How to kill an opponent

How to ‘kill’ a political opponent, Zanu PF-style …

Alex T. Magaisa

1 November 2014

The last few weeks have given us an opportunity to observe political dynamics at play in the most dramatic and breath-taking form. While Zanu PF methods have generally been visible against other opponents, particularly Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDCs generally, never before have we seen an open demonstration of Zanu PF dealing with its own internal players in the manner that we have witnessed in the last few weeks. Zanu PF’s methods – whether dealing with an external or internal rival are hardly different and here we capture in summary, the political package on how to decimate and annihilate a political rival, Zanu PF-style.

1. Destroy the Pillars of power

Every structure has pillars of support, and a foundation, without which it crumbles. Attacking the structure head-on makes the task more difficult. Instead, you attack the pillars. You dig underneath the foundations so that when the pillars fall, the structure is left without support. Eventually it crumbles. This is the wisdom derived from Sun Tszu’s strategies of war. But back in the village, young boys hunting mice use similar logic. It is futile, they know, to dig the tunnel in which mice reside, without first identifying the mbidyo – the escape route. So when you find the main tunnel, you look for the mbidyo and close it off. That way you have the mice perfectly cornered. When you dig, they can only escape from the front and you and your boys will be ready to pounce.

For Joice Mujuru, there was no greater pillar than her husband, Retired General Solomon Mujuru. Known by his war name, Rex Nhongo, he was the second in command in Zanla, to the legendary commander, Josiah Magama Tongogara, whose sad demise on the eve of independence, a day before Christmas in 1979, remains one of the greatest unresolved mysteries of our time. Ironically, Mujuru, the first black commander of the military forces after independence, met an equally mysterious end at a Beatrice farmhouse, when the property succumbed to a fire that is yet to be satisfactorily explained. He was burnt beyond recognition.

The theory that he was assassinated may have seemed fanciful at the time but the course of recent events, as hindsight often does, suggests otherwise. Hitherto, Mujuru was widely known as a ‘kingmaker’ in Zanu PF circles and was believed to be the force behind Joice Mujuru’s rise to the vice presidency in 2004, ahead of the then front-runner, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had won the support of the majority of provinces. General Mujuru was also said to be one of the very few men who could confront Mugabe directly, encumbered by neither fear nor favour.

Without the colossal figure of her husband, Joice Mujuru has cut a forlorn and vulnerable figure. It is impossible to believe that with him around, she would have been so mercilessly attacked, humiliated and politically harassed by her own comrades, as has been the case in the last few tumultuous weeks, which might go down in history as the October Massacre.

2. Destroy the Reputation

Leaders are often lionised by their subordinates and followers and they thrive on the myths created around their persons. Stripped of titles and robes of power, they are just ordinary people, encumbered by the vulnerabilities that affect us all. Karanga mythology says that all other birds were once terribly afraid of Zizi, the owl because for many years they thought her big ears were horns. For its part, the owl encouraged this belief, because it allowed her the power to command the rest of the birds. But all that stopped one day, when Nhengure, the blackbird challenged the owl to a fight and the myth that Zizi was endowed with horns was blown apart. The Karanga say when Zizi was defeated by little Nhengure, she took flight and went into hiding and that is why Zizi rarely comes out during the day.

Like Zizi, politicians thrive on reputations that are often built on myths. When people shower them with praise, they do not challenge it. They accept it because it gives them an aura of invincibility. It gives them power.

Chris Mutsvangwa started the demolition job against Joice Mujuru, challenging the long-held narrative of her war heroics. He said they were mythical creations. Whether true or false, the accusations have been repeated by the State media all to suggest that she is not the heroic figure that has been portrayed over the years – ironically by the same State media and Zanu PF, when it was convenient. Grace Mugabe took it up and went further – labelling Mujuru with all sorts of names – lazy, dull, incompetent, corrupt, demonic and much more. Zanu PF supporters were wheeled in to Zanu PF headquarters on Thursday this week, carrying placards denouncing her as “the big witch of Dotito”, as “Dr Ten Percent” in reference to alleged extortion, and all sorts of other unflattering terms – all of which were designed to malign and tarnish her reputation – designed to make her ordinary.

3. Mobilise and unleash the State media

In order to carry out the fight, to tarnish the reputation and destroy the pillars, you have to control the information outlets. You have to control the packaging and dissemination of news. That way, you control what is said, how it is said and how it is distributed. The aim is to influence public opinion and to humiliate and demoralise. Mujuru lost the battle of control of the State media. It fell to her opponents from the moment Mugabe appointed Jonathan Moyo as Information Minister. Moyo set out to take control of the State press and the broadcasters. He removed the existing editors and appointed his own boys who are loyal to him and his team. If they are told to sing, they ask how loud, Prof? He launched what was said to be an anti-corruption campaign but with hindsight it seems to have only been a ploy to get rid of unwanted officials at the ZBC. He even tried to bring the private media onside – playing the good, reformed character and creating a self-serving media inquiry whose results are yet to be known. In an unprecedented attack against a sitting Vice President, the State media has been relentless in its openly biased attack against Mujuru and her supporters. The media blitz has served its purpose of harassing and tormenting Mujuru and it will not stop until the very end.

4. Make Serious Accusations, like corruption

The legend generated over the years is that Mugabe lets his ministers and top government officials engage in corrupt activities as a weapon against them. The legend is that Uncle Bob has a file on each one of them – a file that lists their crimes and misdemeanours. If you eat quietly, you are safe. But if your head grows too big, he simply going to his filing cabinet and pulls out the file. He may not use it often but it is the proverbial sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of every one of his subordinates. Within no time, your misdeeds are splashed in the papers and law enforcement authorities are knocking on your door and you are on your way to Matapi police station, whose filthy cells are said to be the earthly equivalent of hell.

Mujuru has been in government since independence and Mugabe would have more than a fair idea of what she has been up to. This explains Grace Mugabe’s confidence as she accused Mujuru of corruption. She has probably read her husband’s files. It does not matter that she herself may have benefitted from corruption. Zimbabweans believe that most ministers and their relatives and political connections have been beneficiaries of corruption. But all that matters very little because all they have to do is accuse of you and you alone of corruption or other related crimes. You can’t say but others stole, too! If they think you are stubborn, they will direct the police to arrest you and the prosecution will take the longest time in the world, opposing every bail application that you make, until you have really felt the pain of prison. The courts, too, will find reasons not to grant you bail.

Many who have suffered this fate have tales to tell – Chris Kuruneri, a former Minister of Finance is one example of this brutal form of punishment, which is tantamount to detention without trial. He spent 15 months in remand prison, was denied bail no less than 8 times only to be acquitted by the courts of the key charges a few years later. He is back in Parliament now but remains a living example of how corruption can be deployed as a political tool of punishment. It will not be surprising if, just to make a point of who has power, Mujuru or her subordinates find themselves in remand prison before the December Congress or even afterwards. It is not an impossible scenario.

5. Label them as Sell-outs

During the liberation war, if one was labelled a sell-out (mutengesi), it was not a light accusation. It was often the precursor to a bitter and brutal end. They were killed in cold blood, often while civilians watched, as a lesson to others of the consequences of selling out. There were show-trials, kangaroo courts in fact, in which the prosecutors were often the judges, jurors and executioners – all in one. You were accused and the onus was on you to prove that you were innocent. These days, they do not do it quite like that but you are accused, tried and convicted of corruption by the editor of a newspaper with the aid of anonymous sources. When The Herald writes about Mujuru’s alleged indiscretions, it does not even use the moderate and professional language which indicates that she is “alleged” to have done something. They write is as if it were factual – proven, correct and undisputed. There is not even the pretence that one’s opinion has been sought in response to the allegations. To the State media, it has been said by someone and therefore, it is factual and correct. It is trial by the media.

But the ultimate label of course is that one has associated with the Western powers – the Americans and the British, to be precise. Never mind that the Government is busy building bridges with the British and The Herald is writing about it, the mantra is that if you are associating with the Western countries then you are counter-revolutionary and a sell-out. You are also accused of working with the opposition. So Mujuru is accused not only of plotting with the Americans to remove Mugabe but also of forming the opposition parties – the MDC and Mavambo, in particular, at least according to Grace Mugabe. Therefore, Mujuru is a sell-out and a counter-revolutionary. Once labelled, you are ostracised and it is almost the end.

6. Isolate

Every politician, at whatever level, has his or her political friends. Some might be personal friends, but these are actually very few. Most are friends simply because they see a political advantage that comes with the association. These are the type that is referred to as ‘political friends’. They can desert you as soon as they notice that you are no longer serving their interests. This explains why in one moment a politician sings high praise for another but in the next moment he dishes out the most hard-hitting indictment in respect of the same person. Ordinary people are surprised – how is it possible when they are friends? How, when he was saying such good words about him? It’s all because political friendship is not really friendship that you and I are used to. Loyalty is very thin in that world. Your political rivals often target and exploit this thinness of loyalty and the abundance of self-interest, the aim being to isolate you. This is often done by selecting and targeting some of your friends, especially the ones that are really loyal and close – once they are decimated, they serve as an example to others.

That is why in Mujuru’s case we have seen the attacks on the likes of Ray Kaukonde and the deposition of Temba Mliswa and Jabulani Sibanda, chair of the war veterans association who hitherto, has been a foremost campaigner for Mugabe. The youth leadership, accused of having been bought by the Mujuru faction, has also been pulled away from her. Didymus Mutasa, Mujuru’s senior backer, was humiliated by Mugabe at the Zanu PF headquarters demonstration. All this is designed to decimate Mujuru’s support structures and leave her high and dry – isolated and without friends. Her rivals now that seeing this purge, some of her political friends will desert her to save their own interests. They won’t want to sink with her. A few arrests of her top but dispensable backers will send the message home.

7. Mobilise a crowd

The power of the mob is an effective tool in politics. The mob does not think independently. It is told what to do and religiously follows instructions. Its purpose is not to reason. Or to negotiate peace. The mob is designed to demonstrate strength in numbers, to make noise, harass and generally to intimidate. Slogans are created and chanted to denounce and denigrate. They are given placards with harsh words inscribed upon them. They might not even read or understand them – it doesn’t matter and they don’t care. Ply the youths with a bit of alcoholic beverage and it’s perfect hell for a target. They sing, dance kongonya and bay for one’s blood. The crowd that was wheeled in to the Zanu PF headquarters on Thursday was designed precisely to harass and bamboozle Joice Mujuru and her faction. They lambasted Mujuru, Sibanda and humiliated Mutasa. Mugabe himself took the microphone and addressed the raucous crowd that was denouncing his own Vice President. Zanu PF may have set a commission to enquire into factionalism but the plain fact is Mugabe has become an integral player in the factionalism. And he has shown his disdain for Mujuru.

The challenges that the ruling party is going through were always going to come at some point. It is just fascinating to see the drama unfolding before our eyes. What the last few weeks have shown is a demonstration of how to decimate and annihilate a political rival, Zanu PF-style. Remove the pillar, attack the reputation, unleash the might of the media, make serious criminal accusations and leave the threat of arrest hanging, isolate, lampoon and humiliate, mobilise a crowd. There is of course the ultimate one – it is the path to a hill whose original name I’m told is something like Chemapere (the hill of hyenas), now more popularly known as the Heroes Acre. For that too, is an ever-present threat in Zimbabwe’s political dynamics.

And that, in a nutshell, represents a manual of how to attack and destroy a rival. We have seen much of this before in respect of opposition parties but probably for the first time, we are seeing it being systematically applied within Zanu PF. It is a lesson of what the future holds and it is not pretty.