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It's too early to predict Mugabe's downfall

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Message Charles Rukuni
It’s too early to predict Mugabe’s downfall   Zimbabwe has been making headlines worldwide for nearly two weeks. President Robert Mugabe who has been at the helm for 27 years, is at the centre stage, after his government bashed opposition leaders and killed at least one activist.  Some people are now talking about the “end-game” predicting that Mugabe will not last until the end of this year. But Mugabe is a “scheming survivor”. Zimbabwe’s crisis, has been on for nearly a decade, starting in 1997 when Mugabe took a shot at incoming British Prime Minister Tony Blair for going back on the land issue.  If he goes, this will not be because of the opposition or his so-called powerful lieutenants who have vowed they will not sink with him. It will probably be the person-on-the-street, who cannot make ends meet.  Zimbabweans, who have suffered in silence for nearly a decade after being beaten into compliance following the 1997-98 stay-aways organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) just before the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999, are now prepared to rise again as politics of the stomach takes over.  Their daily challenge is how to put food on one’s table, even if this means one decent meal a day. Any slight provocation could spark violence as witnessed in Harare over the past week.  Workers have resorted to strikes to force employers, including the cash-strapped government, to pay them more to make ends meet. The growing restlessness saw doctors downing tools for an unprecedented eight weeks. Strikes by nurses, teachers and now university lecturers followed. Soldiers and police are grumbling.  The ZCTU has given the government until April 4 to resolve the country’s economic problems or face mass action.  Though the government awarded striking workers salary and wage increases and they returned to work, the increases have already been eroded by inflation which soared to 1730 percent in February.  The Central Statistics Office, a government agency that compiles inflation figures, said the poverty datum line was now pegged at Z$937 838, up from Z$566 401 in January. The March figure could exceed Z$1.5 million. Prices rocketed at the end of February as suppliers tried to hedge themselves against the proposed wage and price freeze that was supposed to come into effect on March 1.  It did not. But they did not revise their prices which keep going up. Negotiations between the key partners, employers and labour, have hit a stalemate. Employers are refusing to link wages to the poverty datum line. Workers will not budge. The average wage is still below Z$100 000 a month, barely enough to meet one’s transport costs to and from work alone. Everyone knows the cause of the problem. It is not sanctions by the West as Mugabe claims. Indeed, the average Zimbabwean is suffering because of sanctions but the real problem is Mugabe himself. The economy will not turn around while he is still in power, or at least whilst he is still executive president. He knows that too now. But there are no signs that he is preparing to leave. He is now suggesting that he will stand again if the people nominate him though he previously stated this will be his last term in office.  Now even his own lieutenants, who have propped him up for the past 27 years, say he must go. They won’t go down with him. And they are bigger threat to Mugabe’s reign than the fragile opposition which remains deeply divided.  Former Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) strongman, Edgar “2-boy” Zivanai Tekere, who was Mugabe’s number two at independence, has piled up the pressure on Mugabe to go by releasing a damning autobiography which portrays Mugabe as a rigid man and a loner who resists any kind of change and rarely forgives those who cross his path. Tekere says people should not blame one man for all that has gone wrong in the country, but in the case of Zimbabwe Mugabe is at the centre of the country’s problems. “In my view, 90 percent of the blame should go to him, and ten percent to those who have uncritically huddled around him over the years.” He says he is partly to blame because in extolling Mugabe as he and his colleagues did at independence, they forgot to put in place institutional arrangements that the party was sustained by collective leadership, democratic discourse and accountability. “In retrospect,” Tekere says, “we have to acknowledge that, in the absence of such institutional arrangements, any one of us, and not just Mugabe, could have lost course and degenerated into a virtual dictatorship. Tekere drew the wrath of Mugabe when he said that he favoured Joyce Mujuru for the post of vice-president and to eventually take over from him and had actively campaigned for her even before he was readmitted to the party.  His dressing down of Mugabe as a man who resists any kind of change including the sacking of Joshua Nkomo as party leader in the 1960s, that of Ndabaningi Sithole as leader of ZANU in the 1970s, and even going to Mozambique to join the liberation struggle, attracted the wrath of Mugabe loyalists who expelled Tekere from the party hardly a year after he had been readmitted. Tekere was readmitted to ZANU-PF on 6 April 2006. The expulsion shows the lack of tolerance that everyone is complaining about. Mugabe dragged Nkomo into unity because he did not want any opposition. He refuses to talk to the Movement for Democratic Change for the same reason. But his former lieutenants now feel enough is enough. Solomon Mujuru wants Mugabe to go. This has been a terrible blow to Mugabe. He is bitter that the people he trusted most, Joyce Mujuru and her husband Solomon have abandoned him. Solomon reportedly chaired Mugabe’s inner cabinet, the so-called Committee of 26, that ZANU-PF insiders like Enos Nkala say effectively ran the state. Emmerson Mnangagwa betrayed him in 2004 when he tried to upstage Joyce Mujuru.  But it appears Mugabe has forgiven him. Reports say Mugabe mentioned him as his favoured successor in his birthday interview last month but this was reportedly edited out before the interview was aired.  Close confidants of the late Simon Muzenda say the late vice-president and Mugabe had reached a pact that Mnangagwa should succeed Mugabe, shutting out Eddison Zvobgo who had never hidden his presidential ambitions. But Mnangagwa probably jumped the gun and Mugabe, who does not want to be second guessed, ditched him and brought in Mujuru instead. Mnangagwa has continued to hang on despite the humiliation. He is playing his cards to his chest, something that continues to haunt his opponents.  But Mnangagwa’s betrayal was nothing compared to that of Solomon Mujuru and Ray Kaukonde provincial governor of Mashonaland East. Their province hosted the crucial December annual conference where the motion to endorse the harmonisation of the elections, which most people read to mean an extension of Mugabe’s term of office, was tabled but it voted against the resolution.  To make matters worse, Mugabe thinks the Mujurus have joined forces with his bitterest foes, the British. Mujuru is said to be a stakeholder in a British company Africa Consolidated Resources which had been given diamond mining concessions in Marange. The licence has since been withdrawn. Mujuru is now one of the richest people in the country. He has more to lose if Mugabe is kicked out unceremoniously. He therefore does not want give in. Reports say Mujuru has been telling Mugabe that it is payback time because he protected him in Mozambique when exiled leaders did not trust Mugabe and built him up in Zimbabwe after independence.  Mujuru does not want to take over himself but wants to put someone who will protect his business interests. Some reports say he does not even trust his wife and is courting Simba Makoni. But observers say replacing Mugabe with another ZANU-PF candidate without fundamental constitutional changes would perpetuate the current situation. Tekere aptly puts it in his book: “The current situation could be reproduced and sustained under a new leader in 2008 unless we put in place the constitutional and institutional mechanisms that will make it impossible for one person to run away with the entire State and make it imperative for collective leadership, democratic discourse and accountability.” That is where the fragile opposition comes in. The MDC and its two factions may be weak but they command a sizeable and very influential constituency, the workers and the urban people. Mugabe cannot afford to continue to ignore such a powerful constituency especially with unemployment at over 80 percent.  Though the rural vote gave Mugabe a two-thirds majority in Parliament in 2005, it is the urban people that have the potential to paralyse the country if they go on a rampage as they did during the stay-aways of the 1990s.  The only problem is which faction to talk with. Most observers say both. Others say what is needed is national dialogue between all stakeholders including civic organisations that have now grouped under the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. Mugabe knows his days are numbered. He has few friends left. His African tour which took him to Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Angola this month, to seek for help, was clear testimony that he was now desperate. But Mugabe has his ego to protect. He is therefore not going to capitulate. He wants an honourable exit where he will appear to be calling the shots. Any solution to the country’s problems must therefore be seen to have come from him.   Political commentator John Makumbe says it is therefore up to the opposition and civic groups to take the initiative to engage Mugabe in a dialogue. They have to acknowledge that he is still Head of State and an elder, something Mugabe himself has hinted at in the past. Britain and the United States too should seek dialogue with Mugabe because sanctions on their own are only hurting the poor. But they must insist that though they are willing to talk to him, something Mugabe has demanded, they can only do so if he agrees to talk to the people in Zimbabwe first. But the solution to Zimbabwe’s problems is not as simple or clear cut as the think-tank, the International Crisis Group, seems to imply in its latest report.  The ICG has made too many assumptions which it cannot back by fact.  Mugabe may be under a lot of pressure but he is not an idiot. He has up to now read the political situation in the country right and has survived crisis after crisis. In fact, he is better organised that his counterparts because right now, they don’t have a single candidate who can stand against Mugabe.  It is wishful thinking to suggest that Mnangagwa can agree to be Joyce Mujuru’s deputy. The same applies to Morgan Tsvangirai. It is wishful thinking to talk about any merger of the MDC factions without Tsvangirai because there can be no MDC without him. The ICG also grossly underplays one important factor that has kept Mugabe in power and Mugabe is quite aware of it. Too many people, including those in the opposition but especially those in civic organisations, deep down, do not want Mugabe to go because they are making a fortune through his continued stay in office and they will become irrelevant once he leaves the scene. What will happen to the National Constitutional Assembly, for example, once Mugabe is gone and the country has a new constitution? What will happen to the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and its 350 affiliates once the crisis is over?   Mugabe’s departure will be like the end of Ian Smith’s rule in 1980 or the end of apartheid in 1994. Too many organisations will become irrelevant and their leaders know this. In short, the average Zimbabwean has to liberate him or herself. The average Zimbabwean does not really care about the mathematical juggling proposed by think-tanks to bring about peace. What matters most is bread on the table. It does not really matter who brings it.   


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Rukuni is currently the Bulawayo Bureau chief of the Financial Gazette , a weekly paper. He has freelanced extensively for The Voice (South Africa), Gemini News Service (London) , Africa Magazine (London), The Daily Nation (Kenya), Radio (more...)
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