any impending organised violence especially by the Chenjerai Hunzvi led war veterans. One of the senior officials is reported to have openly told a reporter: “Do you think I am so low I can kill someone to become an MP?”
“They were working as a team. Even their campaign was sort of half-hearted. There was very little denouncing of the MDC as was the case in Mashonaland Central for example. In fact, there appeared to be a feeling of: we want to see what Mugabe will do if we lose,” the source said.
Some of the senior party officials were openly told by their supporters that although they were very popular and the people liked them, they were on the wrong side, but they did not switch sides.
While ZANU-PF’s loss in Matabeleland has been viewed by some as an end to the 1987 unity pact, others view it as a break with the past. They say that ZANU-PF leaders in Matabeleland are no longer content to play second fiddle.
The announcement by former Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa that he was stepping down was seen as a move to consolidate John Nkomo’s position.
“It looks they are now all rallying behind John Nkomo, but this time for the top post, that of President,” a source said.” While Joseph Msika continues to be leader of the former ZAPU, he is not Ndebele. He too is aware of this and come presidential election time, they will all rally behind John Nkomo.”
Nkomo decided not to contest the general elections and therefore maintains a clean record of wining all elections even under the old ZAPU. His main competitor for the top post, Emmerson Mnangagwa has stumbled twice. Nkomo beat him for the post of national chairman. In the general elections, Mnangagwa lost to little known Blessing Chebundo.
Most people believe he would have lost the post of Speaker of Parliament if he had gone for a straight contest with former Speaker Cyril Ndebele. But he prevailed and this could be the stepping stone he needed to reach for the top post.
Although media reports have said Mnangagwa was initially not keen on the post and Mugabe had to lean on him to accept it, The Insider understands differently. He was already canvassing for the post of Speaker long before the cabinet had been announced, preferring the post of Speaker because “it was blameless”.
It is understood that as Speaker, Mnangagwa will not be associated with any poor showing by the government. If he reforms the House as he has already promised to, he can develop himself into a national leader.
Besides, under the present constitution, he is already in line for the presidency as the constitution is very vague on who succeeds the president if he steps down.
But he has a lot of enemies especially within his own party.
Although a smart player, who has managed to maintain an image of Mr. Clean, rumours abound about activities he may be associated with.
Provincial party chairmen are largely responsible for his downfall. They are the ones who threw the vote in Nkomo’s favour.
Reports say recent moves by Vice-President Simon Muzenda to fire some of the provincial chairmen could backfire on Mnangagwa as the move is seen as punishment for their position at congress to oppose the appointment of members to the politburo. But though beaten twice, Mnangagwa has once again proved he is a skilful political player, very much like his mentor, Mugabe.
It is difficult to write him off.