By Takura Zhangazha*
It has been a hectic last two months for Zanu Pf elites. At least by way of media reports, social media accounts, party conference politicking and reported break-ins into an acting presidents offices. Needless to say the accusations of factionalism and political conspiracies that keep emerging all center around the issue of succession in the ruling party. Ambitious party apparatchiks have therefore been falling over themselves to give, mainly through the media, an impression of having their finger on the control button of leadership succession.
The end effect has been a contrived national debate about the ruling party, its president’s health, the safety of one of its vice presidents and the political prospects of its former vice president. It all makes for exciting conspiracy reading and occupation of conversation time for the political elite in Zimbabwean society.
It also makes for patronage driven political activity for grassroots supporters of various factions within the ruling party. It keeps the latter conspiratorially active and able to manipulate the various interests of their benefactors in favour of their own. These grassroots supporters, comprised of the war veterans, new farmers, new urban stand owners, youth formations and informal traders, all cutting across various age groups have no big problem with these power games. It suits them, as would an electoral campaign, in their endeavours to make as much as they can out of it. The housing stands, reconfigured farm allocations, tender deals, veteran pensions and more recently access to drought relief is something that will come with their active participation in whatever faction they chose to side with. Even if interchangeably so.
So the succession battles being played out at various levels are not an indication of a fundamental shift in Zanu Pf internal politics and culture. Far from it. They may indicate a potential change of influential personalities as was the case when Joice Mujuru was unceremoniously bundled out of the party.
So there is method to the politicking around succession. The paramount rule is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Hence the evidently procedural annual party conference last December. The slinging matches on Twitter, in the mainstream media and even in criminal defamation court, with hindsight had limited impact on the same.
What has since emerged is an intention to control media content in light of the factional fights in relation to the military, the vice presidents and the first family. This is less an act of desperation than it is intended to indicate a new era of controlling media content to suit the broader agenda of the ruling party as given through other examples of benevolent dictatorships. Hence the increased noise around the ambiguous terms of ‘national security’ and ‘national interest’.
The end effect of Zanu Pf’s succession battles are therefore largely threefold. The first of which is the pre-occupation of the national political discourse with the same subject matter beyond the point of saturation. This is not only via various mainstream and social media platforms but also party meetings that are clandestine or in the open. In the process ruling party succession becomes the main political game in town to the extent of even potentially co-opting variegated opposition political party interests. Questions that arise are more of who is with whom and for what reasons.
As a result the elephant in the room of succession politicking remains that of what I have previously referred to as ‘crouching ethnicity and hidden tribalism’ being used as a faction mobilization method.
Because of the clouding of the national discourse through an over saturated succession discourse, national attention to structural economic challenges the country is faced will remain peripheral at best. Where they are raised, it will be within the ambit of a politicization of food aid, distribution of political patronage through new farms, residential stands, vending stalls and state tenders to private businesses. In the process new nodes of political control via factions emerge, even if they remain ephemeral, with the prize being the king’s crown, not necessarily the demise of the ruling party’s’ hold on political power.
The final and most ignored element of the Zanu Pf succession debacle is its papering over the cracks political character of a state that is morphing into a neo-liberal one. Whereas the public would, in between elections, discuss key policy issues affecting their livelihoods, succession has drowned this out. Even in the case of national emergencies such as the self-evident drought the country is faced with. The catch is that this is not by default. There is a deliberate movement toward pushing free market economies to unprecedented levels that will make the economic policy failure that was economic structural adjustment look rosier.
And this is a commonly held perspective between the ruling party factions and all have referred with relative ease and agreement on the necessity of the ‘ease of doing business’ as the sine qua non of their economic policies. All within a nationalist ambit that will entail creating what will in effect be a comprador bourgeoisie that will be sharing the spoils of an accelerated privatization of electricity, water, education, health and transport via what the South Africans have popularly referred to as ‘tenderpreneurship’.
So there is ‘method’ to Zanu Pf factionalism. And it is not by default. There are ground rules to it. These include keeping the national discourse pre-occupied with it and crowding out official opposition voices, not upsetting the apple cart that is the hold on power of the ruling party and lastly, using it as a ruse to reconfigure the national economy to suit a free-market economic template. All of this, while we are pre-occupied with 'crocodiles' and 'G-40s'.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com