by Constance Manika
- Zimbabwe -
In my last article I wrote that the situation here is so dire that many Zimbabweans, including myself, can now only pray for divine intervention to rid us of this dictator, Robert Mugabe.
Based on events that are currently unfolding, I think God may be answering our prayers in a way that we couldn’t have ever imagined!
I reported previously that by using former war veterans to help him garner support, Mugabe was "endorsed" as the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front’s (ZANU PF) candidate for the harmonized March elections.
Mugabe joined the presidential and parliamentary elections through a constitutional amendment. In previous years these two elections were held two years apart. When I vote in March I will drop two ballot papers: one for president and one for a legislator or member of parliament.
The “harmonization” is part of Mugabe’s exit plan; after these elections are held simultaneously, he can elect his trusted party members into ministerial posts and then retire. By doing so, Mugabe will have ensured that he will not be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
Our votes have been stolen over the years because Mugabe has manipulated all the state entities that are supposed to ensure free and fair elections. Mugabe is the only presidential candidate of his party. He was elected unopposed at their congress in December because people within the party were afraid to pit anybody else against him.
Though there were divisions within the party over his decision to not retire, the opposition chickened out at the last minute. After seeing the masses of war veterans and ZANU PF supporters who turned out at the staged Million Men and Women March in support Mugabe's candidacy, they were not sure they wanted to revolt. In a way, he stole the vote because he intimidated people into supporting him; the veterans who marched supposedly in support of Mugabe were bought, since he paid them money, transported them and gave them a huge feast afterwards.
We all thought it was over and that we would be stuck with this despotic leader until, well, without sounding callous - his death. But news that the ZANU PF old guard is planning to break away from Mugabe has given many of us here hope.
This story was first broken by an editor of the business weekly known as the Financial Gazette, which is believed to have links to Mugabe's Central Intelligence Department.
When I first read the article, I dismissed it as a piece of propaganda, thinking that ZANU PF was just trying to make the opposition relax. However as more and more papers and international agencies continue to pick up the story, I cannot help but think that just maybe this is the only hope Zimbabweans have of removing Mugabe.
According to these speculative reports, some ZANU PF stalwarts are plotting a break away to field a candidate from within the party to challenge Mugabe.
They are still debating on the name they will use but the latest suggestion has been that they will call themselves PF ZANU. It is also suggested that the united front will include some senior ZANU PF officials and former cabinet ministers who are unhappy with Mugabe’s policies.
As you must already know, since the late 1990s, under Mugabe’s leadership our once vibrant and promising economy has been on a meltdown. We are struggling with shortages of foreign currency, basic commodities, fuel and water. Industry has been affected by constant power blackouts. The state of the health, education and farming sectors is in shambles. It is a tragic story about Zimbabwe and how Mugabe has ruined every aspect of our lives.
And I tell you the situation is worsening with each passing day. I have actually lost parts of this article three times since I started working on it four days ago because of the unscheduled power cuts.
Local reports say the break away party will be headed by former finance minister, Simba Makoni, who is said to be "accepted" by the international community. I don't really know because many of us here are desperate and perhaps gullible in our effort to remove Mugabe, but they say Makoni has a "clean record" and is of "sober habits".
All these attributes to Makoni's character are good qualities in a leader and supporters of this split say they have confidence that Makoni will return Zimbabwe to prosperity.
Other than Makoni's backing from the international community, he is also supported by retired army general, Solomon Mujuru, husband to the country's second vice president, Joice, or Teurairopa (meaning “sheds blood”) as she was known during the war. (During the struggle for independence, people gave each other war names to inspire them to fight colonialism; it is said that Joice was a very brave fighter who undertook really dangerous assignments to defeat the British.) She is also a senior member of the ZANU PF party.
Solomon Mujuru was the first commander of the Zimbabwean army after the country attained independence from British rule in 1980 and still commands a lot of respect within the army. He is also being assisted by academic Ibbo Mandaza, war veteran Alfred Mhanda and retired army major Kudzai Mbudzi in mobilizing support for the split. All three are angry with Mugabe and ZANU PF for one reason or the other. One could say they are the best people to lead this revolt.
Mbudzi was suspended from the Zanu PF Masvingo provincial executive committee last month for deriding war veteran leader Jabulani Sibanda. Mbudzi was irked by Sibanda's involvement in the solidarity marches to support Mugabe as the 2008 presidential candidate and openly attacked him, saying he was an "over-zealous, butt licking criminal". This drew Mugabe’s wrath and triggered the subsequent party suspension.
Mhanda is a veteran who fought very closely alongside Mugabe during the war and is angry over the treatment that ex-combatants received from Mugabe after the war. Mhanda has spoken often and openly about his anger. He feels that Mugabe forgot about those who fought in the struggle and left them to languish in poverty without any assistance from the state to reintegrate into society.
Many veterans who left for war abandoned their education to fight, driven by the desire to free their country. After returning from battle a few managed to be absorbed into the army and the police force. A few made it into politics, but many found they had no educational qualifications to find other jobs and without state assistance, they found life very difficult. Bitter and betrayed, they returned to their rural areas, resigned to lives of poverty and destitution.
It was in 1997 (17 years after returning from war) that those who were still alive finally got war reparations for injuries and emotional trauma. This is Mhanda's bone of contention.
Then Mandaza lost two of his papers, The Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mirror to Mugabe's Central Intelligence Operatives (CIOs). Using a frontman, the CIO had secretly acquired some financial stakes in the newspapers.
Mandaza fell out with the government after his papers published some damning articles about Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina. Mandaza allegedly assisted a special UN envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, who had been sent to the country to assess the situation and to write the report that ultimately implicated the government.
One editorial published in the Sunday Mirror read,
"The opposition MDC has argued that the government's main reason for Murambatsvina is to punish the urban poor for voting for the opposition during the March parliamentary elections. The cities are traditionally MDC strongholds...There has been speculation that the government is aiming to create a situation where the MDC has no choice but to merge with the ruling party.
"Commentators also argue that by forcing urban voters out into the rural areas by destroying their homes, the cities will be de-populated of MDC supporters thus enabling the government to re-populate the urban areas with Zanu-PF supporters. Further, MDC supporters will be forced to return to live in areas traditionally viewed as Zanu-PF strongholds."
The board then came after Mandaza with trumped up charges of financial mismanagement and axed him. The CIO then took over the papers and ran them to collapse, leaving journalists jobless.
These are backgrounds of the men who are out to defeat Mugabe.
Although Mugabe's spokesperson has already come out and dismissed the reports of a split as "a British sponsored coalition of the bitter," I can tell you many people here are embracing this idea. It is the talk of the town in bars, hair salons, commuter trains, public taxis, buses, workplaces -- just about everywhere.
For years Makoni has been touted as a possible successor to Mugabe, but many of his critics believe that he is a "political lightweight," not capable of removing his combative opponent.
I hasten to tell you, this is not the first time that ZANU PF politicians have tried to revolt against Mugabe. In 2004 some party heavyweights led by the then information minister, Jonathan Moyo, tried to oppose Mugabe's decision to appoint Joice Mujuru to the post of vice president.
As soon as Mugabe got wind of what has became known as the "Tsholotsho debacle" (named for the location where the plot was created), he fired Moyo. Six provincial chairmen (including Jabulani Sibanda) who had taken part also lost their jobs and were seriously victimized afterwards.
Unlike Sibanda, who managed to force himself back into the party, the other five have not been re-admitted. They have lost all the privileges they once enjoyed including access to state tenders and loans with ridiculously low interest rates from various state entities. Their party vehicles were taken away. Their access to free fuel and grain were also taken away. Imagine waking up one day and realizing that you have no car and have to walk like everybody else. You wake up and you have no bodyguard to salute you nor aides to wipe your shoes clean.
The night that Moyo was fired, the CIO came and repossessed his ministerial Mercedes Benz and ordered him out of the state house. Moyo later managed to seek reprieve regarding his accommodations in court.
This is what Mugabe is capable of.
Mugabe has a long history of being ruthless and I urge all those who are plotting and planning to be very careful. He has never allowed anything or anyone to stand in the way of his political ambitions.
We must not forget the assassinations of Josiah Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, two Zanla commanders who died during the war, leaving Mugabe to take over the party presidency. And numerous other mysterious deaths have also occurred post-independence, of politicians within his own party who appeared as possible threats to Mugabe.
Remember the robust leaders, Border Gezi and Moven Mahachi (once a security minister), who died in car accidents while their aides mysteriously survived? Remember retired Air Marshall Josiah Tungamirai, who was poisoned? Tungamirai, as his wife later revealed, sent his aide to buy him a packet of chips and after eating them his health was never the same. He died a few months later from kidney failure and told his wife before dying that he suspected he had been poisoned.
Those determined to break away must remember all this and be very wary of Mugabe's ruthless nature.
Will this be the long-awaited way out for us? Perhaps… I will keep you posted.
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.