'Mugabe holds the aces' - Mavhinga

HARARE - Human Rights Watch senior researcher for southern Africa and former Zimbabwe civic society leader — Dewa Mavhinga — says President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF’s failure to ensure leadership renewal at the top could come back to haunt the party in the 2018 elections, although he does believe that Mugabe still holds (all) the aces in deciding who succeeds him; Mavhinga speaks to Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki and below are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: When you were part of the civil society here, you backed a new Constitution to protect and promote people’s rights; is this happening from your perspective?

A: Although the constitution-making process was wrong in that it was dominated by political parties concerned mainly about their political interests, as part of civil society I backed the new Constitution because it had great potential to protect people’s rights and improve their lives.
But unfortunately there is no implementation, and the 2013 Constitution, which is no longer a new Constitution, has not changed people’s lives for the better. The Constitution has turned out to be a cloud without rain.
The Zanu PF has inexplicably delayed the establishment of key constitutional institutions like the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission thereby dashing people’s hope for justice and accountability for past human rights abuses. Under the dispensation of the 2013 Constitution Zimbabweans continue to suffer and many would find it very difficult to point to anything positive in their lives that came from the new Constitution.

Q: What’s the main driving force in the violation of human rights which you have noted since the new Constitution kicked in?
A: Since the new Constitution came into force major human rights violations have been in the Zanu PF government’s failure to improve the economy and guarantee socio-economic rights.
Millions of Zimbabweans live in extreme poverty without access to basic necessities. There are no jobs. In 2013, Zanu PF promised to create 2,2 million jobs, but instead workers are losing jobs and going home with nothing. That is a great injustice. Displacements and evictions of Tokwe-Mukorsi flood victims in Mwenezi and on farms around the country are also major violations of people’s rights. Zimbabwe has a big problem of child marriage, where girls as young as 12, 13, 14 or 15 drop out of school, get married and get pregnant but there is little focus on this issue.

Q: You cover southern Africa in your research; would you say the region is improving its rights record and why?
A: The glass is half-full, not half-empty. Compared to the rest of the continent, southern Africa has the least conflicts and is the most stable which is good for human rights as most abuses occur in situations of conflict and war.
However, countries in southern Africa should do more to curb corruption and improve economic governance in order to meet the socio-economic rights of their people. For instance, in Zimbabwe the government is failing to stamp out political violence; in Mozambique the threat of another civil war between Dhlakama’s Renamo and government forces continues to hover; in South Africa foreign nationals from the continent continue to face waves of xenophobic violence and no justice; the DRC is faced with massive internal displacement because of conflicts there; and in Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, opposition political parties are banned.
Unfortunately Sadc leaders removed the Sadc Tribunal’s power to decide over human rights and justice issues, so where citizens find not justice in their own countries they can no longer look to the regional court.

Q: Civic groups and pro-democratic forces have decried the slow pace in aligning laws with the new Constitution, yet Zanu PF government says it needs money for that; should there be a time frame for aligning laws?
A: To say the Zanu PF government needs money for the aligning of laws is a lame excuse, there is simply lack of political will to implement new and progressive laws.
The government made a mistake of disbanding Copac before full implementation of the new Constitution and alignment of laws. Zimbabwe should have followed the example of Kenya.
In Kenya, when they had a new constitution in 2010 they set up a Constitution Implementation Commission with a strict mandate to ensure that Parliament implements the Constitution and aligns the laws within five years.
Failure of which any person could petition the High Court for an order directing Parliament to ensure implementation. If Parliament defies the High Court order the Chief Justice was empowered to advise the President to dissolve Parliament.

Q: Zanu PF critics say a strong coalition of opposition parties could end its rule in 2018; what’s your take on that?
A: The source of Zanu PF’s demise lies in the party’s inability to democratically decide Mugabe’s succession and its failure to ensure leadership renewal at the top. The vicious purge of former vice president Joice Mujuru and her supporters confirmed Mugabe’s unwillingness to go, and worse, the real possibility that Mugabe’s successor could be his wife, Grace. This gives rise to the reality of more purges in Zanu PF as the way is paved for the First Lady.
This process has obviously severely weakened the party and strengthened the chances or an organised coalition of opposition parties defeating Zanu PF in 2018.

Q: Who should lead this coalition and how is it likely to deal with electoral issues which have always been a source of conflict between Zanu PF and opposition parties?
A: It should not matter that much. We must move away from the concept of winner take-all and an all-powerful executive president whose post becomes the only post worth having.
Switzerland has a system of government where the post of president rotates among seven people and there is no fight to occupy that post.
We can have a scenario where the powers of the president are devolved, decentralised and shared more equally, and perhaps re-introduce the post of prime minister as head of government.
Where presidential power is not concentrated in one person, but spread and shared, each leader’s worth is considered, and everyone has an opportunity to contribute to building a better Zimbabwe.
Imagine a scenario where all political parties have a stake in government and all working together for the good of Zimbabweans!

Q: There have been consistent statements by the military that they would only accept a person with impeccable liberation credentials to replace President Robert Mugabe as the next leader; do you see this determining who wins in 2018?
A: The military has been a factor in politics only because the Zanu PF government under president deliberately cultivated partisan politics and allowed them to improperly interfere in civilian and political affairs.
If, as appears to be the case, president Mugabe puts forward his wife, a former typist who is not a freedom fighter, then it is likely that the military will stand behind their commander-in-chief for as long as he is around and in charge.
But of course things will be very different when he is not around.

Q: How does the infighting in Zanu PF shape the electoral terrain and likely outcomes of 2018 elections?
A: What is happening in Zanu PF is not in-fighting, it is purging of potential successors to Mugabe to pave way for a preferred successor who is yet to be named.
It is deliberate side-lining of former freedom fighters and an attempt to re-create Zanu PF. The on-going purging by expulsion from Zanu PF inevitably creates another centre of power outside of Zanu PF, mainly around Amai Joice Mujuru, who for 10 years from 2004 to 2014 was viewed by observers as the obvious and preferred successor to Mugabe.
Those in Zanu PF have by now realised that they were sold a dummy when they were told all those malicious lies about Joice Mujuru, so when more heads roll they are likely to join her.
Putting Grace Mugabe forward as Mugabe’s successor is a huge political gamble that may backfire.

Q: What scenarios are likely to emerge in the internal succession power dynamics of Zanu PF politics between now and 2018?
A: Democracy in Zanu PF is an illusion; the issue of succession will be decided in Mugabe’s favour.
If he chooses his wife, or his personal banker, Gideon Gono, his party will simply rubber-stamp the decision.

Q: To what extent will that shape Zimbabwe’s future in probably, post Mugabe era?
A: Because Mugabe is the big man of Zanu PF politics, it means internal party power dynamics will change significantly when he is gone, and whoever he chooses to be successor will face fresh challenges in the post-Mugabe era.

Q: Who holds the aces in the Zanu PF power struggles and why?
A: Those people close to Mugabe, who can influence him, hold the aces in Zanu PF because Mugabe is the personification of the Zanu PF institution.
In December 2014, the Zanu PF constitution was amended to depose all power in Mugabe to make all senior party appointments instead of holding elections.
He has all the power, so those who have his ear carry the day. Such people in Mugabe’s inner circle, the political Holly of Hollies, obviously include his wife, Grace.

Q: Which direction are we likely to see Joice Mujuru taking?
A: Joice Mujuru is likely to rally freedom fighters behind her and the vast majority of disgruntled Zanu PF members and well as ordinary Zimbabweans who identify with her vision and political manifesto.
Mujuru will have to overcome a number of challenges which all other opposition leaders face, that is: threats to personal security, harassment and persecution from state agents and Mugabe’s supporters; doubts from suspicious members of the public who might think that eventually she may return to Zanu PF; the challenge of levelling the electoral field to make free and fair elections possible; building alliances with other political formations to form a coalition; and finally, the difficult task of mobilising Zimbabweans to support and be registered to vote in 2018.
From her silence in the face of attacks and insults from Grace Mugabe, Joice Mujuru has shown that she is a woman of peace who would rather not pick a public fight with Mugabe despite all the ill-treatment.

Q: How influential is she now that she is outside the Zanu PF comfort zones?
A: Joice Mujuru fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe, and as such she is a celebrated freedom fighter whose late husband General Solomon Mujuru was an iconic freedom fighter and Zimbabwe’s respected first black commander of the Defence Forces.
For 10 years she was Mugabe’s deputy and is the longest serving acting president since independence — this enabled her to build support within Zanu PF and across Zimbabwe.
The horrific and mysterious death of her husband has earned her a lot of sympathy from people who may suspect foul play.
Despite State media attempts to soil her image; to many Joice Mujuru remains a powerful woman with gravitas and credibility, and is likely to appeal to Zimbabwe’s largest and most powerful political constituency: women.
But to enhance her political influence Mujuru will need to emerge as a political unifier and a builder of  a coalition of forces that put the interests of all Zimbabweans first.

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