Even after Wikileaks, Mugabe still completely controls ZANU-PF leadership change process

Sep 20, 2011

As more U.S.diplomatic cables are leaked, the main collective response is still astonishment at the degree to which many people close to president Robert Mugabe apparently privately called for him to step down, with some even joining in half-hearted attempts to engineer that result. Lost in that astonishment is the fact that regardless of how widespread the sentiment in favor of leadership renewal in ZANU-PF was/is, the party today is no closer to getting rid of Mugabe than they were at the time most of the cables were written.

It is indeed surprising how many of those closest to Mugabe felt that his best days were over,and that his party and the country would be better off if he stepped down. In public they all sang the chorus of unflinching, undying loyalty to him.

The shame for Mugabe and for ZANU-PF is not only that the many leadership renewal advocates were two faced about their feeling on this crucial party and national governance issue. It is, after all, a matter that would be freely and openly discussed in a real democracy. The bigger shame is that many of these party senior officials, too scared to discuss it openly within their party; furtively and secretly went to pour their hearts out to the officials of a foreign country, and particularly one that their party officially considered an 'enemy' nation. In that regard Mugabe has indeed been left naked and humiliated, no matter how much he may continue to wield the power of fear and intimidation over his minions.

Clearly there was massive and great betrayal of Mugabe by many of the aides he might have thought were actually as loyal to him as their public statements suggested. Of those aides who were also public officials, there was also cynical betrayal of their voters. They sought those voters' support under false pretenses; pretending to wholeheartedly support Mugabe and publicly urging their voters to do likewise, when in private they believed and spoke quite differently. This betrayal of their support base was far more shameful than their betrayal of Mugabe the individual. It showed that despite feeling one way, they said and acted in another way because they perceived it to be in their individual political and material interests. The interests of the voters to who they pretended deep fealty to Mugabe were very low down the list of the priorities of these ZANU-PF officials.

Since it is reportedly still early days in the release of the Wikileaks cables, it seems inevitable that there will be more shocking revelations about ZANU-PF senior officials who were also Mugabe traitors. But for the public to continue to marvel at that is to lose sight of the fact that for all the whispering campaign against Mugabe within the party, they are no closer to 'leadership renewal' today than they were up to the crucial election of 2008. It was the period prior to 2008 that most of the cables cover. Panic within ZANU-PF about going into an election against Morgani Tsvangirai and the MDC in which Mugabe was the standard bearer was highest then, because of the economic meltdown and near collapse of that time.

If ZANU-PF regime advocates were not fully aware of how apparently widespread was the leadership renewal sentiment, Wikileaks has made that astonishingly, stunningly clear. One possible result of that awareness would have been that they would now be emboldened by their numbers and their potential strength. If they failed to push Mugabe out before, now would be a good time for them to boldly go public and say, ''Yes, we confirm that we believe Mugabe should now retire for the good of the party, and are now making the following moves to bring that result about.'' That is democracy, and there is an important party conference coming up in December where the change advocates could effect their plan.

Yet rather than be emboldened and strengthened by the knowledge of their numbers and prominence, the few who have chosen to respond to revelations of what they privately said in favor of change have instead drawn back in fear, tails between their legs. The rest have been silent, cowering in embarrassed fear. The mass of ZANU-PF 'change' advocates are still cowed by Mugabe, despite the knowledge of the width and depth of feeling against him.

A factor that is also ignored in the fever of surprise at the levels of dishonesty within ZANU-PF about this issue, is that the panicked sentiment for ditching Mugabe probably cooled considerably after he and his party engineered an election that surprisingly gave them five more years in effective power. Clearly many within ZANU-PF, reading the public mood, had expected to be electorally wiped out by the MDC in 2008. That is what may have happened in reality, but with ZANU-PF allied institutions controlling the whole election and counting process, as well as the general political environment, the controversial result is Mugabe still being in power today.

With that contested result assuring their continued access to the feeding trough of power, the many ZANU-PF insiders who feared that a Mugabe-led campaign against Tsvangirai/MDC was a losing proposition had an unexpected reprieve. It is likely that they were happier for Mugabe to continue after that dubious election 'win' than they were before it, since their personal interests had been secured for a few more years.

The economic crisis of 2008 has passed on. The MDC is still in a good position to win a free and fair election, but not necessarily with the landslide they would have done if the vote of 2008, given the economic conditions of the time, were free and fair. With the MDC now also being part of the coalition government, they have done little to particularly distinguish themselves as intrinsically better governors than ZANU-PF.

So while the need for leadership change in ZANU-PF may still be as relevant today as it was in 2008 and the preceding years, for party leaders concerned with prolonging their benefits, that need is not as panicked and immediate as it was then. It is also driven by slightly different factors. Now the main threat is a very old leader without a clear cut successor in place, rather than an immediate, imminent fear of electoral defeat. With the date of the next election not certain yet, the prospect of defeat by the MDC still looms, but not with quite the same urgency as was the case in the period leading up to the 2008 election.

Conclusion: Mugabe has definitely been 'morally' weakened and reduced in stature by the revelations of how many of his close lieutenants wanted him replaced. On the other hand, all those many and varied 'powerful' people close to him have still failed to use their collective synergy to make him budge one inch.

Even today, Mugabe is still firmly and single handedly in charge of the 'leadership change' agenda of ZANU-PF, which essentially means it won't happen until and unless he brings it about. The party's pressing, dire and overdue imperative for leadership renewal long before a general election against a powerful new opponent, the MDC, continues to be completely subordinated to the whims of one man, Mugabe. That is the real shock of the Wikileaks revelations, even more than the betrayals.

The Zimbabwe Review


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