by Constance Manika
- Zimbabwe -
In December, Robert Mugabe’s party, ZANU PF, “endorsed” him to stand as their 2008 presidential candidate. Particularly interesting however, was the intimidation, scheming and backbiting that went on before Mugabe was eventually elected to stand unopposed in this election.
In Zimbabwe 2007 closed on a very sad note. December was a very eventful month: it was President Mugabe’s busiest and most desperate month, as he fought to stamp out the criticism of his leadership arising even from within his own party, in order to cling to power.
It required an “extraordinary special congress” in order for Mugabe to be able to be chosen to stand in the March 2008 election; however some within the party ranks were opposed to Mugabe’s re-election, while others supported his appointment.
The majority of those jostling openly in support of Mugabe’s candidacy are members of the faction led by Emmerson Mnangagwa - a ZANU PF heavyweight said to have been very close to Mugabe during the war. These supporters were clearly looking for favors.
People who belong to this faction are benefiting from the current chaos in the country. By supporting Mugabe’s continued stay in power, they are safeguarding their business interests and their own political careers. These people know that on the day that Mugabe falls, they will not be spared either.
Those opposed to Mugabe’s re-endorsement belong to the faction led by retired army general Solomon Mujuru, who believes that “the old man,” Mugabe, should retire. Solomon Mujuru also happens to be the husband of the country’s first female vice president, Joice Teurairopa Mujuru, a former war veteran herself. This faction realizes that the political and economic situation in the country is worsening rapidly, so the need for “new blood” in the country’s leadership is urgent.
So way before this “special” congress, the mood was very clear: many people in ZANU PF wanted Mugabe to step down. They did not want him to run in the 2008 election, but were afraid of the consequences of saying so openly. As they were trying to overcome their fear and make an effective plan to bring new leadership to the country, Mugabe and his loyalists were way ahead of them.
Sensing the rebellious mood of the Mujuru camp, Mugabe and his strategists decided to move fast. First, by means of Constitutional Amendment Number 18, they ensured that Mugabe could stand for another term in office.
Under the terms of this amendment, after winning the election Mugabe could then resign and appoint his successor. His successor, who would be one of his trusted lieutenants, could then guarantee him safety and impunity from prosecution on charges of corruption or worse after leaving office.After the amendment and Mugabe’s exit plan was finalized, the next hurdle was how to get the ZANU PF party to back him as their presidential candidate. To do that, Mugabe remembered he could use the war veterans who had fought our British colonizers for the country’s liberation to manipulate his party into supporting him. (For a long time now the war veterans association has been the most abused body in the history of ZANU PF politics. One has to wonder why they constantly agree to be used and then get dumped over and over again.)
In 2000, after being given hefty war reparations packages, war veterans were used to invade white-owned farms in the name of land seizures necessary to fight “neo-colonialism” and return the land to the people.
At the end of the day, some war veterans failed to occupy or farm their appropriated land. However rich and powerful ZANU PF politicians did manage to take over productive farms and the expensive farm equipment abandoned there by previous owners. Most of the veterans soon sunk into the poverty of their former lives again, or had farms they could not make productive because they had no money for maintenance or necessary improvements.)
But for some reason, the veterans keep coming back for more…
This time Mugabe wanted to use them as a show of force to his opponents. He ordered the old vets to organize marches all over the country’s ten provinces in support of his candidacy as ZANU PF’s candidate in the 2008 election. Mugabe wanted to make a statement through the marches that he had “grassroots” support -- and so without having to use words, he dared anyone to oppose him. He used controversial war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, who was expelled from the ZANU PF party a few years ago, to head up the march campaign.
After these “solidarity marches” had their desired success, Jabulani walked away with billions of dollars and a posh car as a reward for his “good work.”
On the other hand, the war veterans who took part in the march were given a one-time payment of $15 million Zimbabwean dollars each, the equivalent of $10 USD, and were treated to a hearty meal. All this was paid for by the tax payer’s money.
But unfortunately these marches did not quite do the trick. There were still divisions within the party about backing Mugabe’s candidacy. The war veterans were needed yet again.
Mugabe summoned Sibanda again. This time it was agreed that instead of small marches in the provinces, there now had to be one national march showing that the “masses” were in support of his re-lection.
Sibanda, the ever eager to please war veterans leader, quickly began preparations for the “One Million Men” and—an addition almost forgotten—“Women Solidarity March”.
(When the march was first hyped in the state-controlled media, it was called the “Million Men March.” Then later on the male chauvinists realized that they had forgotten there were women war veterans, who had fought with them on an equal footing during the war!)
Anyway, with the sudden realization of this omission, the march was renamed. Should we have applauded?
Nonetheless, Sibanda set to work to make this march a success by stamping out any disruptive criticism of Mugabe within the ranks of ZANU PF. The “historic march” was scheduled for November 30th in the capital city of Harare. The cost of this political act to taxpayers and to the nation proved to be enormous. Seriously disrupting critical industrial and commercial activities, Mugabe and his war veterans diverted and abused state resources for this march.
Two days before, on November 28th, to make way for passenger trains to ferry party supporters to Harare, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) was forced to suspend the transportation of coal and grain deliveries from Hwange Thermal Power Station to various parts of the country. Mugabe’s central intelligence operatives directed that locomotives for trains carrying goods were also to be diverted, to haul passenger train coaches.
For almost three days, from November 28th to December 2nd, the national carrier lost billions of dollars as this state entity only carried party supporters to Harare and then back home.
A few days before the march, NRZ spokesman Fanual Masikati was quoted in the state media saying his organization would support the “historic event.” But he offered no apology to the railroad’s paying customers for the interruption of services.
"As the national rail transporter, we are geared for the event and we have pooled together our resources to fully support this historic event," he said.
But not everyone came by train; over 150 buses from the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company suspended their commercial routes to ferry party supporters, plunging the public transport system into a crisis.
Major roads were closed down to ensure that motorists did not disturb the marchers.
Companies aligned to the government-controlled Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions were ordered to release workers to join the march; some private businesses closed shop for “security reasons” until after the march.
Based on past experiences, their fears were not unfounded: the war veterans are known to be both violent and highly unpredictable. During the 2002 election, war veterans were instrumental in ZANU PF’s victory, as they intimidated rural communities to vote for Mugabe.
There were still other costs: food and accommodation for the marchers also had to be considered, and all this came at a big cost for taxpayers.The march created a huge mess and was a gross and blatant abuse of public funds by Mugabe. But for this despotic leader and his cronies, that was the least of his worries. His scheme worked like a charm.
For Mugabe, the million people march succeeded in showing the “overwhelming support” the president has from the grassroots people in the rural areas and also within the ZANU PF party. Never mind how stage-managed it was. The march was scary stuff for those against Mugabe’s candidacy. Many of those in opposition suffered sleepless nights.
The fear was that if their “rebellion” and really nominated a different candidate for ZANU PF in the 2008 election, this person would stand in elections at the party congress with Mugabe.
After seeing the multitudes supporting Mugabe through the march, the opposition was forced to rethink. What would their position in the party be if the candidate they pitted against Mugabe lost? It was a Catch 22 situation. The plan worked because in effect, the march became the unofficial launch for Mugabe as Zanu PF's 2008 candidate.
So on December 13th at a congress for the ruling Zanu PF party, Mugabe was endorsed as the 2008 presidential candidate. Thousands of Zanu PF delegates descended on Harare to rubber stamp a decision already secured outside party structures. Mugabe as usual had bullied his challengers through the marches.
They say we are having elections in March. We Zimbabweans all know that this is an election whose outcome is already determined by ZANU PF, which has already begun oiling its election-rigging machinery. Among the signs of tampering: the merging of some urban and rural constituencies to stamp out the opposition’s dominance in the urban centers, and a voter’s roll that is in shambles.
This endorsement of Mugabe is the depressing excess baggage that Zimbabweans carry into the New Year. Unless the Lord almighty works a miracle for us, we are stuck with this despotic leader.
If the opposition is to win the election and bring change to Zimbabwe, they must first realize that they are dealing with a very shrewd manipulator and step up their act.
But since there is now infighting among the opposition, it is unlikely that they will be a strong challenge to Mugabe and his ZANU PF party. Many have lost hope in the opposition in Zimbabwe; over the past year they have spent more time fighting between themselves than working for real change for the country.
I will keep you updated on the run-up to the election, but as it stands right now, Mugabe is ZANU PF’s presidential candidate and everyone knows what that means: it’s going to be a dirty election. Almost everyone here is now living in fear and uncertainty, trying to anticipate what blatant or perhaps even violent moves the President will make to ensure his continued power.
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.