Zim in 2015: The Year in a Big Nutshell

KENT - The year is nearly over, and for Zimbabwe, it has been a hectic one on the political front, dominated by internecine wars of succession in Zanu PF.

The purpose of this article is to present, by way of summary, the big issues and incidents of the year.

These are the major incidents and issues that stood out among the many that happened during the course of the year.

All these issues were covered on this platform and links will be provided to previous articles where appropriate.

While prognostications for 2016 are provided, our first article in the New Year will perform this task in more detail.

Succession Wars: Finishing off the Mujuru faction

Politically, the year started exactly where the previous had ended, with the continuation of the war to get rid of the remnants of the Mujuru faction from Zanu PF.

While Joice Mujuru had already lost her vice presidency and her allies like Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo had also lost their senior portfolios in the party, she and various other allies were eventually expelled from Zanu PF in the New Year. 

Mujuru did not contest her expulsion. Didymus Mutasa, Temba Mliswa and Kudakwashe Bhasikiti put up a spirited fight but it was futile. Many others were suspended, while ministers and deputy ministers allegedly aligned or sympathetic to Mujuru were also sacked.

Many, however, remained Zanu PF members and retained their parliamentary seats. The different punishments reflect divide and rule politics, with those suspended seemingly remaining with some hope that they will one day get back onto the gravy train.

Intensification of Factionalism

Factionalism is like a virus in Zimbabwean political parties, affecting all and constantly changing and mutating. Factions are constantly forming and splitting parties or leading to the formation of new political units.

The moment you think one faction has disappeared, it reappears in another form. In this regard, 2015 was no different.

The main MDC had its own factions, and so did Zanu PF. When one faction left the Tsangirai-led MDC to emerge as MDC Renewal, the latter soon split into two factions of its own. Now there is PDP and Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ).

Meanwhile, the remaining chunk of the main MDC was also dogged by allegations of more factionalism. The factions don’t seem to end.

In Zanu PF, the expulsion of the Mujuru faction was supposed to signal a new order with the victorious Mnangagwa faction in the ascendancy. However, it soon emerged that the ousting of Mujuru had been achieved not by the Mnangagwa faction acting alone but by a loose coalition of convenience in which Mnangagwa was merely a beneficiary.

The assumption that the First Lady Grace Mugabe was fighting for Mnangagwa’s ascendancy has proven to be false. Instead, she had her own ambitions and had the backing of an equally ambitious group, commonly referred to as G40.

The long-held assumption that Prof. Jonathan Moyo was working for a Mnangagwa presidency has also been proven to be false. Instead, the political science professor and politician has his own agenda, which does not involve Mnangagwa.

By the end of 2015, the horns of factionalism could no longer be concealed, however hard some within the party tried to argue that there was no factionalism.

It became clear during the course of the year that Mnangagwa’s ambitions to succeed Mugabe were being resisted very strongly by the G40 Faction, which appears to have rallied around the first lady.

What can now be predicted is that if the G40 manages to dislodge Mnangagwa from the position of favourite to succeed President Mugabe, they too might begin another factional fight of their own.

This is a process of elimination — someone is carefully and methodically eliminating competition, starting with those who base their claims to leadership on the liberation war credentials.

Despite attempts to cover up during the course of the year, claiming that there were no factions, when Zanu PF held its conference this month, the president spent a long time bemoaning the problem of factions which he said were ripping the party apart.

Ominously, he even made a shocking admission that the factional wars had also split the military and other branches of the security services.

Clearly, it is a problem that can no longer be concealed, and it is likely to escalate in 2016, as the succession race intensifies.

People First

People First is still an enigma. It’s the “party” that many people have talked about this year, except that there is actually no such party. The eviction of the Mujuru faction from Zanu PF led to speculation throughout the year that she would form a new political party to oppose her erstwhile comrades.

This is based on the long-held assumption that Mujuru had a lot of support in Zanu PF. But as we have observed above, we must be wary of assumptions that are often based on conjecture. Mujuru herself has been less than bold so far, choosing to keep her cards close to her chest.

She did issue a few long statements but largely remained mute, just as she did last year when she was being attacked and humiliated by the first lady. She chose silence and she has maintained that mode, except for the few press statements.

Her first statement was an apology to Zimbabweans for her role in the nation’s demise during her days in Zanu PF. This was generally well- received.

The second, was a long statement, which read like a manifesto, carrying the suggestive acronym, BUILD. In the statement, Mujuru makes a pledge to Zimbabweans and tries to distinguish herself from Zanu PF. However, she also succeeds in demonstrating more commonalities than differences with the opposition MDC.

For their part, opposition parties have been making suggestive statements of potential partnership with the Mujuru outfit, which is strange because People First does not exist.

Some in the opposition have questioned the wisdom of teaming up with what they refer to as “Zanu PF rejects”, arguing that they were part of the system that caused so much suffering to Zimbabweans and that, in any event, they would never have left their party if they hadn’t been expelled.

These concerns are not illegitimate, but politics is also about pragmatism — about what works in order to achieve a goal, and sometimes it involves teaming up with people that you don’t particularly like. It remains to be seen whether the opposition parties will come together to confront their common adversary. Their disunity has always been their Achilles’ heel.

The Recall

Relations between the opposition parties reached their lowest ebb this year when a number of opposition MPs were expelled from Parliament at the instance of the main opposition, the MDC.

They called for the expulsion of MPs who had defected to form a splinter party, MDC Renewal, later to be called PDP. Zanu PF had used the same constitutional provision which allows a political party to cause the expulsion of an MP on the basis that he would have ceased to be its member.

Mutasa, Mliswa, Bhasikiti and others were expelled from Parliament by Zanu PF.

However, whereas Zanu PF replaced its expelled MPs through by-elections, incredibly, the main MDC did not, as they boycotted all by-elections under their “No Reforms No Elections” protest.

They argued that the electoral system was so unfair that they would not contest until reforms had been implemented.

The boycott raised questions as to why they had bothered to expel the opposition MPs in the first place if the result was only to open the way for Zanu PF to fill those seats, even in its traditional strongholds.

It gave the impression that the main opposition had been motivated more by vengeance against their former colleagues who had defected.

The elections boycott has not deterred Zanu PF from contesting and winning all by-elections, often against small and insignificant opposition parties.

In effect, the MDC by-elections boycott has allowed Zanu PF to take seats in Harare and Bulawayo constituencies for the first time in 15 years, a significant political development.

It remains to be seen how this presence will affect the parties’ fortunes in the next elections.

The biggest problem for the MDC in this case is the apparent double-standards towards the filling of vacancies in Parliament: on the one hand they refused to participate in the contested by-elections, but on the other hand, they were happy to participate by filling in vacant and uncontested proportional representation and Senate seats.

For a party that was staking its moral claim on non-participation in elections until reforms had been implemented, it undermined its cause by participating in the less contentious and easy part of the elections. It is this lack of consistency that undermines its moral capital against an admittedly unfair electoral system.

Itai Dzamara

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe is this year encapsulated in one name: Itai Dzamara. Back in 2014, Dzamara launched and prosecuted what was initially a one-man protest against Government, calling specifically for the departure of Mugabe. 

Later, he was joined by a small group of protestors. They would assemble at Africa Unity Square, in front of Parliament Building. They held placards in protest. Later they wrote and delivered a petition, calling for Mugabe’s resignation.

On a few occasions, including last November, together with his lawyer, Kennedy Masiye, he was severely assaulted by the police. Then on March 9, 2015, he was allegedly abducted in his neighbourhood by a group of unknown men who bundled him into a vehicle and drove off. He has never been seen since that day.

The case attracted international attention and widespread condemnation. Government initially did not show much interest.

The courts ordered that his disappearance be investigated, the Government indicated that it was looking into it. The Human Rights Commission is seized with the matter.

But the statements coming from senior officials and State media showed nonchalant disregard of what had happened to Dzamara. They claimed Dzamara was hiding outside the country. They dismissed it as a stunt. Their words were harsh and callous. The end of the year marks nine months since his abduction and disappearance.

It’s a desperately sad case, which brings reminders of similar cases in Zimbabwe’s history — Rashiwe Guzha in the 1990s, Captain Nleya in the 1980s and Edson Sithole, a nationalist who disappeared in 1970s Rhodesia. They all disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

The sad case of Dzamara came at a time when Zimbabwe was slowly gaining favour in the international community. The rehabilitation of the country in the community of nations suffered a huge blow as a result of this matter. The saga will no doubt continue into 2016.

Courting the IMF

Patrick Chinamasa, the Finance minister, has probably the most difficult job in the country. He is a Finance minister without money. He has fought almost a lone battle to court the Bretton Woods institutions and by extension, the West.

His efforts have yielded some fruit, such as the deal on debt and further reengagement with the IMF. However, in pushing his case, Chinamasa has clashed with Cabinet colleagues and with his boss, the president.

Earlier this year, realising that the Government could not afford bonus payments to a bloated civil service, Chinamasa announced that there would be no bonuses in 2015. Civil servants, for so long used to the 13th cheque on an annual basis, were not pleased.

Mugabe publicly reversed Chinamasa’s announcement. It was humiliating but Chinamasa had no choice but to make an about-turn.

Later, trying to appeal to the IMF and investors, Chinamasa also promised that the indigenisation law would be reviewed. This law, requiring foreign companies to cede 51 percent ownership of businesses to indigenous people, has long been cited as a disincentive for investment by investors and analysts.

Its implementation has been erratic and inconsistent, resulting in confusion and uncertainty. It has also been plagued by corruption. Chinamasa’s pledges to review the law were publicly opposed by Patrick Zhuwao, the new Indigenisation minister and Chris Mutsvangwa, the minister in charge of war veterans. These public clashes did not give the right picture, suggesting a Cabinet in discord.

China, Dangote and mega-deals

In terms of investment, 2015 has, like previous years, been a year of promises but too little delivery. For the past two years, state media has been crowing about Chinese “mega-deals”.

However, as yet, not much has been realised. For years, Chinese leaders appeared to avoid Zimbabwe, visiting other African countries and investing billions of dollars. All this notwithstanding Zimbabwean leaders’ claims that we were best friends with China. On one occasion in 2013, the Chinese Vice President only managed to meet the then Vice President Joice Mujuru while he was in transit to another African country.

Mujuru had to drive down to Harare International Airport to meet him there. It was embarrassing. When President Xi Jinping toured Africa last year, Zimbabwe was not part of his itinerary, which again raised questions. However, in August 2014, Mugabe went to China on a state visit, where state media claimed “mega-deals” were signed.

In July this year Vice President Mnangagwa also went on an official visit to China, where yet again, state media claimed “mega-deals” had been processed. Finally, early December 2015, President Xi Jinping finally made a visit to Zimbabwe. However, in effect, he was passing through, on his way to South Africa for the China-Africa Summit.

Yet again, state media reported that “mega-deals” had been signed. A figure of $4 billion dollars was cited as representing the deals. Hopefully, 2016 will see the fruition of the much-touted “mega-deals”.

The other major story this ear was the arrival of Nigerian billionaire, Aliko Dangote, reputed to be the richest man in Africa. Dangote was given rock-star treatment, meeting everyone, including Mugabe. State media gave the billionaire’s visit much coverage.

It was reported that he had made commitments to invest and that he would definitely be meeting his promise. There was a lot of hype over Dangote, naturally from the state media eager to have some feel-good stories to deliver to a weary and frustrated nation.

However, the reality of business is that such major investments of the nature they described require heavy due diligence and are not an overnight phenomenon. 2016 is the year in which the promise of Dangote will be tested.

Presidential Faux Pas

Interest in Mugabe’s age continued to occupy media and public attention, particularly with a few incidents that gave rise to speculation that it was getting the better of him. Earlier this year, arriving from one of numerous trips abroad, Mugabe tripped and fell on the red carpet at the airport. But he recovered very swiftly and gathered himself, unaided. It was an accident, not quite a circumstance of old age. However, the incident prompted an international wave of excitement and memes on the internet which went viral.

Chief spin-doctor and information minister at the time, Prof Jonathan Moyo was quick to offer an explanation in defence, memorably claiming that the president had not fallen but had, instead, “broken the fall”. “The President broke his fall”, said Moyo in an effort at damage limitation. It only added to the humour around the incident and to his credit, President Mugabe saw the funny side and was able to laugh it away.

More serious, however, was the incident mid-September when he read the wrong speech on the occasion of the opening of Parliament. It was the same speech he had read just two weeks earlier when he delivered the State-of-the-Nation Address.

Incredibly, he did not notice that he was reading the wrong speech. It later turned out that his close advisers had realised the gaffe a few minutes into the speech but had failed to stop him, fearing perhaps that would be a greater embarrassment.

The reading of the wrong speech and his apparent failure to recognise it, caused many observers to raise questions about his capacity. Even the opposition latched on to the bandwagon of criticism, calling for him to resign. Interestingly, a similar incident was to happen again at the Zanu PF conference in December 2015, but on that occasion, he was alert enough to notice that he had been given the wrong speech.

Finally, another incident that caused President Mugabe a bit of bother was his accosting in Nigeria by a journalist. The journalist was relentless in her pursuit of President Mugabe and what initially started as a cordial exchange turned ugly as she demanded to know when he would resign. He was attending the inauguration of Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari.

It was also a year of plentiful travel for Mugabe. This was justified by his advisors on the grounds that he had to attend to various duties in his capacity as AU and Sadc Chairperson, roles that he carried simultaneously. He even managed to attend the G20 Summit in Turkey, along with world leaders of the exclusive club of rich nations.

Cecil the Lion

The end of July saw Zimbabwe hogging space in international media, but this time not for the usual Mugabe-related news.

Instead, the flurry of activity was around a lion called Cecil. An American hunter, Walter Palmer, a dentist from the state of Minnesota found himself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. He was the culprit who had shot and killed Cecil, the lion, during a licensed hunt.

Bit it so happened that he got the Bambi of Zimbabwean lions. Apparently, Cecil the lion was a much-adored animal in the Hwange National Park and it was also wearing a collar, having been chosen for a study by researchers at the University of Oxford.

The manner of its killing was callous, having been shot by bow and arrow, meaning it had died a slow and painful death. That Palmer was later photographed showing off his kill after the hunt drew more outrage from opponents of blood sports. The hashtag#CeciltheLion went viral on social media. The dentist had to close his practice for a few weeks having been beseeched by protestors.

However, the amount of attention given to and the hype over Cecil, the lion left many ordinary Zimbabweans bemused, especially as they were not familiar with this lion that the international media claimed was much loved. Due to severe economic challenges, few Zimbabweans have the resource to tour their own national parks to see lions, anyway.

At the time, most activists and observers were concerned by the abduction and disappearance of Itai Dzamara, the democracy activist and they wondered why a lion had attracted so much attention compared to the lukewarm attention towards fellow humans.

But the Cecil story also raised important questions about the hunting of big game in Africa as a sport and an industry. It is notoriously opaque and corrupt, and constitutes a big economy which is enjoyed by a privileged few. One hoped the Government of Zimbabwe would take advantage of the free publicity and marketing opportunity this incident presented, given it brought the country and its tourism capabilities into many households in big tourist markets of the US and other parts of the world. But petered out very quickly and once again the country failed to capitalise.

The Rise and Rise of Grace Mugabe

Finally, perhaps the most significant political development in the last 12 months is the meteoric rise of the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, into a major contender to succeed her husband, President Mugabe. When she entered the political field as an active politician in the middle of 2014, most observers did not give her a chance. The common view was that she was still green and had not built sufficient political capital to be a serious contender. However, her political stock has risen significantly in the 18-month spell that she has hogged the limelight, and it would be foolish to continue writing her off.

As first lady, she enjoys advantages that competitors lack. There are things she can do, such as holding nationwide rallies, without being seen as a threat to her husband. Any other politician would be regarded as challenging what is generally regarded as the one centre of power in the party.

As wife, Grace Mugabe can do pretty much anything and still not be regarded as undermining the president. She can talk about his age and health, joke about them, as she did when she stated recently that Mugabe would rule from a wheel-chair if that become necessary.

Any other politician might have been called to order for disrespecting the President. She has also been able to ride on the state, distributing resources from a Brazilian loan facility.

What the rallies have effectively done is to sell Grace Mugabe as a presidential candidate. She is there now, as a key player and can no longer be dismissed.

    Comments (1)

    Here is a message from SA's No.1 https://goo.gl/un722t Seems South Africa had an interesting year courtesy of their clown, which will financially impact on Zim's economy, particularly with the appointment of a new finance minister for an entire weekend from the back benches of parliament just after SA achieved "Junk Status"

    Nooshie - 3 January 2016

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