“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world…”
Alfred Lord Tennyson
I could not help but think of these lines from Tennyson’s poem, Morte d’Arthur, as I watched events unfolding in Zimbabwe. It was a day not very many Zimbabweans will ever forget and a day very few of the old folks imagined would happen in their lifetime. Robert Mugabe resigned.
Many people in the country and the diaspora were elated. There was dancing and jubilation in the streets of Harare and Johannesburg. It was an end of an era and a dawn of a new one and people just could not restrain themselves in excitement and revelry. Those Zimbabweans who are in South Africa were saying that they were going back home.
President Mugabe, who started serving as Prime Minister in 1980 when the President was the late Canaan Banana, has been at the helm for the past 37 years. He later changed the Constitution and did away with the office of the Prime Minister and replaced it with an executive president. Ironically, it is the same ZANU-PF which on Sunday dismissed him as president of the party that nominated him as their candidate for next year’s election. If he were to stand he would set a new record as the oldest head of state at 94 years of age. However, as fate would have it, the old codger grossly miscalculated in firing his deputy president, the wily Emmerson Mnangagwa. There could be some truth in the allegations that the firing of Emmerson Mnangagwa was the brainchild of Grace Mugabe who is not averse to the post herself which was for short while vacated by the former. It would seem that Grace Mugabe has her husband’s number and ZANU-PF honchos believe that she might be leading the old man by the nose. Hence the decision the party took on Sunday to sack both the old man and his wife and the minions around the President.
What the current crisis in Zimbabwe and around Mugabe also reveals are two factors which constitute the main thrust of this article. I shall start with the first one.
Robert Greene, in his book, The 48 Laws of Power, says that know who you’re dealing with and do not offend the wrong person. President Mugabe seems to have been oblivious of this fact in dealing with Mnangagwa. The latter is akin to the biblical Joab who was King David’s right hand man and did all the dirty work that the King wanted done. Mnangagwa has done most of the dirty work that Mugabe wanted done (he is said to have been prominent in the 1985 Matebeleland massacre and the suppression of many activists fighting for human rights) and also has endeared himself to the army. How President Mugabe could have failed in bringing him closer defies logic. The man is too dangerous to be let loose and true enough, no sooner was he dismissed that the army staged the soft coup. Mnangagwa, the previously-sacked deputy, will be President until new elections are held around July 2018.
The second point is the power of the party in asserting its authority over an individual. It is a universally-accepted truism that no individual is bigger than the party even if that individual may have formed the party. The party will always outlive the individual. Somehow Mugabe behaved as if he is the party and the party’s fortunes were inextricably linked to him. In kicking him out, ZANU-PF reasserted its authority as an entity with a life of its own. Indeed, if truth be told, the crisis that ZANU-PF finds itself in can hardly be said not to be self-inflicted. One has reason to believe that Mugabe was led by the party to believe that he is some kind of a deity.
The hero-worshipping or personality cult around Mugabe has hardly helped a country which has morphed from a breadbasket after independence into one of the poorest in the world. It should not escape our attention that ZANU-PF has its eyes on next year’s election and the crisis is more an internal factional fight than a clamour for democracy. This seemingly adroit move of offloading excess baggage in the form of Mugabe and his cronies is meant to paint a rosy picture about the party. It is tantamount to saying that the problem is Mugabe, not the party. In pulling off this fast one on the opposition, and, I daresay, an unwitting public, ZANU-PF has proven that it has not been long in the business of politics for nothing. The opposition, and to a certain extent, the public, was caught with their pants down, and have to follow a programme initiated by the very party that they are meant to oppose.
Morgan Tsvangirai, who was in South Africa for health reasons, suddenly recuperated and was on the next plane to Zimbabwe. One should hardly underestimate the health benefits to some politicians of the imminent departure of President Mugabe. However, it was a tad disappointing to note that Tsvangirai does not seem to have a programme as to what he wants to do, except to call for free and fair elections. That is too obvious and doing so does not mean his party has a programme. One would have expected his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, to be hard at work preparing for next year’s elections.
Alas, the party, just like its leader, seems to have been indisposed.
They have to snatch the advantage back from ZANU-PF and show the Zimbabwean public that the former gave rise to Mugabe. More than that, the MDC has to be able to convince the public why they should vote for them. It’s not so much that they may be unlike ZANU-PF, but the critical thing is to show who they are. Can they pull the country out of the economic doldrums which ZANU-PF and its policies have plunged it? Will they reintroduce the rule of law in the country and root out corruption? These are some of the questions that should be uppermost in many a Zimbabwean’s mind when the euphoria over the resignation of former President Mugabe has subsided.