PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s oldest allies favour letting the 91-year-old remain in office indefinitely rather than trying to oust him, even as Zimbabwe’s economy collapses, members of the decision-making body of the ruling party said.
by Antony Sguazzin
While frustrated by his resistance to changes needed to rescue the economy, they are concerned that if pushed out of office he would place allies, including his wife and younger politicians, at the head of government, sidelining them, three members of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front’s politburo said. They asked not to be identified because the discussions are not public.
Doubts about Mr Mugabe’s competence surfaced last month when he read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament without realising he had delivered the same address a few weeks earlier. While Zimbabwe’s economy is stagnating, with slumping consumer demand pushing the country into deflation and 83% of government expenditure going on civil servant wages, Mr Mugabe this year reversed decisions by his ministers to cancel state worker bonuses and trim the capital’s workforce by 5,000 people.
“Given the level of factionalism in Zanu-PF, there is no force strong enough to oust him,” New York-based Eurasia Group Africa director Mark Rosenberg said by phone from Johannesburg. “If he doesn’t die in office and he steps down beforehand, he will try control the process as much as possible and will probably succeed.”
The southern African nation faces its worst economic crisis since its virtual collapse in 2008, when inflation soared to 500-billion%, prompting the government to abandon its currency in favour of the use of foreign exchange including the US dollar in early 2009. City residents are now subjected to power cuts between 4am and 10pm on an almost daily basis and revenue of companies ranging from fast food outlet operators to beer makers and sausage producers has slumped, sparking further price cuts.
“We’re being taken to a very, very low point,” Harare-based economist John Robertson said in an interview. “No one seems able to announce policies that may provide at least partial relief for fear of being contradicted by the president.”
While Mr Mugabe promoted one liberation-war era colleague Emmerson Mnangagwa, 69, to the post of vice president at a December conference, he sidelined another, ousting former vice president Joice Mujuru, 60, from the party along with some of his oldest allies such as Didymus Mutasa, 80, a former speaker of parliament and cabinet minister.
Ms Mujuru fought in the war against white-minority Rhodesia and served in Mr Mugabe’s first cabinet in 1980 at the age of 24. She was married to Solomon Mujuru, the one-time Zimbabwean military commander who died in a fire in 2011.
At the same congress Mr Mugabe’s wife Grace, 41, was given the post of head of the party’s women’s league, entitling her to a politburo seat, while members of a group known as Generation-40, cemented their positions. Among the most notable G-40 members are Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Patrick Zhuwao. The group derives its name from the fact that most of its members are in their 40s and played no role in the war.
Zanu-PF and Mr Mugabe have dealt with, and manipulated, power struggles since he unilaterally took control of the party in 1975 after the assassination of Herbert Chitepo in Zambia. The latest, though, worries the old guard because Mr Mugabe is increasingly frail, often needing help to walk. Should he realise his frailty, they say, he may decide to empower his wife’s G-40 allies.
G-40 members including Mr Kasukuwere have urged party supporters at rallies to chant, in the Shona language, “Munhu wese kuna amai”, which translates as “everyone back mother”, a reference to Grace.
A failure to suppress the G-40 could hinder an economic recovery and prompt the defection of voters to a new party planned by Ms Mujuru or the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the people said. The lifestyles of the group, which include mansions and sports cars, make them unpopular in a nation where about 72.3% of the people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
For her part, Grace must win over the military, a task complicated by the fact that she has no struggle credentials. Both Mr Mnangagwa and Joice Mujuru have the credentials and support in the army and air force. Should Mr Mugabe die in office, generals are likely to stick with what they know, the politburo officials said.
Should Mr Mugabe promote his wife to a more powerful position than head of the party’s Women’s League, Mr Mnangagwa and Joice Mujuru would face a greater threat. The military will not readily contradict Mr Mugabe while he is alive, the officials said. Such a move might give Grace and the G-40 a chance to oust Mr Mnangagwa in a similar manner to the exit of Joice Mujuru from the party, they said. She was accused of plotting to assassinate Mr Mugabe, an allegation she denies.