When ZANU-PF backbenchers refused to ratify the $957 million loan for the new Harare International Airport at a party caucus meeting addressed by vice- President Simon Muzenda who had to take a break from the Organisation of African Unity summit after three earlier attempts had failed, Zimbabweans must be forgiven for having believed that Parliament was, for a change, becoming the watchdog it should be.
Even the party leaders must have been jolted by this as it was obviously a big embarrassment and a direct affront to President Mugabe because their juniors had openly defied them in the presence of African leaders gathered in the capital.
The independent media hailed the decision as a sign of political maturity. It even threw in the fact that for the first time backbenchers had endorsed a motion by a private member, the motion by independent Member of Parliament Margaret Dongo that the Auditor-General be asked to investigate abuse of money in the War Victims Compensation Fund.
But things are back to square one. The MPs have begrudgingly ratified the loan, proving, once again, that President Mugabe is still in full control.
Political analysts say although there are now clear signs that the culture of fear that has gripped the nation and even the legislators since independence is rapidly fading, ZANU-PF is still a step ahead. It is now using another hold on its junior politicians-a financial hold.
Sources say that this was all it took to persuade the MPs to change their minds. Visits to MPs homes and a reminder of how much they owed the party was enough to bring sense back to them.
It was pure intimidation, not politics. All the MPs needed to be told was: “Just as we can build you up politically and financially, we can shoot you down financially as well. Toe the line.”
But by pandering to the whims of their leaders and ignoring the electorate when they still have almost three more years in office, the legislators may have shot themselves in the foot and could be helping prepare their own deathbeds. It must be obvious to them, as it is to any average Zimbabwean, that things are falling apart.
The country has been ravaged by a series of strikes which have seen bank, hotel, transport, clothing, textile, cement, railway, commercial, municipal and construction workers take to the streets.
War veterans, normally considered party loyalists, have been up in arms. Demonstrations had become so routine that Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa had to step in and ban them.
Some 41 firms closed down within the first six months compared to 63 the whole of last year. Business optimism among the country’s industrialists plummeted from 62 percent in March last year to 29 percent last March, and the situation could now be worse. Inflation, which was down to 13.9 percent last year had risen to 21.4 percent by June. Unemployment is now reported to be around 50 percent.
Though to a casual observer the average Zimbabwean seems to be happy, analysts say the ZANU-PF leadership is quite aware of the delicate position they are in. Having been in power for 17 years but still eyeing the elections in 2000, some of them have become nervous.
They have every reason to be because in the next elections the majority of voters will be youths, born just before or after independence, who are not likely to swallow the rhetoric by the current leaders that they deserve to rule because they liberated the country. As far as these youths are concerned, the current leaders are responsible for the current high unemployment which has rendered their education useless.
The analysts say it is because of this nervousness that the party is trying to open its doors to former rebels and those who were suspended. This, they say, is part of a survival strategy for the year 2000. It is aimed at both weakening the already fragile opposition and consolidating their position just in case some of their lieutenants decide to abandon ship.
“The main problem for the ZANU-PF is likely to come from within,” one analyst said. “More and more party supporters, including some in the leadership, are increasingly becoming aware that they are being short- changed. With politics largely considered a stepping stone to financial and economic empowerment and with the government’s indigenisation programme on full thrust, most people are now realising that the indigenisation is one-sided. It is heading in one direction to those who are ‘acceptable’ to the ruling party, and this has turned out to be darlings of President Mugabe.”
Even staunch supporters of President Mugabe like Shuvai Mahofa were getting disillusioned when they realised that indigenisation was enriching one person. Mahofa was one of those who spoke against the approval of the airport loan. This must have come as a shock to everyone because Mahofa is a strong supporter of President Mugabe.
Whispers say she was a close confidante of the late Sally Mugabe and “spied” for her on potential threats to Mugabe’s leadership, particularly Masvingo provincial supremo Eddison Zvobgo who has been for a long time suspected to have presidential ambitions.
She has almost become the kingmaker in the trouble prone Masvingo province and was instrumental in ensuring that vice-President Muzenda who had been an MP for Gweru until the near-fatal shooting of Patrick Kombayi in the 1990 elections got a seat in his home district of Gutu.
Former Air Force Chief Josiah Tungamirai had vowed the seat was his and Tungamirai belongs to Zvobgo’s faction. She was rewarded for her efforts with a deputy minister’s post but had since reverted to an ordinary MP. Her openly coming out against the airport project, must have attracted her benefactors attention. And in typical ZANU-PF fashion, she has been silenced with, once again, a deputy minister’s post.
Observers say because of the mounting disgruntlement among the populace, the ZANU-PF leadership is increasing its financial hold on its juniors and will do anything to thwart anyone who tries to do things outside their influence.
Strive Masiyiwa, once within the fold when he was secretary of the Indigenous Business Development Centre, now knows how difficult it is to do anything without involving the party or without its sanction. He has been battling for more than three years to get a cellular phone licence yet, the government publicly proclaims that it is all out to promote indigenisation.
But, the party does not seem to be only against the small fry. It is now garnering for politburo member and party heavyweight Solomon Mujuru who had teamed up with his homemate, motor trader Tobias Musariri, to acquire 27 percent of the stake in the chrome mining group, the Zimbabwe Mining and Smelting Company (Zimasco).
President Mugabe says Zimasco, formerly owned by Union Carbide but sold to the management for a song, is a strategic company and as such should be owned jointly by the government and Zimasco management on a 50-50 basis. The government will then sell its stake to approved black Zimbabweans.
Mujuru has defied orders from Mugabe to surrender his 27 percent stake. Whispers even say he was one of the strong opponents of the approval of the airport loan.
What has baffled most people is why President Mugabe is so keen to get Mujuru out yet he is indigenous. People are also asking why the government has not done the same with other projects.
But according to one political analyst the reason is very simple. “The party fears that Mujuru is becoming too independent and this spells trouble. The party will not be able to control him”.
Mujuru at one time controlled vast businesses in the Mashonaland Central capital, Bindura. But he has never hidden the fact that he wanted to amass wealth and even applied to be exempted from the leadership code in the 1980s because he needed something to fall back on on retirement.
Some observers argue that Mujuru has every reason to be stubborn because he has not been justly rewarded after being retired from the army. “If he cannot make money as a politician he might as well make it as a business person,” one said.
Money is the carrot the ruling party leadership is dangling to anyone who wants to be somebody. And they are holding on to anything that they believe they can use.
Observers say this explains why the government is talking about privatisation and dabbling into big business at the same time. And, it does not matter if projects are delayed.
The government is going for Zimasco, for example, yet it has not yet exercised its option on the 20 percent stake in Bindura Nickel Corporation offered to it by Anglo American nearly two years ago.
It has not been able to do anything on Kamativi Tin Mine where more than 700 workers lost their jobs. The same seems to be happening at Mhangura Copper Mine which some now say is beyond recovery. It has just been saved by the Iranians from the shame of Cone Textiles where nearly 10 000 workers lost their jobs.
With this litany of failures, political observers say the only reason the government wants to be involved in everything is because the ZANU-PF leadership feels that this is the only hold it has on its lieutenants. If they become financially independent, they will become a political threat.
The ZANU-PF leadership has always used this hold effectively. At independence, those who had rebelled against the party in Mozambique were offered top posts in parastatals or companies in which the government has control. This way, they were kept happy and under surveillance.
Almost all of those who were disgraced by the Willowvale Motor Scandal are back in the fold. Callistus Ndlovu, former Minister of Industry and Commerce, was first offered a job with the dubious title of group foreign currency procurement manager with Tregers in which ZANU-PF has a stake. With the liberalisation of the economy he became redundant. He has now been offered a job as director of the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Administration and Management.
Enos Nkala, former Minister of Defence, Home Affairs and former party treasurer, was offered a job with National Blankets, another company in which the ruling party has a stake in a joint venture with Lonrho. He is now into farming and has been reported as saying he will not work with fools in ZANU-PF but observers say, he has not been made the right offer.
Edgar Tekere, who formed the Zimbabwe Unity Movement in 1989 and gave Mugabe a scare during the 1990 Presidential elections, has since fizzled out and is ripe for the picking.
There have always been whispers that Tekere, at one time number two to Mugabe as the party secretary general, was on the party payroll from day one. Observers say taking him back is only legitimising what they have been doing all along. Some of these claims have come from Margaret Dongo, a former party cadre and now an independent MP. Surely she ought to know better.
Jacob Mudenda, who fell out as governor of Matabeleland North also because of the car scandal is back as an MP and so is Frederick Shava who is now also an MP and chairman of the party in the Midlands province.
Quite aware as vice-President Muzenda rightly pointed out that the opposition is led equally by geriatrics who are not willing to relinquish power to the younger generation, the ruling party knows that because of their age and personal financial positions, most of the leaders of the opposition are ready for the picking.
Tekere seems only too happy to rejoin the ruling party. Enoch Dumbutshena has been having problems since he stepped down as the Chief Justice and formed the Forum Party of Zimbabwe. He has not been doing too well in farming either. He wouldn’t mind a golden handshake from the ruling party. After all, he is President Mugabe’s homeboy.
Ndabaningi Sithole has virtually been paralysed by criminal charges although the trial has been postponed on several occasions.
Unless there is a split from within the party, therefore, ZANU-PF should be comfortable until the next elections. The question is: Can there be a split? Perhaps, but on paper, this is very unlikely unless it emanates from the disgruntled povo.
Those in the top echelons of the party, particularly those who have already made it to Parliament, will have to stick it out. More than half of the current Members of Parliament, for example, have more to lose unless they gang up and walk out en bloc to start a new party.
An analysis of the present legislators shows that besides President Mugabe now no longer an MP, 23 others have been in government since 1980, with a few coming on and off.
Those who were MPs at independence and are still MPs today are: Enos Chikowore, Richard Hove, Kumbirai Kangai, Tenjiwe Lesabe, Moven Mahachi, Nolan Makombe who had to vacate his seat to become first President of the Senate and later Speaker of Parliament, Witness Mangwende, Dzikamai Mavhaire, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Swithun Mombeshora, Joseph Msika who at the time was a member of the now defunct Senate, Cephas Msipa, Joyce Mujuru who came in as Teurai Ropa Nhongo, Didymus Mutasa who also had to vacate his seat to become Speaker of Parliament, Simon Muzenda, Moses Mvenge, John Nkomo, Joshua Nkomo, Stephen Nkomo, Sydney Sekeramayi, Nathan Shamuyarira, Frederick Shava and Eddison Zvobgo.
Another 15 have been in Parliament since 1985. Notable among these are Lazarus Nzarayebani a strong critic who at one time claimed he had become so popular that he could beat President Mugabe in his constituency and Shuvai Mahofa now a kingmaker in Masvingo provincial politics.
Others in this group are: Chen Chimutengwende, Josiah Hungwe, David Karimanzira, Welshman Mabhena, Gabriel Machinga, Kenneth Manyonda, Kembo Mohadi. Sabena Mugabe, Naison Ndlovu, Charles Ndlovu, I.L Nyathi, Chief Mangwende and Jacob Mudenda.
Thirty-seven joined Parliament in 1990 and they include firebrand Margaret Dongo who is now an independent. In other words, at most 75 new faces came to Parliament in 1995. This would mean that there is a 50-50 situation between the old and new guard.
But from the elected house of 120, this tilts the balance in favour of the old guard because the other 30 come in at the mercy of President Mugabe. In the 150-member house, the ratio therefore increases, theoretically, to 105 against 45. This is already more than the two- thirds required even to change the country’s constitution.
But, out of the 45, a considerable number are ex-civil servants, mostly from the President’s office or with close links to that office. These are the very people who can easily be told “own up or we will shoot you down, financially”.
Most of these people will make the necessary noises in and out of the house and may be mistaken as outspoken critics of the government, yet deep down, they will never let ZANU-PF down as they would in fact be letting their benefactor, President Mugabe, down.