With Solomon Mujuru's death, what are now the dynamics of ZANU-PF 'factions?'

Aug 30, 2011

The pre-occupation of most people interested in the subject is still with what and/or who might have killed Solomon Mujuru. The results of the ongoing official investigation into his death by fire is unlikely to end the speculation. While everybody plays armchair expert over issues that only forensic experts can even hope to find conclusive answers to, it is perhaps worthwhile to ask questions over the issue of 'factions' in ZANU-PF that Mujuru is said to have been at the center of.

Say the media experts, ZANU-PF was divided into the Mujuru faction and the Mnangagwa faction. According to the tale, Solomon Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa led their respective factions on the basis of their liberation-war credentials and their competing closeness to the seat of power.

One thing that has never been properly explained by the propounders of the two-factions-in-ZANUPF  theory is the exact cause of their differences. What defines each faction and makes it distinct from and opposed to the other faction? This has never been made clear despite the frequent, loose talk about these two 'factions.'

How did they originate? Was it some initial difference or conflict between Mujuru and Mnangagwa that then developed into a sort of political gang warfare, with each factional leader's supporters supporting him out of simple personal loyalty?

Are then any values that distinguish the two factions? It can't be political ideology because there have been no big internal disagreements over that in ZANU-PF for decades, unlike the raging ideological debates in South Africa's ANC, for example. No one has suggested that these factions are significantly about ethnicity. There may be fights over the sharing of a dwindling resource cake, but such conflicts are numerous and transcend any factional divisions.

So what is it that makes a ZANU-PF member belong to one of these two supposed factions or the other? It is shocking and disconcerting that there is so much casual talk about ZANU-PF 'factions' without such basic questions of definition and reasons for existence being explained. If anything we could all then be reasonably sure that when the word 'factions' is used, we all have the same understanding of what is being referred to. As things stand, it appears the word can mean virtually anything, and yet is used as if it has one meaning clear to all.

One only gets occasional hints about what may define one faction from another. One prominent line of division, it is suggested, is that the two factions have different ideas over who should succeed Mugabe as leader of ZANU-PF, and it is assumed, almost automatically as ruler of Zimbabwe. According to this theory, Mujuru was content to be 'king-maker,' presumably either directly appointing or influencing the appointment of the next 'king,' or 'queen,' as the case might be. Mnangagwa, says the theory, is not only leader of his faction, he is actively plotting to position himself as the next 'king,' rather than to merely influence the process.        

The main strategy of the two factions was apparently to endlessly figure out how to win Mugabe's favor over the other faction. This seems to be the main activity of both factions, if the leading writers of faction are to be believed. So when Solomon's wife Joice became one of the country's two vice presidents, the factional experts obviously declared it a huge victory for 'the Mujuru faction.'    

It was explained that Solomon had worked his king-maker magic on Mugabe to have his wife positioned to be the next queen. The special charms Solomon used to pull off this trick over the Mnangagwa faction were never explained, but it was taken for granted that they exist. The mighty king/queen maker Solomon had somehow bewitched Mugabe to prevail upon him to appoint Joice vice president, putting her in a favorable position in regards to The Succession Issue, which is apparently all that the two factions eat, breath, and drink every moment of their existence..

The VP appointment was interpreted by the factional analyst-writers not as a recognition of Joice's own independently-earned  liberation-era and ZANU-PF credentials, but as instead the influence of Joice's 'factional king-maker' husband on Mugabe! The factions narrative is deeply, unconciously sexist: it assumes that despite Joice's own distinguished political pedigree, she could not have become VP without the 'factional machinations' of her king-maker, faction-leading, Mugabe-influencing husband Solomon. With him gone, it is said by many of the factional pundits that Joice, who carried a gun as a soldier in the war of independence, is likely to weaken, crumble and fall apart!   

Over the years the perceived fortunes of the two factions in winning or retaining 'king' Mugabe's favor as his chosen successor have greatly waxed and waned, at least in the minds of the factional analyst-writers, if not in reality. If Mugabe happened to sneeze a particular way, the experts said, 'Oh look, it means the Mujuru faction is ahead today in the succession stakes.' If Mugabe smiled at Mnangagwa the analysts told us, 'This week it looks like Emmerson is head in the succession race; Mugabe definitely prefers him over Joice.' And so on and so forth endlessly on this factional roller-coaster, year after year.

It is not difficult to see how those who believe that the ill-defined dividing line between these two claimed factions is how ZANU-PF is principally organized would inevitably explain and analyze Mujuru's death through the straitjacket of this factions prism. Having become convinced of the existence of two implacably opposed factions, everything that happens in ZANU-PF can be/has to be explained in terms of how it fits into the Mujuru/Mnangagwa factions dichotomy.

Expressions like 'vicious power struggle' are quite common in the multitudes of articles that have appeared about the factions in ZANU-PF. They give the reader the impression of two camps at virtual war with each other. But if so, how does a bewildered reader trying to make sense of this explain that ZANU-PF, for all its many included and sometimes competing interest groups, has actually held together rather well over all these years that we have been told the factions have been 'viciously' fighting each other? Isn't it just possible that the supposed two main factions actually have more in common than they do apart? That they have more areas of agreement than disagreement?

Obviously this would make the 'sanctions viciously at war with each other' speculations much less credible and newspaper headlines less interesting. But an examination of ZANU-PF history suggests that whatever internal differences exist, across factional or other lines, so far the party has achieved more unity than 'vicious factional fighting.' 

How is faction membership determined? Does one have a choice which faction to belong to, or is it automatically assigned by virtue of things like where a ZANU-PF member comes from, which constituency s/he represents and so on? Is membership of  a faction fixed for life, or is it permissible to shift from one faction to another? Are there some people who are members of both factions, since playing both sides of the fence (any political fence, not just the factional one) is a highly developed survival skill in Zimbabwean politics?

If you are seen by your fellow faction members talking to or visiting a friend or relative who is a member of the other faction, are you considered a traitor, or is is that accepted as part of politics and of life in general?

As absurd as some of these questions sound, the way ZANU-PF 'factions' are talked and written about makes it appear as if there simply are no meeting points or areas of overlap between them. That of course is not possible, as ZANU-PF would not continue to exist and function as the unit it does if the divisions between the 'factions' were as wide, deep, permanent, unbridgeable and 'vicious' as we are often told they are.

For better or for worse, ZANU-PF is the defacto political power in Zimbabwe. As such, what goes on within it affects every Zimbabwean, whether we like it or not. It is quite appropriate for the media to closely follow events in ZANU-PF, try to interpret them and then try to explain them to Zimbabweans.

On the fuzzy issue of 'factions' in ZANU-PF, the media have failed monumentally and could surely serve Zimbabweans a lot better.

The Zimbabwe Review 


On the death of Solomon Mujuru, intrigue and conspiracy theories galore

Mujuru: separating the ZANU-PF factions from the media fictions


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