Zimbabwe: Is Zanu PF imploding ahead of the 2023 elections?

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Friday, 3 December 2021 17:23

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga greet supporters of his ZANU PF party at a rally in Murombedzi
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga greet supporters of his ZANU PF party at a rally in Murombedzi, Zimbabwe November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Even though Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, appear to be in good books while in public, insiders say, the latter’s allies are against the former's endorsement by some Zanu PF members to run for the 2023 elections. Hence, there has been an ongoing cold war between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga allies as Zimbabwe heads towards the harmonised polls.

On Tuesday 23 November this year, 40 former liberation fighters were arrested by police and charged with inciting public violence.

The former liberation fighters had taken to the streets to express their grievances, which include poor pension earnings.

The Zimbabwean dollar has been losing value against its benchmark, the US dollar, since its introduction in 2019, eroding the salaries and earnings of most people on the government’s payroll.

The former liberation fighters have also been hit hard by the rising costs of basic commodities, with some of the goods and services being charged at exorbitant prices, even in USD.

Key role in ruling party

The detained fighters were released following a Harare Magistrate Court order on 29 November after having spent four days behind bars. They play a key role in the ruling party Zanu PF’s power dynamics.

Leading up to November 2017, when the late President Robert Mugabe was ousted through a military coup, there had been a series of demonstrations by the former liberation fighters against his administration.

Just as Mugabe did, Mnangagwa recently responded by force, unleashing riot police on the protestors to thwart their demonstrations and lock them up.

Political analysts believe the recent picketing by these former liberation fighters is attributable to a power tussle between the Chiwenga and Mnangagwa factions within the Zanu PF party.

Mnangagwa vs Chiwenga

There have been recent internal wars within the Zanu PF party in most of the provinces as the leaders scramble for power.

Vivid Gwede, a Harare-based political analyst, says the ruling party has been on the decline for a while and continues to face unresolved leadership issues, but in the meantime, they know the existential threat from the opposition and always attempt to stand together against it.

Mugabe’s undoubted Machiavellian skills enabled him to hold the party together. Mnangagwa seems to be having considerable difficulties in doing what his master did…

“But with the increasing lack of cohesion and factionalism, the party’s future looks bleak. This is true whether it succeeds to play a survival game in the 2023 elections or not. In fact, liberation movements are generally in decline in the southern African region,” he says.

Inside sources say that the terms of the November 2017 coup were that Mnangagwa would hold office for one term and then step down to allow Chiwenga, who played a key role in engineering the coup, to take over.

After winning the controversial July harmonised poll in 2018, Mnangagwa’s true ambitions became more apparent three months later, in December, at a Zanu PF conference in Esigodini, when he was endorsed as the ruling party’s presidential candidate for 2023. He and his allies also pushed for the ruling party’s first secretary to serve two terms. In October, at the party’s annual national conference, Mnangagwa was again confirmed as the ruling party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 elections.

Political analyst Eldred Masunungure says unlike Mnangagwa, Mugabe was masterful, not only in managing factionalism, but also in strategically creating them.

“Mugabe’s undoubted Machiavellian skills enabled him to hold the party together. Mnangagwa seems to be having considerable difficulties in doing what his master did, hence, the indications of implosion. These internal contradictions will intensify as the country and the party moves towards elections,” he says.

However, Zanu PF spokesperson Mike Bimha tells The Africa Report that his party remains united and that no factions exist.

“The people who [came] up with this have agendas. They think they can divide the party. There is no faction to talk of. Even Chiwenga preaches unity everywhere he goes. These are just people who are imagining. The party is united and remain[s] strong,” he says.

Powerful forces behind the protesting fighters

There are political bigwigs behind the former liberation fighters who participated in the recent demonstrations in the capital, Vivid Gwede, a Harare-based political analyst tells The Africa Report.

“War veterans have always been central to Zanu PF factional fights and their welfare has always been instrumentalised in the ruling party’s internal battles for power,” he says.

“This is not to say, however, that the liberation war vets’ grievances are not true, but one cannot rule out that someone is pulling the strings behind the scene. We saw the same script playing out towards the end of former Mugabe’s reign, and war vets were also violently arrested during such demonstrations.”

Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst, agrees with Gwede, but says the recent demonstrations by the former liberation fighters are not as powerful as the ones staged during the last days of Mugabe’s stay in power.

“It would be naive to think that the pockets of war vets are doing their own bidding. I think there is a force behind them and their actions. In all likelihood, they are put forward to test the waters to see if they can spark wider protests and demonstrations on a national scale,” he says.

They are too isolated and individualised to make a big mark on the regime. They are far from a social movement with national ramifications.

“This seems most likely given the heightened factionalism in the ruling party. We are likely to see more of such actions as we march towards the 2023 elections.”

Masunungure adds that the parallels are there, but should not be overblown. In the lead-up to the November 2017 coup, there was a groundswell of war-veteran anger against Mugabe and the way he was running things, including ignoring or neglecting the war vets, who were a cohesive organisation with a unified agenda.

“This is not the case now in that we have fragmented war vets with pockets of aggrieved war vets who do not seem to resonate with the generality of the social base. They are too isolated and individualised to make a big mark on the regime. They are far from a social movement with national ramifications,” he says.

Court challenge on Mnangagwa’s legitimacy

In mid-October this year, Zanu PF party youth league member Sybeth Musengezi filed papers challenging Mnangagwa’s ascendency to power in November 2017.

Musengezi argued that on 19 November 2017, the Zanu PF special central committee that removed Mugabe from power and installed Mnangagwa – who was in exile at the time – violated the ruling party’s constitution and should be declared unconstitutional.

Musengezi says he is acting alone, but political analysts believe that people in the ruling party who are against Mnangagwa might be behind him.

Gwede says the court challenge against Mnangagwa’s ascendancy, legitimacy and rule is clearly an internal power challenge within Zanu-PF.

“Clearly there are elements who feel he should not be the party’s candidate for 2023 despite the recent endorsement he got at the party’s conference. This is something really to pay attention to,” he says.

In an opposing affidavit to Musengezi’s High Court application, Mnangagwa’s lawyers argue that he was not liable to judicial proceedings in terms of the country’s constitution.

Mnangagwa’s allies mainly come from the Midlands and Masvingo provinces while Chiwenga’s come from Mashonaland provinces.

Some of Mnangagwa’s supporters include:

  • Local government minister July Moyo;
  • State security ministers Owen Ncube, Larry Mavhima, Daniel Mckenzie Ncube;
  • Foreign affairs minister Frederick Shava;
  • Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri;
  • Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa;
  • Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi;
  • Home affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe.

Chiwenga’s key allies include the military generals who were pushed out from the military by Mnangagwa, such as:

  • Former Presidential Guard commander retired Major-General Anselem Sanyatwe;
  • Retired Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo;
  • Retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje.

Other Chiwenga backers are former ministers with some now working at Zanu PF headquarters in Harare.

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