Knives out for Mugabe

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is battling against a whispering campaign within his Zanu-PF party begun by some of his deputies and lieutenants vying to succeed him.

The Guardian has revealed that Mugabe faces unprecedented pressure from fellow African leaders to retire, and the presidents of South Africa and Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo, were due in Harare on Monday to urge him to end his 23-year rule.

But even as the 79-year-old leader struggles with Zimbabwe’s severe famine, fuel and power shortages, economic collapse and international criticism, he is also confronted by growing pressure from ambitious officials in his own party.

Interviews with senior members of Zanu-PF show that substantial elements of the party think it is time for Mugabe to go. But it is bitterly divided over who should succeed him and remains at a loss for a strategy for pulling the country out of its most severe economic freefall and famine ever.

“The party is fully aware they have lost the population,” a former Zanu-PF member of parliament said.

“Cabinet ministers and party officials sit over beers and admit the party has failed the country.
But when Mugabe comes into the room they all sit up and tell the president what he wants to hear. They are all afraid.”

They fear that Mugabe will cut them out of the party’s inner circle of wealth and power. They are also afraid of Mugabe’s revenge. Some cabinet ministers privately say they are unhappy with the situation but are frightened of violent retribution if they resign.

“Zanu-PF is not just a political party, it is a liberation movement that fought a bitter and bloody war to gain power,” said Wilfred Mhanda, a prominent war veteran, now director of the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform, a group critical of Mugabe.

“That violent struggle 30 years ago shaped Robert Mugabe and many others in the party. They are committed to keeping power, not to democracy. They are not afraid to spill blood now to keep power.”

Mugabe’s use of the army, police, war veterans and youth militia frightens many people, but he cannot intimidate an economy back to prosperity or win back popularity.

“There are several in Zanu-PF who have been waiting for years to succeed Mugabe and now they fear they are losing their chance,” said a former ambassador. “They fear Mugabe will drag the party down with him and they won’t have a chance of power. That is why they want Mugabe to step down now.”

The most prominent faction became public in January when the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, revealed that he had been approached by the parliamentary speaker, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, who asked him if he would join a “transitional government” if they got Mugabe to retire.

Mnangagwa, a former defence minister, is widely considered to be Mugabe’s likely successor.

“They are powerful men, but their weakness is that they are not popular,” said a Zanu-PF MP.

“Mnangagwa cannot even win an election within the party, not to mention a parliamentary seat. How could he lead the nation?”

Party leaders can rattle off other factions vying to succeed Mugabe, but virtually all of the various challengers are devoid of any new economic policies to reverse Zimbabwe’s decline.

The one Zanu-PF contender who is an exception is Simba Makoni, a former finance minister. He has spoken out for rational economic policies and avoided associating with the more lawless side of the party.

He told the Guardian that Zimbabwe’s daunting problems demanded a national effort in which all Zimbabwean parties and civic organisations worked together.

“We are faced with a crisis, both economic and social, that calls for a national effort that cuts across party lines,” Makoni said.

“The governing party and the opposition party must work together, with civil society and professional bodies. Only that way can we mobilise all our resources to find a way out of this crisis. We need to get Zimbabweans to work together again.”

Makoni’s statements are earth-shaking, particularly coming from within Mr Mugabe’s often belligerent ruling party.

“It is a hallmark of democracy that the different political parties can work together. Anyone who suggests that our problems can be solved by an exclusively partisan approach from any one party is suggesting a path that will be longer and more painful,” said Makoni. “And to work with our regional and international partners would also be beneficial.”

A Zanu-PF member of parliament said: “Moderates within Zanu-PF are comfortable with Makoni and even the general public likes him. He is not tainted by corruption. But he does not have a proven constituency, he does not have an elected seat.”

Another party member said: “Makoni is outside the inner circle but he could well come to power with a bit of support from South Africa.”

South Africa’s economic pressure and President Mbeki are the most decisive factors influencing Mugabe.

“South Africa’s key strategy in dealing with Zimbabwe is to try to get Zanu-PF to make an internal change in leadership. If they finish up the land redistribution, that could allow Mugabe to retire as a hero and get a successor,” said Ivor Jenkins, director of the International Democratic Alternative for South Africa.

He said Makoni appeared to have “the least baggage in terms of allegations of corruption and human rights abuses”.

There is also growing speculation that Mbeki is looking to Makoni. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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