The Zimbabwe Independent in delimma over Mugabe successor

Jan 20, 2012

The Zimbabwe Independent is an important newspaper. It mostly provides a good, deep weekly read. A streak of irreverence in some of its regular columns means it is one of the few papers to occasionally knock haughty politicians off their high horses. But on the twin issues of ZANU-PF ‘factions’ and the Mugabe ‘succession issue,’ the ZimInd has a puzzling penchant for featuring shallow, content-less articles. ‘Mugabe in dilemma over successor’ is the latest of many recent examples of this inexplicable trend.

The article began, ‘President Robert Mugabe, whose continued stay in power despite failing health and advanced age is increasingly becoming a catalyst for internal divisions within Zanu PF, is in a dilemma over finding his ideal successor, Zanu PF insiders revealed.’

Where exactly is the ‘revelation’ in this? Mugabe’s ‘dilemma over his ideal successor’ is at least 10 years old, when the issue first begun to be widely discussed in public because of the clear signs of his loss of significant electoral support. More accurately, his ideal successors are well known: himself and nobody. The real ‘dilemma’ Mugabe may have over his successor is that he doesn’t believe there is anyone amongst his hangers-on who can approach his self-perceived ruling brilliance, despite the shattered country that is a shadow of what he took over 32 years ago.

If the first paragraph of an article is to give a brief preview of what is coming, this latest of countless ZimInd articles on ‘the succession issue’ does not seem very promising. But let’s wait, maybe things will pick up later on in the article.

Paragraph two: ‘In separate interviews with the Zimbabwe Independent, top Zanu PF officials said Mugabe’s decision to hang on to power was an indication of a leadership crisis in Zanu PF, rather than his desire to protect the country against imperialism as he claims.’

It took ‘separate interviews’ with ‘top Zanu PF officials’ for the ZimInd to come up with this sorry excuse for ‘analysis?’ Does anybody need an ‘indication’ of a leadership crisis in ZANU PF, or has it been glaringly obvious for perhaps decades now?

In concentrating most power around himself Mugabe fought off all opponents, but as his end nears, the cost of that to ZANU PF is where they find themselves today. They are unable to push a doddering Mugabe out, and in any case have no one obviously ready to immediately step into his shoes and keep the party’s competing interest groups together like he has been able to do. A situation that was beneficial to Mugabe at his peak, now threatens to consign the party to oblivion as the sun sets on his career and life. The issue has gone way beyond being a ‘dilemma’ of successor choice for Mugabe, to being an existential threat to the party.

And obviously, if to ‘protect the country against imperialism’ solely depends on the efforts of one 88 year old man, the country is doomed anyway. So in 32 years Mugabe failed to train even one other person to assist him to protect the country against imperialists! It surely does not need ‘separate interviews with top ZANU PF officials’ for the ZimInd’s readers to have figured out many editions of the newspaper ago that this is not the reason for Mugabe’s clinging on!

Reveals the Zimind, ‘The party insiders said Mugabe, who had indicated in 2004 that he would retire in 2008, was having problems finding an ideal successor amongst those interested in the top post.’

Oh really? Is it not obvious to the ZimInd that Mugabe is ‘having problems finding an ideal successor’ today, as much as in 2004 or 2008 only because be cannot be his own successor? The ‘ideal successor’ ruse is such an entirely moot point that it is depressing for the ZimInd to make such feeble attempts to make it seem significant.

It is ironic that Mugabe can be said to want an ‘ideal successor’ when he has been far from an ideal incumbent himself. This might have actually been an interesting avenue to explore with those the reporter claims to have interviewed for this alleged story.

The real point in 2011, as in 2004 or any other time, is that Mugabe ‘is having problems’ imagining anybody else at all taking over from him. It has nothing to do with whether anyone in the pool of ZANU PF successor hopefuls is ‘ideal’ to Mugabe or not. To Mugabe, as leader there is himself, and then there is nobody. Did the ZimInd not figure this out, even before it wasted wo/man hours and fuel to seek ‘several interviews’ with ‘top ZANU PF officials and party insiders?’ One sees and reads the article, but where is the actual story?

While the article is very thin on news and analytical content, it is not devoid of humor.

‘Another politburo member close to the First Family said: The problem he has at the moment is who to choose to succeed him. Who among those interested has the political clout to take over and who among them is sellable to the electorate - the grassroots, business, regional and international communities? He wants to ensure Zanu PF’s continued survival.’

Are Robert, Grace and their children now officially the First Family, and in capital letters too? It seems somehow bizarre to see this kind of slobbering in the ZimInd.

And it seems downright comical that part of Mugabe’s purported succession ‘dilemma’ is that he is worrying about who is ‘sellable to the electorate…and international communities?’ The reporter forgot to ask their politburo source a question that would have been interesting to the ZimInd’s readers: Why is Mugabe worrying about this, when many would say he himself is not ‘sellable to the electorate and the international community!’

This unexplored conundrum worked for at least one ZimInd reader of the article as comic relief. At least reading the article was not a complete waste of time.

Then the article ends with a sentence which may not exactly be telling the reader anything new, but is at least spot on in a way the rest of the piece arguably is way off from being.

‘You don’t want someone who will sell you out to the ICC (International Criminal Court). That is the dilemma that the president finds himself in right now.’

Indeed, that last quip by the ZimInd reporter’s claimed source may be the real ‘dilemma’ Mugabe faces on whether to appoint a successor at all, or to simply hang on in power until the bitter end, and let the party’s leadership succession then take care of itself. That would coincidentally also give the ZimInd the delicious opportunity to feature a lot more of its beloved ‘vicious factional fighting within ZANU PF’ stories, perhaps then accompanied by some actual blood on the ZANU PF floor.

The ZANU-PF leadership succession issue is interesting and important for the country, so the ZimInd’s fascinated obsession with it is legitimate. But why does the paper cheapen its brand by recycling content-less articles telling their readership absolutely nothing original or insightful about one of their favorite themes? Mugabe may have a dilemma over how to continue to justify his clear lack of interest in imagining anyone other than him being in charge, but the ZimInd seems to also have its own dilemma over how to freshen up this very, very old story.

The Zimbabwe Review


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