At ZANU-PF conference, the Zimbabwe Independent again fails to solidify party factional fighting story

Dec 11, 2011

The Zimbabwe Independent has made itself an authority of sorts on ‘factionalism’ in ZANU-PF, if only by the sheer, astonishing number of leading stories it devotes to the subject. Given the frequency and prominence the paper has elected to give to this issue, a reader is often disappointed by how little meat and how much repetitious speculation and guesswork there in its ‘coverage’ of it. The just ended ZANU-PF conference in Bulawayo should have been a rare opportunity for the ZimInd to give the reader a more credible, newsworthy angle than usual to its favorite subject. Sadly but perhaps now predictably, it was not
to be.

As long as there is a new edition of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, there is almost sure to be another ZANU-PF factions story by its ‘specialist’ on the subject, Dumisani Muleya. The paper is so fond and sure of its ZANU-PF factions stories that when it runs them, as it often does, they almost always enjoy pride of place on the front page, suggesting to the reader that they are thought to be of tremendous importance. That suggestion having been made, the reader tends to give the paper the benefit of the doubt, both on the importance of the ‘factions issue’ in ZANU-PF, as well as the paper’s implied self-confidence that it is bringing new and useful insights to its readers on the subject.

One therefore plunges into the latest ZANU-PF factions story expecting to learn something new, if not earthshaking, about how the alleged infighting in the defacto ruling party is going to affect the nation’s course.

Even for the Independent, ‘Mujuru faction decimated by Ngwena’ is a more breathless title than usual. One is eager to read more about how defense minister Emmerson Mnangwa has ‘decimated’ the ‘faction’ of vice president Joice Mujuru. One senses/expects/hopes for as big of a scoop as promised by the headline.

Alas, it is pretty much a rehashing of the same story the Independent has run about ‘vicious factional fighting’ in ZANU-PF for years. If you have been a regular reader of the paper’s stories on the issue over that time, you know almost all the angles that will be touched on, even some of the dramatic language that will be used to spice up what is sadly usually no story at all.

Let’s dig in.

Mujuru's faction is “coming under growing pressure in the succession race” from Mnangagwa’s, Muleya tells us, as he has been doing for years. To emphasize the full drama of the moment, he flowingly writes, “the Zanu PF conference which opened in Bulawayo unfolds amid ominous political uncertainty surrounding President Robert Mugabe’s rapidly fading rule.”

So from the go, we’ve been set up for some real political intrigue between the factions, what with expressions like ‘growing pressure’ by one faction on the other, and political uncertainly which has now become ‘ominous’ around Mugabe’s ‘fading rule.’

Obviously the story will have a lot of exciting, juicy revelations, the reader thinks and hopes.

“Extensive briefings” (a rather important-sounding Muleya staple) by conference delegates “showed Mujuru’s faction is coming under intensifying challenge by the Mnangagwa group which now wants to go for the jugular to prevail over its opponents to succeed Mugabe.”

Uh oh, the reader begins to suspect, this repetition in the second paragraph of what was said in the first is not an encouraging sign that any factions scoop is about to follow. About the only thing we have been told over the years for certain is that ZANU-PF factions are fighting each other mainly to get the upper hand to succeed Mugabe, so this is nothing at all new. But what does Mnangagwa’s group going ‘for the jugular’ to achieve this aim mean? It does indeed sound ‘ominous,’ and the reader plows on for the breakthrough revelation that is surely coming.

One inquiring reader decides to suspend his creeping suspicion that for the umpteenth time, there will be nothing new in a ZimInd article about factions in ZANU-PF. Surely the prestigious paper would not use the implied dramatic imagery of a crocodile ‘going for the jugular’ without providing some real back up for the bloody scene that is about to unfold as the reptile rips out the throat of its hapless foe? Would the ZimInd dare excite a reader like this and then let him down with another weak, damp squib of a factions story, as many times before?

Surely not. Surely this time the ZimInd and Muleya will finally deliver what they usually only hint at. After all, they have never used ‘ngwena’ and ‘jugular’ together in their countless ZANU-PF factions articles before. And the party’s conference does really give Muleya an opportunity to get what he rather pompously refers to as ‘briefings’ which might just reveal some new insights on the famed Mujuru/Mnangagwa battle, whether it is mostly imagined or mostly real.

In a sentence that is also a stand-alone paragraph, Muleya tells us, “Although Mugabe remains in charge of the party, faction leaders believe they have to look beyond him.”

The reader is beginning to feel a mixture of unease, impatience and that old, very familiar feeling of being set up yet again for another factions non-story! What on earth is there for ZANU-PF ‘faction leaders,’ or anybody else, to ‘believe’ about the need to look beyond their 87 year old leader? It is not an issue of ‘belief,’ but of self-evident reality! How can a front page article get so trite; be allowed to run out of steam so early?!

“Zanu PF faction leaders have been holding secret meetings, mainly under the cover of darkness, inside their hotel rooms and other private venues to strategize how to outmaneuver each other. The rival leaders have also been jostling for Mugabe’s attention to win favors and consolidate their positions.”

Given the thinness of many previous factions articles, one questions the ‘secretiveness’ of meetings held by the ‘faction leaders.’ When the factions have been so well identified and written about for years, why should their leaders need to be secretive about their meetings at all, whether held 'under the cover of darkness' or by daylight?

“Strategizing how to outmaneuver each other” is what all political groupings, within or between parties, do. It’s really what they mainly exist to do. It would be very strange if all manner of such groupings, whether defined by some as ‘factions’ or not, did not use the rare opportunity of a major party conference to do just that: strategize how to outmaneuver groups with opposing or competing agendas. This is the essence of politics anywhere in the world.

As for the part about how, “The rival leaders have also been jostling for Mugabe’s attention to win favors and consolidate their positions,” well, is that news? One did not have to be at the conference or to read the latest ZimInd ZANU-PF factional story to know that this is entirely expected behavior in any political party, especially one in which the leader wields so much personal power, as Mugabe does in ZANU-PF.

No news, no insight yet in the article about how one ZANU-PF faction is being ‘decimated’ by another.

Then there are “credible reports of dirty tricks being employed at the conference,” an example being some officials “having had their hotel rooms bugged by security agents loyal to their rivals.”

Well, umm, sorry to continue to be so cynically underwhelmed, but is room bugging at such meetings really unusual? Should not all senior party officials, whether factions-aligned or non-aligned, at least suspect attempts would be made to eavesdrop on their private conversations?

While this has been attributed to factional fighting to keep in line with the exciting theme of the article, a just as plausible guess is of the party leadership wanting to know who stands where in regards to support for Mugabe, in light of the doubts raised by Wikileaks. The bugging is not only un-surprizing and un-remarkable, it also could have nothing to do with ‘factions’ at all.

“The succession battle is getting vicious and dirty,” a senior Zanu PF politburo official said. “But things will get worse after this conference. The endgame will be brutal and nasty.”

Yawn. We’ve been reading ‘vicious’ in regards to ZANU-PF factional fighting for years now. Nothing new there.

The author really, really wants the reader to understand the importance of the existence of ZANU-PF factions. This is understandable, since he has chosen to make it his area of specialization.

He tells us, “Although Zanu PF, riddled with factionalism and infighting, has two main camps, there are several other smaller cliques, defined by regions, ethnicity and other common interests, operating within and across the main blocs.”

Ah, so in other words, ZANU-PF is made up of various interest groups, based on all sorts of things, which sometimes oppose and fight each other? You mean, just like any other political party in the world since the beginning of time? So what is dramatically called ‘factionalism’ in ZANU-PF is no more or less than the tussling for power that goes on in any other party? No, say it ain’t so!

Yet when you read about ‘factionalism’ in ZANU-PF, some people make it sound like it is some ‘vicious’ new phenomenon the party invented and which is unique to it. This of course is utter nonsense. It almost further confuses rather than helps in the understanding of the dynamics of power between competing groups within ZANU-PF. Whether they are ‘going for the jugular’ over succession, or merely disagreeing over more mundane issues, it is entirely normal within a diverse, ‘broad church’ of interests for there to be spirited disagreements.

‘Vicious factional fighting’ is used to describe even entirely normal disagreements that gives them an import far greater than the dramatic words suggest. The Mugabe succession ‘endgame’ in ZANU-PF might indeed end up being ‘nasty and brutal,’ with opponents ‘going for the jugular’ against each other. The party has been careless enough about succession planning that this could indeed be the outcome of Mugabe’s sudden exit from the stage.

But so far, and far too often, grand superlatives have been used to describe what can be regarded as normal politics within ZANU-PF that the ‘vicious factional fighting’ tag that has been recycled for so long has long lost its sting, power and meaning for at least one ZimInd reader. In all the many years we have been told about ‘vicious factional fighting’ within the party, ZANU-PF has somehow managed to hold its many disparate interest groups (‘factions’ to those tending towards melodrama) together amazingly well.

In a much shorter time of existence, the original MDC has split into at least three quite distinct ‘factions’ which are somehow never referred to as such. To avoid referring to ‘the Tsvangirai faction,’ or ‘the Ncube faction’ some came up with the strange, ugly appellation ‘formation.’ So a unitary ZANU-PF has ‘viciously fighting factions,’ while the split MDC only has the more innocent sounding ‘formations,’ but which publicly fight, insult and tear each other down more than we have ever seen any ZANU-PF factions do!

“As part of the Mnangagwa faction’s strategy to seize control of the party, Mujuru is now personally targeted for removal.”

This ‘ominously’ sounds like an issue for the police! “Personally targeted for removal?”

In light of the recent still unexplained death by fire of Joice’s husband Solomon, surely “Mujuru is now personally targeted for removal” sounds deeply sinister! If the writer does not feel at liberty to share what he knows that made him write this way with the reader, hopefully his newspaper has urged him to share it with the authorities, possibly saving the life of a vice president whose neck, specifically the jugular vein, may be on the line! While somewhat ambiguous in its meaning, as written the sentence leans more towards suggesting physical elimination than merely political ‘removal.’ That is such a heavy statement it required some backing/explanation/clarification, but none at all is provided in the article.

Or is “Mujuru is now personally targeted for removal” merely another example of over-dramatizing things to try to give some weight to what is essentially a non-story?

The rest of the article doesn’t get any better, or any different from its innumerable previous published versions.

ZANU-PF factional battles are always said to be ‘fuelled’ by something or other. Sure enough, we are told, “the succession battle would be further fuelled by the fight between the two factions for several vacancies in the politburo.” In the ZimInd, ‘fueling’ and ZANU-PF factions almost always go together.

“Sources said the Mnangagwa faction was now taking full advantage of the death of General Mujuru to force the Mujuru faction to lose political ground and retreat.”

How exactly is it doing this? Once this tantalizing piece of information is given, the expected explanation is not forthcoming. The reader is merely given a general impression of a busily scheming ‘Mnangagwa faction,’ but is not given any clear examples of how it is forcing the ‘Mujuru faction’ into retreat. It’s a little bit like a bad crossword puzzle where the reader is given hints but no really useful, definite clues to fill in the blanks.

“There was a question whether the death of (Solomon) Mujuru would affect his faction or not,” a source is quoted as saying.

Another curious thing about ZANU-PF factional stories is that no one ever is quoted by name. Although the factions are written about as if they are well-known, almost formal party structures, this is then contradicted by apparently no one ever having the guts to have even very mild factions-related comments attributed to him or her. Hmm.

Continues the quoted ‘source:’ “Now it’s becoming increasingly clear it (death of Solomon Mujuru) has already started weakening the group because Mai Mujuru and senior members of the camp like Sydney Sekeramayi, who has his own ambitions, have not risen to the challenge.”

But what is the exact nature of ‘the challenge’ Joice Mujuru & Faction are accused of failing to rise to? Perhaps if this had been made clear, the nature of the reported ‘weakening’ of the Mujuru faction would have been more obvious!

“However, the truth is that even if Mnangagwa is on the ascendancy, the party is still deeply divided over the succession issue. The Mujuru camp still has some advantages although the security services chiefs are now mainly with Mnangagwa.”

For goodness sake, the party has been ‘deeply divided over the succession issue’ for ten years or more, and will remain so long after whoever emerges as Mugabe’s successor is long in power!

“The Mujuru camp still has some advantages…” What are they? Why don’t you ask the ‘source’ you have quoted what those advantages are for the benefit of your readers?

“…although the security services chiefs are now mainly with Mnangagwa.” What does ‘with Mnangagwa’ mean exactly? That they will put some pressure on the ZANU-PF succession process to go Mnangagwa’s way? That they will have him bypass a selection process altogether? How many of these security chiefs are now ‘with Mnangagwa?’

Without asking the claimed ‘source’ such basic follow up questions that immediately suggest themselves, the factions article that sounded vaguely interesting at headline level has long fizzled out into yet another wet rag of a non-story.

To what extent are ZANU-PF ‘factions’ any different from those in the MDC or in any other political party where they are not called such? And to what extent has the concept of ‘factions’ as being specific/unique to ZANU-PF become a limiting mental construct in the minds of some whose job it should be to illuminate and explain issues, rather than to merely dramatize them?

The Zimbabwe Review


Post a Comment