Uncanny resemblance: Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and its subsequent troubles hold a mirror up to South Africa.
Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party on Friday launched its 2018 election manifesto in a glitzy fashion at a Harare hotel, but its presidential candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is not assured of a smooth ride into the election.
Dates of the crucial polls have not yet been announced but Zimbabwe’s five-year election calendar stipulates that the ritual should be held sometime between July and August this year.
The voters roll, prepared under the new biometric registration system, is still being finalised.
Friday’s manifesto launch adds heat to an increasingly feverish mood that has gripped the country ahead of national elections that for the first time won’t feature Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, long-time duelists in this fixture.
Mugabe was toppled in a “soft” coup in November last year, with Mnangagwa replacing him, while Tsvangirai died on Valentine’s Day after losing a battle with cancer.
The election will be historic in ways more than one.
However, before Mnangagwa begins to worry about facing his main opponents in the opposition, he must get his own house in order.
Zanu-PF’s primary elections held last week, a couple of days before the manifesto launch, showed that the factionalism which haunted the party during Mugabe’s tenure is still alive and well — even if the factions themselves have changed.
There used to be G40 and Lacoste, the factions aligned with former first lady Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa respectively. Now we have a struggle for power between between the military elements that led the coup that ousted Mugabe; and the civilian wing sympathetic to Mnangagwa, mainly the vocal but largely powerless war veterans.
So far, the military wing is coming out on top.
Top military and security service chiefs command huge interests in political and business affairs in the country, which they are keen to protect and consolidate.
When Mnangagwa, seen to some extent as a product of the army’s benevolence, nestled in Mugabe’s place, he quickly rewarded the military with key positions in Government. He gave army commander General Constantino Chiwenga the position of Vice President, while Major General Sibusiso SB Moyo — the man who announced the military takeover on Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on the morning of November 15 — got the key position of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Air Marshal Perence Shiri was rewarded with a portfolio as the Lands Minister, while Retired Major General Engelbert Rugeje was handed the position of National Political Commissar in the party.
Mnangagwa threw some more gifts at the army by way of promotions of personnel and rewards in civilian roles.
It is an open secret that military head honchos are now firmly in line for succession in Zanu-PF, with Chiwenga angling to succeed Mnangagwa as early as 2023. Meanwhile, Chiwenga has been shoring up his own support, creating what is seen as another centre of power.
This has in turn buoyed lesser soldiers who have tried to muscle out their civilian counterparts at various levels in political affairs.
They feel they are the real power in the party, not unjustifiably, which brings into question the extent of Mnangagwa’s control.
Those that are less generous with him think he is something between a hostage and stooge of the military.
The uneasy relations between Zanu-PF’s military and civilian wings were highlighted during the recent party primaries. There were widespread reports of military leaders at various levels interfering in the selection of candidates, often manipulating processes to favour former servicemen or their lackeys.
This led to a number of civilian leaders, including Chris Mutsvangwa — a key Mnangagwa advisor — losing in Norton, a constituency just outside Harare.
Paul Mangwana, largely acclaimed to be the legal brains behind the coup another top Mnangagwa ally, also fell by the wayside. So did Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the party’s chairwoman.
Mutsvangwa, a former Ambassador to China, was so livid with his loss that he raised the red flag that Mnangagwa could lose the next election.
He had no kind words for the former military man Rugeje, the new National political Commissar, for using the police as returning officers in the election, amid other irregularities.
Apart from possible manipulation, the organisation of the primaries was so chaotic that the exercise could not be done in a day, as planned, and had to be rolled over into the next.
Sources attribute this to Rugeje and his army cohorts’ inability to conduct civilian processes.
Much worse, sources add, the military elements have sought to displace other security arms such as the Central Intelligence Organisation which has experience in handling security-related civilian processes.
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But Mnangagwa appears unfazed — something not unexpected of a man who withstood a barrage of personal and political attacks from Mugabe and his wife Grace at the height of last year’s factionalism.
Remarking on the chaotic primaries, he simply said these were “teething problems”. He has also downplayed the emerging factionalism.
This coming election is in many ways a legitimacy show for Mnangagwa, at home and abroad.
He is seeking to complete the transition from Mugabe by winning a popular mandate that banishes questions around the source of his power. Only then he can flex his muscles, which could possible include dealing with over-ambitious army elements.
The manifesto that he launched on Friday had some lofty ambitions on economic growth and social service provision, and highlighted the importance of mending relations with the international community.
The manifesto promises to, “transform Zimbabwe into a middle-income economy by 2030. The party will focus aggressively on re-opening the country for business with the global economy community so as to rebuild our industries, create more jobs, eradicate the scourge of poverty and uplift people’s livelihoods”.
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It promises to attain an economic growth rate of at least 6% per annum over the period 2018-2023.
Mnangagwa says the party will accelerate the harmonisation of investment laws in order to improve ease of doing business in the country, increase provision of rural electricity, build rail and road network as well as enhance the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics programmes.
The manifesto contains some familiar themes around the liberation struggle, black empowerment and indigenisation and upholding land reform.
As ambitious as it sounds, Zanu-PF’s manifesto is more muted than that of opposition parties, which are promising all heaven, complete with bullet trains, airports in rural areas and US dollars in people’s pockets.