The Spell of Indecision in Zimbabwean Politics

By Brian Raftopoulos

Viewing the broad spectrum of the political landscape in Zimbabwe at the end of 2011, one is left with the distinct impression that all the political forces are caught under a spell of  indecision. The dilemmas of leadership renewal, electoral strategy and a broad vision for the future are all inducing a sense of hesitancy, that in the case of Zanu PF, manifests itself in  renewed aggression and political hubris. Moreover if the Wikileaks reports have any validity this sense of uncertainty is not new, as all parties have, over the last decade,sought out the father confessor of the American Embassy to vent their fears and schizophrenic party psyches, none more so than the outwardly macho Zanu PF.

To start with Zanu PF, it is clear that the decision at the recent Bulawayo conference of the party to nominate Mugabe once again as the presidential candidate for the next election tells us a great deal about a party that is simply unable, at this stage, to visualise a regenerative strategy outside of its octogenarian leader. The lack of trust in an open discussion over the succession issue, is based on a  party that fears its own internal contradictions and history as much as it does the judgement of an open and fair plebiscite. Zanu PF is also a party that assumes that the Zimbabwean state is its private property and therefore finds it difficult to understand any other means to secure its ill- gotten gains except through the continued stranglehold over the military- security apparatus. For all these reasons and more Mugabe and his party remain the major obstacle to political progress in Zimbabwe. Yet Mugabe and his party are not about to disappear and their future, even if it may not be a long one for the President, must be a part of any longer term settlement in the country.

Tsvangirai’s MDC have their own set of doubts. A popularly elected party that was denied the fruits of victory, the party has had to confront the challenges of learning statecraft in an inclusive government with a ruthless, violent and wily ‘partner’. This challenge has had to be undertaken with a party apparatus that requires a huge amount of organisational strengthening and capacity building, and which has had its fair share of problems with internal accountability and intra-party violence. The recent personal problems of Morgan Tsvangirai have added to the leadership struggles that have also emerged in the MDC-T.

The smaller MDC formation led by Welshman Ncube faces an even greater sense of uncertainty about its future, as a result of an ongoing legal battle over the leadership,  continued defection of its membership, and the knowledge that its current survival depends on its capacity to manoeuvre between the two major parties. Added to this is the constant vilification that this formation and its leader have had to face from all sides in Zimbabwe.

For their part the regional and international players in Zimbabwean politics  confront their own uncertainties. After the more critical position taken on the Mugabe regime in Livingstone in March this year, SADC followed this up with resolutions in Sandton and Luanda that endorsed this position, even if in less critical language. However there has been a lull in the SA mediation in the last quarter of 2011 with President Zuma, confronted with his own set of problems in the ANC, slow to take up some key outstanding issues in the GPA. Foremost amongst these challenges is the problem of the role of the security sector in the next election. This is an issue that the negotiators have been unable to resolve and have therefore determined that the matter can only be taken up by Zuma and the Principals in Zimbabwe. Zuma’s hesitation around this issue echoes Mbeki’s unwillingness to deal with it in the discussions leading to the GPA, but it remains the central problem in the political equation.

SADC’s work has been made more difficult by its differences with the EU and the US over the continued sanctions policy of these countries, and the often mixed messages that have been sent out on this issue by the MDCs and the civic movement. For their part it appears that the EU, in particular, are aware of the limited and even counter-productive effects of the sanctions policy, but are more concerned about saving face with their own domestic constituencies, than with the problematic effects of this policy on the politics of the Inclusive Government. Moreover the global politics of human rights has too often been associated with a politics of regime change, making it difficult for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe to articulate this discourse in the face of nationalist pronouncements.

It is clear therefore that if there is indecision in Zimbabwean politics it is based on the growing complexity of the problem and the increasing need for a more assertive mediation process. In the current politics of Southern Africa this mediation can only be led effectively by SADC, with all its weaknesses, with both the EU and the US finding ways to strengthen rather than undermine this process. The central objective of the SADC mediation leading to the GPA was to establish the conditions for a free and fair election. That objective remains to be fulfilled and it is the processes leading to the next election, more than the timing of it, that are the most important factors to keep in focus.

Sun, December 18 2011 » Global Political Agreement

One Response

  1. Balt Verhagen December 22 2011 @ 9:22 am

    Part of the political indecision in Zimbabwe can be directly related to South Africa’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ interventions since 2000.

    Two years ago, a message of ANC loyalty to ZANU PF was delivered to its 2009 congress in Harare by South African Minister for Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale. Hardly mentioned in the SA press, Zimbabwe independent media immediately saw this as undermining the ‘mediation’ efforts by president Zuma to save the GPA and ‘unity’ government.

    Old party loyalties, often quoted as underlying this dichotomy, are a red herring – the ANC in exile was supported by Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU. However, the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999 from Zimbabwe’s trade union federation and its immediate electoral successes set the alarm bells ringing amongst the ruling elites on both sides of the Limpopo, and elsewhere in SADC. In South Africa, the tri-partite ally Cosatu needed to be warned off in its political aspirations. Well served by the example of Mugabe’s efficient and violent emasculation of the MDC, this was bolstered by Thabo Mbeki’s ‘quiet diplomacy’, then by his imposing an unworkable national unity government, to be smoothly followed by Zuma’s nod-and-wink ‘mediation’ – whilst upholding internationally an honest broker façade.

    Mantashe’s repeat effort of swearing loyalty to ZANU in Harare last week, now widely reported, are seen to endanger this long-maintained sharade. The stakes have increased sharply. Cosatu is again flexing its political muscle. ZANU, deeply divided, considers jettisoning aging Mugabe. Zuma needs to bolster such a useful ally in his strong-arm efforts to ensure re-election. Thus, again, the ANC – abetted by much of SADC – distorts the political process in Zimbabwe in dealing with its own internal tensions.

    Balt Verhagen, Johannesburg

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