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Old wine, new skins”. Will anything really change?

Old wine, new skins”. Will anything really change?
  • PublishedJanuary 19, 2018

The scenes of wild jubilation as thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans poured out onto the streets in the country’s cities and towns following the fall from power of Robert Mugabe may prove premature. Many believed that this watershed would be a break from the past and the start of a new era that would usher in economic prosperity but has anything really changed? Was this a revolution or merely a changing of the guard, a settling of a “domestic” (read party) clash of wills and interests? Baffour Ankomah reports from Harare.

After the frenetic 19 days between 6 November and 24 November 2017, when everything seemed to change in Zimbabwe, reality has returned, forcing most people into an “Is that all we fought for” mode. The international media that descended on the country in those 19 historic days, wishing to see the burial of the man they had always maligned, if not hated, former President Robert Mugabe, pushed a narrative which was sadly bought by the international community and even some sections of Zimbabwean society. That a new dawn was here, with Mugabe having been forced to resign his 37-year presidency through the combined might of the military, impeachment in Parliament, and people power in the street.

What the media failed to understand was the power dynamics within Zimbabwean society, within the ruling Zanu-PF party, and even within the military itself. And without understanding the power dynamics, one cannot understand what happened and why there has been no new dawn after the dust settled, but just old wine put in new skins.

The international media pushed the idea of a “transition” post-Mugabe that would involve all and sundry in the country, giving the now almost moribund political opposition, led by an ill Morgan Tsvangirai (he has been battling with colon cancer for some time now, and at one point last year Mugabe had to ask the government to save Tsvangirai’s life by giving him $60,000 to pay part of his medical bill), the false hope of a new lease of life in a transitional government that would chart a new direction for the country.

But that was purely an uneducated way of looking at the Zimbabwean reality. The educated view, which was known by those who had cared to follow the power dynamics, was that in no way was Zanu-PF ever going to share power again with the MDCs (plural, because there are several of them, now trying to come together under a coalition) because of the very bad experience Zanu-PF had ruling the country with the MDCs in the Government of National Unity (GNU) that existed between February 2009 and June 2013.

Those four years constituted a veritable annus horribilis for Zanu-PF, the experience so chastening that it would have been a miracle for them to agree again to form a transitional government post-Mugabe with the MDCs. A corrective exercise? Moreover, the events of the historic 19 days in November were entirely and purely an internal Zanu-PF corrective exercise. Of course the military had intervened to speed things up. Of course hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans had demonstrated in Harare in support of the military intervention, asking Mugabe to go.

What the media failed to understand was the power dynamics within Zimbabwean society, within the ruling Zanu-PF party, and even within the military itself. And without understanding the power dynamics, one cannot understand what happened and why there has been no new dawn after the dust settled, but just old wine put in new skins.

But a good mathematician would always have told those who had ears to hear that the mathematics could only add up to nothing more or less than an internal Zanu-PF fracas that had spilled over into other sections of the country, and that the final solution could only be found within Zanu-PF’s embattled circle. Which is exactly what has happened.

The military intervened on the night of 14/15 November essentially to deal with the “instability in Zanu-PF” which was adversely affecting the economy, national security, and the lives of the people in general.

As the military explained themselves in a historic statement issued on 13 November: “Our peace loving people who have stood by their government and endured some of the most trying social and economic conditions ever experienced, are extremely disturbed by what is happening within the ranks of the national revolutionary party.”

Therefore, the military intervened to arbitrate and fix the instability within the ruling party, and this fact was missed by the international media, which also missed the fact that the real “fire fight” on the night of 14/15 November happened because the military were not happy that “counter revolutionaries” (the military’s own words) around Mugabe had hijacked state and party power.

They, claimed the military, were using it for their own selfish ends and had denied the military a voice in national affairs by instructing the national broadcaster ZBC and the national newspaper The Herald not to publish the military’s statement issued on 13 November.

If the two national media outlets had been allowed to publish the 13 November statement, read by the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), General Constantino Chiwenga, at a high-powered military news conference attended by almost all the high and mightyin the military, the intervention that led to the downfall of Mugabe would not have happened.

Zimbabwe’s military is an integral part of Zanu-PF’s architecture, though you will not see it on the party’s organogram. The two – the party and the military – have a unique history because they developed together from the same embryo during the bush war that liberated Zimbabwe in 1980.

Asked if he considered the intervention as a coup, Mugabe’s last foreign minister, Dr Walter Mzembi, answered: “President Mugabe denied it himself that it was a coup and instructed me in the diplomatic solution I was championing, to communicate that to SADC [the Southern African Development Community]. Our courts also adjudged that it wasn’t a coup. So it wasn’t a coup but a military arbitration in a party in which the military are stockholders. Don’t look for it anywhere, nor try it elsewhere, you will not find a precedent. It was made in Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.”

The military themselves had said so in their 13 November statement. “The Zimbabwe Defence Forces remain the major stockholder in respect to the gains of the liberation struggle and when these are threatened, we are obliged to take corrective measures.” Counter-revolutionary infiltrators The soldiers were angry that “counter-revolutionary infiltrators” were now effectively influencing the party. “What is obtaining within the revolutionary party,” the military said, “is a direct result of the machinations of counter revolutionaries who have infiltrated the party and whose agenda is to destroy it from within … We must remind those behind the current shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”

The military’s main concern was that Zanu-PF had departed from its traditional values and its established way of resolving internal differences.

“Party orders were strictly adhered to and whatever differences existed, they were resolved amicably and in the party’s closet. Unfortunately since the turn of 2015, Zanu-PF’s traditional protocol and procedures have changed with a lot of gossiping, backbiting, and public chastisement being the order of the day. Indeed the party is undoing its legacy built over the years.”

For the military to move tanks from 116 km away into the centre of the capital Harare within 24 hours of their 13 November statement, shows how seriously they took the non-publication of their statement by the national media houses. It meant the “counter revolutionaries” were saying the military did not matter, which carried the dangerous threat of arrest and sacking of the military top brass for issuing the statement.

Some analysts have said that the precision and smoothness of the military intervention means that it had long been planned. In fact way back in August 2017, the former First Lady, Grace Mugabe had said that Mnangagwa allies were thinking of a coup to seize power for him, that a coup would not be accepted by SADC and the outside world in this day and age, and she had called for the arrest and trial of those people for treason.

But nobody took Grace Mugabe seriously because she “The history of our revolution cannot be rewritten by those who have not been part of it …”

had become too much for anybody’s liking, on account of what many considered as “the destructive role” she had been playing in the party since she entered politics in December 2014 as the head of Zanu-PF’s Women’s League.

By virtue of being the wife of the President, Grace Mugabe’s G40 faction in the party had been ascendant, and its members (referred to as “counter revolutionaries” by the military) were the ones influencing the course of both the party and the government.

G40 is the short form for Generation 40, whose name came from the headline of a newspaper article written by the former Minister for Higher and Tertiary Education, Prof Jonathan Moyo, who ruminated in the article on how the younger generation would move the country forward. G40 therefore became the home of young Turks in ZanuPF who saw their future tied in with Grace Mugabe.

They influenced the sacking of Vice-President Mnangagwa on 6 November. At the time, General Chiwenga, the ZDF commander and a known Mnangagwa ally, was on an official trip to China. When he returned a week later, reports said the “counter revolutionaries” had arranged for his arrest at the Harare International Airport (now renamed Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport), but the military had got wind of it and sent troops to the airport to thwart the arrest. It is said that Chiwenga drove straight from the airport to confront Mugabe, who denied ordering any such arrest.

Two days later, on 13 November to be exact, Gen. Chiwenga led the top brass of the military to issue that stiff statement in which they threatened to, if need be, intervene to safeguard the “revolution” from “counterrevolutionaries. As the military put it: “The history of our revolution cannot be rewritten by those who have not been part of it … We remain committed to protecting our legacy and those bent on hijacking it will not be allowed to do so.”

That was an insinuation against Grace Mugabe, Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere (Minister of Local Government and political commissar of Zanu-PF), Kudzai Chipanga (leader of Zanu-PF’s Youth Wing) and others who never fought in the liberation war but had become ascendant in the party lately. Grace “destroyed Mugabe single-handedly” The last straw however was Grace Mugabe, whose behaviour as First Lady and leader of the party’s women’s wing had become simply unacceptable to most people.

Patrick Chinamasa, a man who had worked with Mugabe in various ministerial portfolios for over three decades but was surprisingly demoted from Finance Minister to Minister for Cyber Security in a mini cabinet reshuffle in October 2017 (which was believed to have been influenced by the G40), revealed on 25 November that Grace Mugabe had to be stopped before she further debased state power.

“What troubled us was that the leadership had ceased to be that of Mugabe but his wife,” Chinamasa explained at a Zanu-PF provincial coordinating council (PCC) meeting in Mutare, the capital of Manicaland province.

“What we would agree on in the politburo or cabinet was reversed at Grace’s behest. Other ministers and politburo members were forming a beeline to Mazowe [the headquarters of the First Lady’s business empire 40km outside Harare] for briefings with her.”

Chinamasa went on: “We voted for Mugabe but Amai Mugabe was now the de facto president. Her leadership was unacceptable, [as she was] just attacking people and causing divisions. We rejected that kind of leadership. Where were we going [in 2018], if we were to vote for Mugabe, we were going to be voting for Grace, and that we did not like.”

Explaining why the military had to act, Chinamasa said: “When Mnangagwa was fired, we knew we were in trouble. The First Lady and her cabal wrote the letters. You can’t come to the party today and fire a person like Muchinguri who fought for the party. God helped us and we realised the powers that we had. I want to thank the Zimbabwe Defence Forces who allowed us to reclaim our party.”

Chinamasa has since been returned to his old position as Finance Minister by the new President, Mnangagwa, in a slimmed-down cabinet announced on the night of 30 November.

Speaking at the same PCC meeting in Mutare, the Minister for Water and Environment, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the woman who relinquished her post as head of Zanu-PF’s women’s wing in 2014 for Grace Mugabe to assume the position, blamed the former First Lady for single-handedly causing Mugabe’s downfall.

Muchinguri-Kashiri said: “Before the President allowed his wife into politics, everything was good. His downfall came because of Grace. She destroyed our President single-handedly and that is why the soldiers came in.”

Written By
Baffour Ankomah

Baffour Ankomah is New African's current Editor at Large. He has spent much of his 39 years of journalism at the magazine, having served as its Assistant Editor for 6 years, Deputy Editor for 5 years, and Editor for 15 years, retiring from active service in 2014. In 39 years of his journalism career - Africa and his many causes have been his passion. His personal column, Baffour's Beefs, which has been running continuously in New African since 1987, is a big hit and a must-read for the magazine's worldwide readers. He is now based in Zimbabwe, where he and his wife Elizabeth run their own media consultancy and fashion house called "African Interest" which trades under the trademark "I am African".

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