Soon after the death of VP Simon Muzenda in 2003 then governor of Masvingo Josiah Hungwe immediately saw the decline of a Zanu PF faction he at the time led from the front.
Muzenda was the godfather of the faction and Hungwe, who had basked in this glory, had every reason to worry.
To him the death was major political tragedy. He said in expressing his grief for Muzenda: “The roof has caved in and we have been left in the open. We are now at the mercy of the sun, the wind and rain. We no longer have any protection.”
And indeed many in Hungwe’s faction, including the once all-powerful governor himself, were left in the open.
Hungwe’s cry underlines the nature of Zanu PF politics where many politicians have found refuge as minions of powerful characters in the party.
There are many who expect to hear the same cries of distress from certain quarters following the death of retired General Solomon Mujuru in a house inferno on Tuesday morning.
The late General was linked to divisive intrigue. To his credit though, he acted as a good counterbalance to the excesses of the other side. The faction members stayed away from hateful messages, gratuitous violence and sordid jingoism advocating a return to war.
This very important role was however at times eclipsed by the Mujuru’s perceived role as a faction principal. More often than not, we have as a nation been fascinated by the factional fights in political parties (the MDC is learning the art fast) without looking at the detrimental effects of the practice to national politics.
Analysts have started to analyse the effects of General Mujuru’s departure from the political scene in Zimbabwe. Their analysis is about how the so-called Mujuru faction would subsist without the general.
The analysis shows that factions in Zimbabwean political parties have emerged not so much in response to socio-economic interests of groups but in response to specific needs of the individuals who wished to enter higher echelons of political parties.
This form of factionalism is detrimental to the general health of our nation.
It is about encouraging political clientelism which lays greater emphasis on self-interest rather than public interest and can turn unethical or deceitful.
Victims of the factional fight are often unsophisticated voters who are forced to line up behind strong men and women in alignments which do not benefit the electorate in the long run. The strong leaders of factions have either been involved in vote buying or simply imposed their will on a petrified electorate.
A few months ago, Zanu PF supporters in Maramba-Pfungwe constituency were brought to court on charges of brutally assaulting fellow party members who were deemed to be supporting a former MP for the area. These are villagers who have always voted overwhelmingly for Zanu PF. They share water from the same few boreholes and subscribe to the same ideology. But they were still lulled into breaking their peers’ limbs.
Victims of this senseless fight were ordinary villagers struggling to eke out a living in this dry and barren part of the country.
The fights had very little to do with improving the lot of the people, a lot of whom have been reduced to gold panning for subsistence. The fight was about propping the candidature of an individual.
This is the tragedy of factional politics in this country. It forces a political party to choose clientelism politics over programmes thereby undermining the interest of communities and the electorate at large.
When this happens it can undermine the democratic process itself and can work against social welfare.
As the nation mourns Mujuru this week, I wonder if his allies will, going forward, repeat Hungwe’s song of distress or resolve to work for the common good; that is doing away with clientelism. We need to strengthen communities.