Politics in retrospect : Why Joice Mujuru failed to succeed Mugabe

guest column:Wilton Nyasha Machimbira

FELLOW compatriots, where is madam Joice Mujuru? Is it game over for madam Mujuru? I posit that if she is to do her homework she can still maintain her political relevance. At a fireside conversation I hinted that an active and not dormant Mujuru foundation is a better platform to reposition herself.

After serving the late former President Robert Mugabe as his deputy for more than a decade, Mujuru was on the verge of succeeding Mugabe. There are a number of factors, daggers and spanners which stood in her way which need thorough juxtaposition. Before delving deeper into the crux of the matter, it’s important to critically examine circumstances surrounding her ascendancy to the vice-presidency. There seem to be a nexus between circumstances surrounding her ascendancy and her subsequent failure to succeed Mugabe.

It’s necessary to actually examine how and why she was appointed to be President Mugabe’s vice. Mujuru was not elected to be the Vice-President, she was actually handpicked by Mugabe amid consternation from members of the Mnangagwa faction. Her ascendancy was not as a result of public demand otherwise her ascendancy would have gone through an electoral process. After having served in Mugabe’s Cabinet since independence, one is tempted to believe that possibly the appointment was within the purview of merit. However, merit alone without loyalty is not enough in the field of politics. Loyalty is the currency that possibly catapulted her to the post of Vice-President. But political loyalty has to be interrogated, loyalty to who and what? Loyalty to the cause or loyalty to the leader? Loyalty should not breed sycophancy and cultism. However, unlike unquestionable, unshaken and unflinching loyalty of a dog, human loyalty is subject to change for that reflects the fluidity of politics.

As calculative and a cunning fox, Mugabe was, one is tempted to dig deeper and grope for other reasons that might have precipitated Mujuru’s ascendancy. Besides merit, loyalty and experience, a pensive scrutiny of Mugabe’s chess moves reveal that there might be other underlying reasons that actually prompted the veteran nationalist to “impose” Mujuru as the country’s number two. One cannot rule out that possibly Mugabe was orchestrating a political balancing act, considering that there were vicious rival camps on the ground positioning themselves for the Post-Mugabe era. These camps were at each other’s throat and ready to employ any means to succeed Mugabe.

And Mugabe the “political benefactor” and patronage dispenser had previously played the rival factions against each other on several occasions. A typical “good” student of Niccol Machiavelli.

On whether Mugabe was either a good or bad student of Machiavelli, it’s a subject of another day although he appeared to have read and mastered Machiavelli’s The Prince and forgot to read or possibly failed to comprehend the discourse penned again by Machiavelli where humanity and benevolence are reiterated as attributes of a leader.

Scholars of politics are tempted to believe that the appointment of Mujuru was more of an appeasement act by Mugabe who wanted to placate and disarm the feared and venerated husband of Mujuru, retired Solomon Mujuru whose nom de guerre was Rex Nhongo. For Nhongo had commandered the Zimbabwe National Army for more than a decade, he is said to have had massive support and respect from members of the military. There should have been apprehension on the part of Mugabe who was desperate to appease Nhongo. It’s common for shrewd politicians to utilise both the carrot and stick to advance their political agendas. Shrewd politicians are Rick Flair characters who believe in the end justifying the means, who believe that there is no place for conscience when it comes to the art of politics. It remains a mystery on whether Mugabe wanted to pounce on Nhongo at a later stage. Conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Nhongo in an inferno suggest that indeed he was caught off-guard, having been deceitfully placated by Mugabe and his allies.

The ascendancy of Mujuru was characterised by hullabaloo which manifested itself in the form of the Tsholotsho declaration. The Tsholotsho declaration ought not to be overlooked for it gave some signals on who exactly would emerge victorious in succeeding Mugabe. The Tsholotsho declaration signalled the resistance which Mujuru was to face in her quest for the top job. One can hardly dispute that the Tsholotsho declaration was more of testing of political waters by current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-time presidential aspirant. With the benefit of hindsight, the Tsholotsho declaration, was a dress rehearsal for the November 2017 “coup”.

In examining the November 2017 coup that saw the ignominious fall from grace of Mugabe, one ought to note that Mnangagwa always had a penchant of both hard power and soft power. He always wanted his real politick manoeuvres to have a “veneer” of legitimacy and a façade of a blessing of the people. The November coup was mission accomplishment on the part of Mnangagwa and his allies, for their ’ill-fated” Tsholotsho declaration had been fulfilled to its logical conclusion.

At the Tsholotsho declaration, seven out of ten Zanu PF provincial chairpersons and provincial governors backed Mnangagwa for the post of Vice-President.

They agreed on four principles that were supposed to provide procedural framework in electing the top- four of the ruling Zanu PF, which included ethnic and regional balance.

Backing the Tsholotsho declaration’s four principles was tantamount to endorsing the surreptitious bid of Mnangagwa to assume the post of Vice-President at the impending Zanu PF congress of 2004. These seven provinces that ratified the four principles included Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Mashonaland West. Three provinces which distanced themselves were allegedly linked to Nhongo whose plans to scuttle Mnangagwa presidential ambitions were said to be in the public domain.

At Tsholotsho, the stage was set for a bruising political battle that lay ahead between Mnangagwa and Mujuru.

The Tsholotsho declaration did not stop Mugabe from appointing Mujuru as country’s number two. Her appointment had also ethnic ramifications as it was a perpetuation of Zezuru hegemony in government and the ruling Zanu PF. One cannot dispute the fact that Mugabe as a student of Machiavelli did not want a powerful and ambitious figure to deputise him as he feared being overshadowed and overthrown in the long run. So, he had to appoint a lame duck, a window-dresser and in doing this he had to shoot two birds with one stone, that is through deceitfully appeasing Nhongo and placating the Zezuru bureaucrats. A constitutional amendment had to be made stating that one member of the presidium be a woman ostensibly to parachute Mujuru to the post of Vice-Presidency. At face value, one could confidently conclude that at Tsholotsho, Mnangagwa’s fate was sealed.

The post-modernists noted that in politics one should learn to embrace uncertainty as politics will never be certain. The dictum that in politics there are no permanent friends but permanent interests gained credence with the events that unfolded culminating in the ouster of Mujuru as Zimbabwe’s number two. Having attempted to explain how and why Mujuru landed the Vice-President post, a look on possible factors that brought back the proverbial glass ceiling is necessary. Below will be an analysis of factors that resulted in Mujuru failing to succeed Mugabe.

An elephant in the room that Mujuru had to grapple with was patriarchy. Zimbabwe is a country with a deep-rooted patriarchal tendency. Those pushing for Mujuru presidency behind the scenes had to grapple with patriarchy that indeed proved to be a thorn in the flesh. Up to this day, it’s still a mirage for a woman to win the post of presidency in Africa.

For a woman to exercise executive authority and inspect the guard of honour is a very rare spectacle in Africa. The mere sex of Mujuru made it difficult for her to manoeuvre her way through to the post of Vice-President. Hats off to Madam Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia for breaking the virgin lands and winning the Presidency against George Weah. However, as for Madam Sirleaf the tables were turned in a wink of an eye , her time in office was ephemeral and short-lived as Weah bounced back in the presidential race and defeated her. It never rains but pours for ambitious female politicians in Africa!

In examining why Mujuru failed to succeed Mugabe, a look at the circumstances surrounding the death of her husband, Nhongo on August 15 2011 ought not to be downplayed. His house mysteriously caught fire in one of his commercial farms. The veteran military boss died in an inferno at his farm in Beatrice. Conspiracy theory posit that the General was a victim of a 3D operation, delay, deceive and destroy. His death was a tragedy on the political fortunes of Mujuru, it was a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Mujuru was left politically vulnerable, politically orphaned and events that followed actually proved that she was now a punching bag in Zanu PF, her political clout was severely diminished.

A number of theories have been forwarded trying to explain circumstances surrounding the macabre death of the feared general. Other scholars postulate that the general was an impediment to the political fortunes of Mnangagwa such that a plan was mooted by his nemesis to eliminate him. Besides the military prowess, the general was said to be a political strategist, political kingmaker who clandestinely provided Zanu PF the direction to take on critical moments. So, in this case the general’s strategies were a stumbling block to the political machinations of Mnangagwa. This conspiracy assassination theory has credence considering the brutal treatment Mujuru was subjected to after the death of her husband. She was left politically paralysed without a key ally who happened to be her husband.

Why did Nhongo push for the political ascendancy of his wife and opted to operate behind the scenes one is left to wonder. Possibly Nhongo had some form of inferiority complex when it comes to statecraft and administration of the country that he had fought for so tirelessly in the armed struggle. He might have considered himself more of a military man who was actually ill-equipped to be on the fore-front of Zimbabwean politics. Another school of thought posit that naturally the brave general had speech impediments which frustrated him to be on the fore-front of Zimbabwean politics, hence he had to back his wife for the top post to protect his political and economic interests.

Nhongo is alleged to have been the brains behind the formation of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, fronted by former Finance minister Simba Makoni. Nhongo is rumoured to have been the political godfather of Makoni and in Zanu PF circles the general had ceased to be politically correct, he had become a liability, hence the assassination. When Makoni publicly announced his presidential bid in 2008, he is rumoured to have been working behind the scenes with Nhongo. Wikileaks cable released by the United States also buttressed this assumption but Nhongo didn’t come out in the open to support the presidential bid of Makoni. With Makoni in the race, both Zanu PF and MDC failed to win outright victory 50% plus 1. For the first time, Zanu PF failed to win local, parliamentary and presidential elections. No doubt Mugabe’s ego was severely bruised, his towering social and political standing was severely jeopardised. A post-mortem within Zanu PF after the elections might have finger-pointed Makoni as a stumbling block in their quest for absolute political victory.

It remains a complex political jig-saw puzzle to unearth the reasons why Nhongo would be the brains behind a Makoni-led opposition party when his wife that he had assiduously fought for her ascendancy was a Deputy President in Zanu PF and government. It remains hard to reconcile the complex political scenario. However, during the Thabo Mbeki-brokered Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe, cordial relations or good working relations existed between the Mujurus and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, this possibly could have brewed suspicions of conspiracy between the two. Nhongo had to be a marked man since he was now considered to be a security threat, hence the elimination.

In assessing the death of Nhongo, one cannot absolutely rule out assassination as he was a political figure with his own mission and ambitions. He was a victim of a political vendetta. His death can be best described as a revenge mission by his wounded political opponents who were still determined to fulfil the Tsholotsho declaration resolution that Mugabe had disregarded flagrantly. Researchers and students of politics need not to rule out the nexus between the 2004 Tsholotsho declaration and the death of Nhongo, nexus between the 2017 November 27 coup and the Tsholotsho declaration and even the nexus between the unceremonious ouster of Mujuru and the Tsholotsho declaration. The Tsholotsho declaration left indelible footprints in the political epochs of the post-colonial Zimbabwe.

It has to be noted that cracks in Zanu PF emerged from time to time, but the party leadership managed to paper over the cracks and postpone the inevitable. Conflict management is key in an organisation, however conflict management and conflict resolution should not be likened to conflict concealment and conflict delay.

During the 2008 election of Speaker of Parliament, Movement for Democratic Change candidate Lovemore Moyo won with 110 against Themba Nyathi’s 98 of the Arthur Mutambara rival faction of the MDC. Zanu PF played the divide and rule tactic and backed the Mutambara-led MDC’s candidate Nyathi. From the figures garnered by Moyo, one could tell that some members of Zanu PF and the rival MDC faction might have voted for the main MDC’s candidate. After the nullification of the results of the Speaker of Parliament in 2011, Moyo again won with 105 against 93 garnered by Zanu PF candidate Simon Khaya Moyo. Again at least three members of Zanu PF voted for the MDC candidate. Who are those Zanu PF MPs that voted for MDC candidate? Such a question lingered in the forlorn hearts and minds of Zanu PF leadership and this ignited mistrust which possibly resulted in the ouster of Mujuru and members of her faction in the long run.What cannot be ruled out is that tension was already there, there were oil-soaked rags and what was only needed was a matchstick to light the bonfire.

In the Zimbabwean body politic, ideally political power is derived from the people, it is the electorate with the sole prerogative of voting for anyone for any political position. However practically power is so elusive in the Zimbabwean body politic. It resides somewhere far away from the people as per the utopian assumption. One is tempted to believe that it is the security sector that calls the shots and determines who gets what, when and how. It is the security sector that gives the greenlight for anyone to occupy the top post. Mujuru failed to succeed Mugabe possibly because powerful members of the security sector were not on her side. They might have sympathised with her late husband, Nhongo but for them to support her presidential bid was expecting too much. That was the greatest Achilles heel of Mujuru’s presidential bid. On the contrary, Mujuru’s arch-rival Mnangagwa had the support of powerful members of the military as was evidenced by the appointment of Retired Army Commander-General Constantino Chiwenga as the country’s Vice-President by Mnangagwa. The inclusion of former military personnel like Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo and Agriculture minister Retired Air Marshal Perrance Shiri is ample evidence to support the notion that Mnangagwa worked hand in glove with the military to dethrone Mugabe. The inclusion of the military can be interpreted as more of ’sharing of the spoils’ or merely pacifist manoeuvres (appeasement act). It can also be described as patronage system at play.

Politics has so many definitions, it can be defined as the art of the possible, the struggle for power or even the game of numbers. Numbers are important in influencing important decisions. Power, authority and influence have a bearing on numbers. Thus, possibly Mujuru lacked the much-needed critical mass to occupy the top post within Zanu PF. The concept of critical mass has gained traction and it has been applied in a wide variety of contexts and settings, though all applications share a common trait that relative numbers matter in terms of the dynamics of demographically heterogeneous groups. If Mujuru had the much-needed critical mass she would have smoothly sailed through via a congress to assume the post of Vice-President. If Mujuru had the much-needed critical mass and the courage, she would have even managed to challenge Mugabe at Zanu PF congresses. Ideally numbers are the currency in politics.

On the eve of her ouster from Zanu PF party and government, Mujuru was subjected to a vitriolic smear campaign. She was a victim of character assassination. She was portrayed as a villain at rallies and in the State media. She was accused of bewitching the President and plotting to topple him. She was subjected to gruesome political banter by her enemies. Lack of cordial relations between her and the former First Lady, Grace Mugabe actually added fuel to the fire. The then First lady Grace became a protagonist on the onslaught of the person of Mujuru. The rival faction led by Mnangagwa left no stone unturned in the political extinction of Mujuru. They abused the power of proximity with the First Family to denigrate and tarnish the image of Mujuru and her faction. She was a victim of incessant ad-hominem attacks. Her detractors remote-controlled the then First-lady who became a willing accomplice in the ouster of Mujuru from Zanu PF and government. One cannot dispute that the then First-Lady suffered from political myopia (short-sightedness) as the Mnangagwa faction upped their ante and turned their swords against the First Family on November 27, 2017. Grace was willingly but blindly used as a pawn in the succession matrix.

According to the paper titled State Intelligence and the Politics of Zimbabwe’s Presidential Succession published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society, Mugabe was actually persuaded by the military intelligence to do away with the Mujuru faction as it posed a threat to his stranglehold on power. It is for this reason that Mugabe unleashed his wife who had no qualms with excoriating Mujuru in broad daylight. However, the paper noted that indeed Mujuru had managed to capture powerful institutions and figures to position herself for the post of President and this explains why key figures like Didymus Mutasa, Nicholas Goche, Rugare Gumbo, Dzikamai Mavhaire, Amos Midzi who held powerful positions in Zanu PF and in government went down the drain with Mujuru. A red herring had to be manufactured, for Mugabe wanted to extinguish the political ambitions of Mujuru and her faction once and for all.

With the dramatic and wanton ouster of Mujuru from the post of Vice-President in both Zanu PF and government, one can grudgingly come to terms with the stubborn reality that there is no rescue mission in politics. Machiavellian modus operandi was employed against Mujuru and her faction and only time will tell if the faction will regroup, resurrect like the proverbial phoenix on the undulating political terrain of Zimbabwe.

Fellow compatriot, we use the past to illuminate the present, this is a past that is worth regurgitating !

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