Written by Malvern Mkudu (Edited by Maynard Manyowa)
Robert Mugabe may well be a powerful man, but his power has always been derived by those that backed him, more significantly the war veterans and the military. Now that they have deserted him, the nonagenarian is there for the taking – vulnerable and stuck in no man’s land.
Yesterday war veterans convened a meeting at Raylton club in Harare, Zimbabwe. This followed the expulsion of their leader Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa from ZANU PF a fortnight ago.
Before Mutsvangwa’s expulsion Mugabe had told a Central committee meeting that if war veterans insisted on defying his orders regarding a successor, he would unleash a second genocide and wipe them out.
As relations frosted, the war veterans promised to deliberate on that and then give a response.
The response came yesterday inform of a press statement in which the war veterans said they
- They supported protesters and stand by them in light of economic hardships that Mugabe has no capacity to solve.
- That they are withdrawing their support for Mugabe in future elections.
- That they supported a multiracial society and would welcome whites back in the country
It is symbolic in so many ways.
The war veterans rejected many of the excuses Mugabe has offered to justify the failing economy. This means Mugabe can no longer continue to say sanctions are responsible for the economic mess. That narrative no longer has internal support.
The war vets insisted that Mugabe finds solutions for the economy. Mugabe will now be forced to account for corruption, incompetence and other factors that have led to the breakdown of the economy.
This new ground. Mugabe is not used to any performance appraisal or accounting for anything in his life.
The war veterans blamed Mugabe for fomenting factionalism in the party and creating ‘Gamatox’ (a faction loyal to former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who Mugabe fired).
He was accused for expelling party stalwarts such as Edgar Tekere and sidelining others such as Edison Zvobgo who had the pedigree to challenge him.
The war veterans put the blame of the Gukurahundi (genocide) massacres squarely at Mugabe’s door.
He was accused of protecting corrupt officials and creating a patronage system around himself that has helped him to retain power. The accusations were many.
The War veterans however were not passive spectators in many of the accusations they have raised.
For example their preferred successor Vice President Emmerson Mnanagwa has been named as a key protagonist in the Gukurahundi matter.
Mnangagwa’s defence of course is he was only an officer operating on orders from the top so the matter comes back to Mugabe.
Mutsvangwa was instrumental in the denouncing of Gamatox and cannot turn now to say it was Mugabe’s idea.
Those watching events will not easily be hoodwinked. The war veterans cannot have their
cake and eat it.
Significance of the events
Today marked the DEMILITARISATION of our politics at least in the interim.
The message we decoded from this is that the soldiers have said they WILL now stay in their Barracks and will neither campaign for Mugabe nor protect him politically.
The playing field has been levelled in a way. Mugabe has always boasted of having multiple degrees in violence. Without a monopoly on the veterans and the army, he is vulnerable to say the very precious least.
A chink in Mugabe’s armour has been exposed and he is there for the taking.
In biblical times the moment Goliath fell, it was the defining moment that gave the Israelites the confidence to attack the Philistines.
The walls that protect Mugabe have fallen and those with a political strategy going forward will exploit this.
War veterans are constitutionally a reserve army that falls within the command structure of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF). Mugabe is their commander in chief.
Yesterday’s events represent a mutiny which Mugabe now has to deal with. The military commanders are members of the War Veterans Body which means they are bound by the resolutions made today.
They now either have to act against the war vets or live with the awkward position.
How they act will tell us the mood within the state. If there is silence, then the message being communicated is “we are with our comrades”.
Mugabe will either now have to fire them or live with the enemy in the house.
Mugabe must now respond. He has been backed into a corner.
What will happen?
The military top brass is unlikely to act because they know a Mugabe 2018 victory would be the end of them. It would give Mugabe another 5 years to purge them.
Some observers have pointed out that war veterans are now old and irrelevant. But one needs to understand that war veterans were only the face of what was STATE sponsored violence.
Had they not had the backing of the military and state machinery people would have fought back.
For example, motor-mouth legislator, Joseph Chinotimba was once thoroughly beaten up by civilians in Bikita.
Yet, Chinotimba could dance on Chief Justice Gubbay’s desk in the Supreme Court Chambers because the state machinery allowed him to do so.
The war veterans were mere runners in violence that was strategized and conceived by the military.
This means that Mugabe either has to find a new militia or he has to get in the next election with the ground even.
The fact that the militarised electoral bodies which are also headed by war veterans may sabotage him will scare him. The entire state is filled with war veterans whose loyalties may necessarily no longer lie with Mugabe.
They may choose to side with their comrades. A free and fair election for Mugabe under the current economic conditions may be tricky. He will lose.
War veterans were not always key in carrying out violent errands. They also acted as mobilisers for the party.
Could this be the end?
It certainly looks bad for Mugabe. But all is not totally lost.
Recently, we have seen a successful million men march without the input of war veterans so Mugabe may be tempted to raise the middle finger to the comrades.
May be he does not need them after all?
The opposition is not that strong but his own party is also not united so he cannot be too confident. The embarrassing defeat of 2008 is still very vivid in his memory.
We have said before, since 2014 that Mugabe would face open rebellion.
Stuck in no man’s land: Mugabe must now bend or break
In simple words, Mugabe has lost the support of the military. The military will no longer protect Mugabe.
It is now willing to allow the people to wrestle power from Mugabe, perhaps then so that they will wrestle it back from the people?
Mugabe is now the common enemy of the public and there is consensus that he is responsible for the economic mess we are in.
Faced with unpaid salaries, unemployed youths, a hostile international community and an internal mutiny Mugabe at 92 may no longer be able to repel all these threats and fight battles on multiple fronts.
He now has to announce a succession plan or face a humiliating defeat in 2018.
The war veterans will also certainly ensure that Mugabe loses a significant portion of the rural vote. Most war veterans have their influence in the rural areas.
Lastly the actions by war veterans is most likely going to embolden Mugabe’s critics outside the party who are going to attack the old leader with renewed vigour.
From the point of view of a rival suitor what is happening in ZANU PF smacks of a marriage in trouble and now is the good time to make a move.
Only a successor will save him
But all is not lost for Mugabe yet. He can still have his way by anointing his own acceptable successor
Most of these things that the war veterans now complain of were done with the active aid of the war veterans.
They are the ones who talked of sanctions and Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere as CIA agents.
Now they change and say G40 and Gamatox are Mugabe’s creations.
Mugabe can spin this and dismiss their complaints as the ranting of bitter men.
Mugabe can still spin this and portray himself as the civilian leader who is trying to defend the rule of the citizen from interference by the military.
Trouble with that narrative is people want Mugabe to go at all costs, for some even via a military coup so he will have very little sympathy.
He knows though that the military will not actively dislodge him, they’ll only just hang him to dry.
Secondly while the war veterans harp on about ideology, Mugabe is focusing his attentions on the youth who are easily swayed by material possessions. This explains why Mugabe’s wife is handing out gifts at every corner.
It also explains the new drive to hand out residential stands. Mugabe thinks his strategy will work.
Hoodwinked by the crowds he sees at the million men marches and other initiatives; Mugabe is likely to continue down his ruinous path. He will only come face to face with reality in 2018.
It’s important to note however that if the state continues to fail to pay civil servants and deliver basic services to its citizens, Mugabe may not last to 2018. He has no money and no one is willing to give him. His combative arrogance only serves to increase anger among the citizens, and his alienation of the key players who could well protect him could seal his fate before long.
- Article appears on Khuluma Afrika – a non-partisan center for investigative journalism, commentary and analysis