Mugabe rule unravels



The unravelling of Mugabe’s rule (I)

Jan Raath

13 March 2016

Jan Raath writes on the historical background to the current struggle for control of Zanu-PF

Part one. The marshalling of the factions for the battle for succession.

Dare one hope? Not after nearly 36 years of allowing a little to glow from time to time, and then to get a sharp slap of reality. But one cannot suppress the longing.

So there is the merest tingle abroad in Zimbabwe now. Seen in eyebrows raised in mild interest, quizzical glances to colleagues, the re-reading of paragraphs in the newspapers.

President Robert Mugabe returned at the end of January from his annual month-long Christmas holiday in the East – no matter that there was a famine unfolding in his country – refreshed for the year ahead and looking forward to celebrating his 92nd birthday in February, another feast in the midst of the famine around him.

“When god calls me, I will come,” he said. “But until then I will be ruling this country.” A few years ago he told a Japanese newspaper that his detractors were hoping for him to die, but, he went on, “I would remind them that my mother died at the age of 102.”

But the older he gets, the more intense becomes the rivalry to be in place to fill the inevitable presidential vacancy. It has been going on at least 20 years. Young Turks of his ZANU(PF) party tried at first to have “the succession issue” placed on the agenda of congresses of the ruling ZANU(PF) party. It was the mid-90s when Mugabe was in his seventies, an age when most veteran politicians would be thinking of retirement. They were dismissed out of hand.

So the Young Turks discussed it secretly among themselves. Opinions differed, leaders emerged and they split eventually into two main covert factions. One was led by General Solomon Mujuru, the former chief of operations of Mugabe’s ZANLA guerrilla army in the war to end white-rule in Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe’s first black commander of the army after independence. Big businessman, serial plotter, thug.

In 1996 the messenger of the Harare high court knocked on Solomon’s front door to serve him with a Supreme Court order for about US$75,000 damages awarded by the high court to a journalist suing him. He produced a pistol and said: “Get off my property or I will kill you.” The matter ended there.

In 2001 Mujuru occupied Alamein farm in the Beatrice district south of Harare. Guy Watson-Smith, the owner, was told he had two hours to leave or he would be killed. Watson-Smith and his wife were able to snatch together a few photographs and some clothing. Mujuru took the property, 460 head of pedigree cattle, 600 head of game, vehicles, farm machinery and 85 ha of prime tobacco ready for reaping. He was to die, almost certainly murdered, on Alamein farm 10 years later.

Unsure of his own abilities as a politician – he spoke with a pronounced stutter – Mujuru got his wife, Joice, now 60 , also a guerrilla veteran and a minister, to front the faction. Motherly, hardworking, sycophant, crook.

Crook? The cases against her are well documented. In the 1980’s the state-run District Development Fund published a list of personages who illegally had the organisation drill boreholes on their private properties in Harare, instead of isolated rural communities in drought stricken areas it was meant for. Joice’s name was there.

In 1997, as telecommunications minister, she repeatedly rigged the issue of the rights to set up a mobile phone company to a group that included herself and several other ZANU(PF) cronies, in violation of supreme court orders. She was eventually forced to hand the rights over to the legal winner of the tender, Strive Masiyiwa, who became Africa’s biggest mobile mogul.

In 1998, an inquiry was established to examine fraudulent claims made of the War Victims Compensation Fund, set up to assist genuine wounded and disabled from the war against white minority rule. The fund was looted by ZANU(PF) cheffes claiming fake injuries.

Police commissioner Augustine Chinhuri claimed 20 per cent disability for damage to his feet, telling the inquiry he used Vaseline to treat his injuries. Reward Marufu, the brother of Grace Mugabe, claimed 99 percent, although he gave clear verbal evidence standing on his own two feet. Joice, at 55 per cent, was relatively modest and was paid some $40,000.

In 2009, European commodity trader Firststar Europe told of an extraordinary call it had had from Chipo Mujuru, one of Joice’s daughters, offering to sell US$90 million worth of gold. The deal was clearly illegal and Firstar traced it back to Joice, who threatened the company if it exposed her involvement. She was ignored.

That same year, Obert Mpofu, the minister of industry was appearing before a parliamentary investigations committee and about to respond to questions about the looting of the considerable assets of the state-owned Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, now stripped bare.

Mrs Mujuru’s name was among the alleged principal looters. A clerk entered with a message, he said, from the vice-president, Mrs Mujuru, saying that Mr Mpofu was to come to her office “immediately.” He left and returned shortly after to tell the committee he had nothing to say.

In 2014, the Zimbabwean press exposed widespread cases of corruption by heads of Zimbabwean state corporations, earning around US$40,000 a month, plus car, free house, education for kids. Joice’s response: “It is the work of subversive elements trying to destroy ZANU(PF) and its government from within.”

Ken Yamamoto, a Japanese correspondent who has made Zimbabwe one of his key areas of study, commented: “Lest the pauperised people of Zimbabwe forget, she has for years been one of their tormentors.”

The other faction grew around Emmerson Mnangagwa, for whom several ages are given, was also a guerrilla although his claims of various actions against the Rhodesian government are disputed. A lawyer, though he practised only for two years in Zambia, he became Mugabe’s chief aide in the guerrilla movement and after independence was the minister of national intelligence and also of justice. Suave, sinister, sycophant.

Crook? He has his own business empire - farms, mines, companies. Liked by the white business community. He was listed in a United Nations report among the alleged looters of diamonds in the Congo during its war in the late 90s. “But let’s say the veneer of respectability on his business activities is somewhat thicker than Joice’s,” commented a political observer.

His problem is, as Mugabe has told colleagues, that he is “unelectable.” In parliamentary elections in 2000 and 2005 in his home constituency of Kwekwe in the country he was soundly beaten by the pro-democracy MDC candidate. In 2014 he became the MP of a rural constituency where he had given, in public, directions to party officials on how to intimidate the local peasants into voting for him.

General Mujuru was highly influential in ZANU(PF) and one of the very few unafraid of President Mugabe. Solomon was influential in putting him at the head of the party and its army at its base in Mozambique in 1977. Soon after independence, he got Mugabe to excuse him – and no-one else - from the party’s anti-capitalist “leadership code” which placed strict limits on party leaders’ acquisitiveness, to owning only five acres of land, one house, no companies, and so on.

Joice joined the guerrilla movement in 1974 when she was 18, and adopted the nom de guerre “Teurai Ropa” (“spill the blood!”). She married Solomon and became head of the movement’s woman’s detachment. She claimed controversially that she had shot down two Rhodesian air force helicopters.

Mugabe began to groom the scarcely-schooled young woman for political office, appointed her to his first cabinet at independence in 1980, while she, between official duties, attended cram schools and put herself though primary and secondary school, a BA degree and finally, in 2014, a doctorate at the University of Zimbabwe entitled, “A strategic exploratory entrepreneurship study of sustainable agricultural business.” Unlike a “doctorate” handed to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, at the same time, Joice’s work is actually on the shelves at the university’s library.

The struggle to be first in line when Mugabe passed on also produced an excruciating ballet of the contestants – although the Mujurus much less obviously than Mnangagwa - trying to outdo each other in fawning competitions before the president. But beneath this is a seething, malevolent struggle between their respective supporters to undermine, entrap, ambush, spoil, block, sabotage and outmanoeuvre – commonly known as “PHD” (pull him down).

The rivalry thrives throughout the civil service, down to ministry registries, locked in silent combat. This helps explain why the Zimbabwe government – with rare exceptions like the health ministry – is frozen in inaction.

The second article in this series can be read here