Mugabe successor could face trouble

LONDON - Speaking to the BBC last week, information minister Jonathan Moyo sought to paint an unproblematic picture after President Robert Mugabe has departed the political scene.

Power has a soporific effect that blinds us to the future. Societies that later plunged into conflict had rulers who refused to see or never saw circumstances changing.

The romantic post-Mugabe picture Moyo paints ignores the fact that Zimbabwe has, over the years, become a bitterly-divided society.

While Mugabe — justifying his extended stay — said he wanted to heal rifts within his party, his legacy could be that of a man who left a society with deep intraparty, interparty and even tribal fault lines.

When one adds decades of grinding poverty, it is facetious to simply ignore the potential for disaster after Mugabe. Zimbabwe could be sleepwalking into an era of instability, more serious than we have witnessed so far.

The only reason that these political and social crevices have not expressed themselves in a destructive fashion is that Mugabe has benefitted from the synergistic effects of repression and reverence.

Mugabe has been adept at wheeling out the state’s coercive apparatus, at times in brutal fashion, at the slightest hint of dissent. The effect of this has been a pervading sense of fear.

One can also not deny the fact that Mugabe enjoys widespread reverence, particularly within his party. The people we describe as bootlickers or sycophants epitomise this sense of respect.

This reverence derives principally from his liberation war credentials, seminal rulership after independence and personal charisma.

Put together, the synergistic effects of these two states of mind — fear and respect — on our society become easy to see. If you add fear and respect, you produce an inactive society, at least in terms of potential for serious rebellion.

People are usually reticent to rebel against those they fear or and respect. It is the psychology of power. These two states of mind, combined, have had a paralysing effect to social action. I, therefore, call this Zimbabwe’s “docility equation”.

While Zimbabwe is not entirely stable, Mugabe has marshalled effectively both fear and respect to prevent protracted deadly insurrection.

The question then is — is there anyone else within the ranks of Zanu PF who can benefit from the docility equation after Mugabe?

It does not seem so. Looking at his potential successors, it is difficult to see anyone who can generate both fear and respect to as good effect as Mugabe has done.

Part of this is because of unchangeable historical reality. The successor would not, of course, have the respect that comes with being the first leader of a country.

Further, while his potential successors would have liberation war backgrounds, none in his party has any charisma that generates a sense of awe and reverence he has enjoyed.

The docility equation has so far worked when only both states of mind — fear and respect — have had combinational paralysing effect, not individually.

One of his touted successors, Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as Ngwena (crocodile), has managed to generate fear with his Gukurahundi background. Recently, he boasted about his training to kill.

But he has zero charisma; he is not a figure that mesmerises crowds to generate widespread admiration and reverence. Crocodiles are, in any case, unappealing creatures.

The problem with charisma is that it is not transferable. For Mnangagwa, fear alone, as half of the docility equation, might not have the paralysing effect.

In any case, another fear-inducing authoritarian could just be one too many for Zimbabweans.

It is for this reason that the picture Moyo paints, post-Mugabe, is too romantic.

Zanu PF has so far benefited from a character who has combined both unique historical and personal characteristics.

With a bitterly-divided society, assuming Zanu PF is ruling, unless it radically alters Zimbabweans’ social conditions, political life after Mugabe could be a whole lot different.

Zimbabwe could be sleep-walking into more an unstable society. Zanu PF will not be able to rely on the docility equation because only Mugabe could benefit from it.

Comments (8)

People may fear but they have lost all respect for these Zhanu thugs, no one is interested in them anymore.

Mike - 26 May 2015

Zimbabwe is not a bitterly divided society. What we see or hear in Zimbabwe is cry for better economics full stop. All the strong adjectives that people use are political banter with little example on the ground. Surprisingly, Zimbabwe demonstrates more political stability than some European or African countries at their best.

Jonsina - 27 May 2015

@ Jansino, it would be better to give real examples not just fiction.Which countries are you comparing with? What bpolitical stability is there to show in zim when people are not free to aire their views openly?You are mistaking oppression for stability.

Tahir Iqbal - 27 May 2015

Three and half decades of mismanagement and corruption have taken a heavy toll on the economy, there is no fat left to pay for free education and all the other give away socialist policies. Indeed instead of mass prosperity what we have now is mass poverty. The threat of social arrest in Zimbabwe today is now certainty because the people fear poverty more than they fear Mugabe's Riot Police. Charm does not work on a restless people, not even Mugabe's mojo charm! The economic meltdown has left its mark on Zanu PF itself; the dog-eat-dog factional fighting in the party is caused by member fighting over the ever shrinking national cake. Mugabe has held the party together because he had loot to dish out, take away the loot and already the party is imploding! Indeed it is Mugabe himself who has initiated the implosion by firing Mujuru and her followers; he had no choice in the matter, there was not enough to feed everyone in the bloated party. Zimbabwe is facing a political and economic nightmare; not even Mugabe can stop what is coming, not even if he knock fifty years from his present age!

Wilbert Mukori - 27 May 2015

Be advised that Joyce has the key to unlock Zim economy, restore relationships IMF, World Bank, the West America included and the potential to engange everybody in our polico-socio-economic development. Tried and tested leader the first woman president to be of Zimbabwe

Tholakele Moyo - 28 May 2015

Zimbabwe needs new leadership, a new political dispensation that does not involve anyone/any people who have had a hand in the present status quo, I am surprised people are saying Mujuru should 'lead'! but these are the same characters who have been in power since 1980 and all they did was enrich themselves at the expense of the masses, she only became an opponent of the regime now- albeit after being booted out! careful people, these people are part of a system that has been brutal, corrupt and thieving they cannot offer any tangible change at all. wasn't it Joyce Mujuru who didn't want econet holdings to get a licence? if it wasn't for Joshua Nkomo there wouldn't be any econet wireless! look at her family's wealth, when most zimbabweans are living on less than a dollar a day, the United Nations standard for absolute poverty! we deserve better folks, better.

bruce masauso maxwell - 29 May 2015

I understand where you are coming from but the reality is that with Mugabe gone, the political terrain will be different. There will no be as the people of Zimbabwe will express their views openly and decide who will be our next leader. That means the next head of state will face no trouble and even the ZANU PF big weights will, for the sake of the protection of what they have looted over the years and the blood on their hands remain silent and silent for ever. They will need not to be told that the game and the rules of the game have changed.

wills - 31 May 2015

The untainted Strive Masiyiwa ngaachigadzirira kutonga. Its a prophecy

Amai Mandigona - 1 June 2015

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