You know there is a Zanu-PF congress on the horizon when the praise for President Robert Mugabe gets louder than usual and party officials start snapping at each other.
The party has been in power for 34 years and has been part of Zimbabweans’ lives for more than 50 years, so when it holds a congress, the fever grips everyone – from the media to the ordinary man and woman on the street.
For months, the country will set aside priorities such as sorting out the economy and become obsessed with the rituals that lead up to a Zanu-PF elective congress.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa complained last week that the country has become so fixated with succession politics that it has forgotten it has an economic crisis to sort out.
There are several phases that Zimbabwe has to get through until the congress in December.
The endorsement phase
The first phase begins with one district or province speeding out ahead of the others to “endorse” Mugabe as the eternal party leader and candidate in all future elections.
This year, the prize went to Mugabe’s home district, Zvimba, where the party leadership met and endorsed Mugabe as the leader before the rest of the country.
“The thunderous victory in last year’s harmonised elections was testimony that the people enjoyed President Mugabe’s leadership on a variety of issues,” said Ignatius Chombo, one of Mugabe’s closest acolytes and an MP in the area. “He [Mugabe] deserves to rule the country for more years. Since he was elected president of Zimbabwe, we cannot have another person to lead Zanu-PF.”
Once a district or province has endorsed Mugabe, it is mandatory for the rest to follow. Any delay in doing so and you risk being called a sell-out or accused of plotting against the president.
All the provinces must declare there can never be another candidate as long as Mugabe lives.
True to form, days after the Zvimba district pronouncement, the other districts were falling over each other to make their allegiance known.
Once all the districts have made it known where they stand, the next phase is to see who is best at praising Mugabe.
The clever ones get in early, before all the flattering epithets have been used.
“If you are sleeping and you start to dream of a different leader who is not President Mugabe, you should wake up from that nightmare,” said Justice Wadyajena, a young MP. “But, if you continue to have President Mugabe in your dreams, then you should never wake up from your sleep because he is the only leader for Zimbabwe.”
Then there was the contribution of Didymus Mutasa, Zanu-PF’s secretary for administration and currently the party’s number four. He has ambitions of his own but he knows better than to appear to be challenging for the top post.
“Even I cannot afford to harbour presidential ambitions while Mugabe lives, since his leadership qualities are second to none,” Mutasa said last week.
Jostling for positions
This is a tough one for ambitious Zanu-PF cadres. On one hand, you must make it clear publicly that you are not being ambitious while, on the other, you have to campaign if you want a particular post.
Although there is no vacancy for the post of president, there are several other influential posts to be filled.
Party chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo is likely to be elected second vice-president, unless Mutasa makes a challenge for the position.
Mutasa, of course, denies he will, and others say he would be content to be chairperson.
But there are several other candidates for the position and for the leadership of the youth and women’s leagues.
But none is willing to discuss his or her ambitions. So there is much horse-trading being done behind the scenes, although it sometimes bubbles up to the surface, as happened when Mutasa criticised one of his possible rivals.
“There is only one faction led by [Emmerson] Mnangagwa because a faction is described as a group of a few people who would be working outside the party,” Mutasa told a meeting of party youths.
Whatever happens between now and December is usually linked to the congress. Everything has to do with it.
The press will play a big role during this phase. Newspapers will describe any event that happens as being “in the run-up to the congress”. If a well-known figure is arrested, it will be tied to the phrase, “in the run-up to the congress”.
Any statements made by politicians from now on will be painted against the background of the impending congress. What do they mean, newspapers will ask? All politicians will have to explain which candidate they are backing.
In the end, after Zanu-PF has had its mandatory fund-raising dinner, where the police band will play classics from Motown to Oliver Mtukudzi, the congress will be held.
And, at the end, there will be no real surprises. It will be Comrade Bob in the driving seat once again.