HOT SEAT INTERVIEW : On the programme ‘Hot Seat’ Violet Gonda talks to Professor Jonathan Moyo, Journalist Peta Thornycroft and political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos
Violet Gonda: On the programme Hot Seat today we bring you a teleconference with foreign correspondent Peta Thornycroft, political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos and independent MP and former Information Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo. This first segment centers on the controversial plans by the ruling ZANU PF party to harmonise the presidential and parliamentary elections and extend Robert Mugabe’s rule from 2008 to 2010.
It has been reported that a preliminary move to extend Mugabe’s term was approved at the conference and that the proposal has now been passed to the party’s policy-making central committee for endorsement. The next central committee meeting is expected before March. So I first asked Professor Moyo for his thoughts on this matter.
Professor Moyo: I have to correct you there, it is not true that one; there is such a proposal by the ruling party, and in any case, it’s not true that this proposal for harmonising elections in 2010 as part of Mugabe’s plan to remain in office was passed by the ZANU PF conference. In fact, the true position is that for the first time we have an extraordinary situation here without precedent, which is that a ZANU PF conference has concluded without making a single resolution. Not one resolution was formally made and passed by the ZANU PF conference. And, the reason was precisely because there was trouble over this plan, not by ZANU PF; but by President Mugabe, some securocrats and a few supporters within the ruling party who want him to avoid an election when his term expires in 2008 so that he remains for at least another two years but, with the intention of remaining there longer.
But, the main point is that the major factions within ZANU PF; the so-called Mujuru faction and the Mnangagwa faction; the big wigs in those factions are not supporting these proposals. They want Mugabe to go when his term expires in 2008 and consequently there was trouble yesterday when the conference was in the process of making these resolutions. And, what they resolved to do is to send all the resolutions that were intended for endorsement back, not to the Central Committee, but to provinces, so that they will be debated, discussed there and then forwarded to the Central Committee which the Chairman of ZANU PF; the National Chairman John Nkomo, said is the Supreme Organ in between conferences and congresses to look at look at those resolutions. So, we have really an extraordinary situation here where Mugabe’s attempt to use ZANU PF’s 2006 conference to endorse his plan actually failed.
Violet: That’s what I was going to ask, that in a way did you think that Mugabe got what he wanted Professor Moyo?
Professor Moyo: No, he did not. He obviously wanted unanimous support but he did not get it and the problem for him didn’t start in Goromonzi yesterday but it started on Wednesday, on the 12 th of December when the matter came up for the first time in the party’s Politburo and it was not accepted. And, the point here is that, from what I understand, everyone agrees that there is a case to be made and some wisdom for harmonising Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government elections as an administrative issue. But, when it comes to when should this be done and even how it should be done, there is absolutely no agreement even within ZANU PF especially when it becomes apparent that the intention behind this seemingly innocent proposal is, in fact, not only to extend Mugabe’s term by a stroke of the pen but to also make it impossible for, especially those faction leaders who had positioned themselves to take the throne from him; to even challenge within a democratic process. And, this is the problem that he is having.
Peta Thornycroft: Well, I’m listening to Jonathan and I saw; I’ve already spoken to him this morning so I knew about it and I saw the Standard had a report and one did know that leading towards this Congress there has been extraordinary division within ZANU PF. Each faction having scandals leaked about the other faction and clearly ZANU PF is not the ZANU PF we knew up until now. It has never been so divided and we will have to wait and see whether or not Mugabe manages to use his muscle to bring them into line via the Central Committee. I think that’s what we’ll be waiting for now, it’s whether he can whip the Central Committee into shape to come up with a decision to back his extension of power as part of the harmonisation of elections.
Violet: And Professor Raftopoulos, your thoughts on this?
Professor Raftopoulos: Yes I think that the situation as Professor Moyo has described is correct. I think that there’s enormous turmoil in this ruling party, the tensions of the past, the contradictions that are within ZANU PF have emerged quite fully, and the problems of the way ZANU PF deals with succession generally and historically have really come home to roost. President Mugabe has had a real problem of about putting in place proper structures internally within his party of how to deal with this question and I think it’s coming home full force now. But, the problem is, it’s a more general problem for the State in Zimbabwe and for the state of our nation. It’s a very dangerous time I think and especially given the way the State itself has been increasingly militarised and we know these divisions are quite deep. I think it does present very serious problems, not just for the ruling party, but for Zimbabwean people as a whole.
Violet: And you know many would ask, and I think for this question I have to go back to Professor Moyo, that what about these eight out of ten provinces who adopted the proposal to extend Mugabe’s term. Are you saying that they really didn’t want that because many people had thought that they wanted a life President?
Professor Moyo: Well, two things about that as far as I understand what happened. First, it’s not true that these eight provinces, or anyone, for that matter, in ZANU PF, really understands what the content of this proposal is. And secondly, it’s not true that they went beyond simply expressing support for the harmonisation of the three major elections in the country. They did not go as far as making a resolution to say the President’s term should be extended. Because, there is no necessary connection between the two things, between harmonising elections and having Mugabe continue with executive power and authority beyond the expiry of his term. But, in any case, these eight provinces were making recommendations to the conference and it’s no longer important to refer to them because the conference has taken place, and what we know is that they, plus the other two sitting at the conference did not make this resolution. This resolution was not formally tabled before the conference and it was not adopted by acclamation as is usually the place. That’s what we know.
Violet: And Peta, who would benefit from an early Mugabe exit?
Peta Thornycroft: Zimbabwe would benefit. There’s no question that it seems impossible that Zimbabwe can even go on until 2008 with Mugabe in power because the situation is truly unravelling with the inflation. Believe me, that inflation of 1000 / 11 00% is not true. The real inflation rate is closer to 2000. The parallel market rate, which is clearly how most business survive, is rampaging ahead even despite the Diasporan return when the parallel rate normally stabilises or even drops slightly. They cannot carry on like that and there are enough people within ZANU PF amongst the younger business men in ZANU PF who do know that the only way to start a recovery is to get back into the International Community and they cannot, Zimbabwe , cannot do that with Mugabe at the helm. Peter Robinson an Economist in Harare, told me on Friday that the studies that he and his colleagues have done show that even if Mugabe was to go tomorrow and Zimbabwe was to go back into the International Community immediately and was able to get Balance of Payments support, it would take 15 years to get to the state Zimbabwe was in, in 1996. The damage is so intense and widespread and that’s not even taking into consideration the humanitarian crisis that Zimbabweans face; an enormous humanitarian crisis.
Violet: And Peta, also, now that Mugabe has said, you know, it was his suggestion that the elections should be harmonised and that there are no vacancies for his position, is he now clarifying to the world that he is truly a dictator?
Peta: Now clarifying to the world? I think some of us who’ve been covering this story for a very long time have used those words many years previously to describe Mugabe’s rule in the last, you know let’s face it, in some ways in the last 23 years since he sent in Gukurahundi and since Gukurahundi took place. So, I wouldn’t think the word ‘now’ was appropriate.
Violet: And speaking about the International Community, Professor Raftopoulos, is the International Community going to take this issue more seriously that Mugabe has made it clear that he wants to stay, his term to be extended, and, he wants to stay in power by all means necessary?
Professor Raftopoulos: I think the International Community is uncertain what to do about the situation in Zimbabwe and there’s been mixed messages coming out of there at the moment. My sense is that for the moment they will hold their ground; they will hold to the kind of restrictions that they have imposed the collective sanctions that they have. But without a very clear idea of what to do next. They’ve been waiting for signals from the region, from SADC, from South Africa . But I think even in SADC and South Africa it’s clear that they’ve been waiting for some kind of a Mugabe retreat and this is clearly a message that those who’ve been hoping for a change will not welcome. So I think for the moment we are just going to see a continued hold on what is in place and I doubt there’ll be any new initiatives unless there’s some very serious internal changes taking place within the country, a re-emergence of a stronger opposition or renewed turmoil within ZANU PF, but I doubt the International Community is going to take this much further at the moment.
Violet: And Professor Moyo, you know some have said that ZANU PF is decaying while others say ZANU PF will have a bit of infighting here and there but the party will not break up. What’s your take on this and also is ZANU PF capable of reform?
Professor Moyo : Well, on the prospects for survival of the party, Mugabe himself, last week, said that one of the reasons why he believes he should stay longer and not retire now anyway is that he fears the party would disintegrate should he retire. And, there are many who would agree with him that he has stayed far too long to the detriment of his party and that it is unlikely that ZANU PF will survive his departure, and so that’s part of the problem.
But there’s an issue related to a question you were raising just a moment ago about why Mugabe has come out publicly indicating that he is the originator of this proposal and so forth. I think we should understand that for Mugabe now the issue is about fear of prosecution, not only by a successor but by victims of his rule over the last 26 or so years within Zimbabwe . But, there’s also a fear of international prosecution and what they seem to be trying to do through this unacceptable proposal is to retain immunity for Mugabe and Mugabe now believes when he looks around, he is aware of what happened to Chiluba in Zambia , to Muluzi in Malawi . He’s also aware that arrangements through the International Community may not be that sustainable as happened with Charles Taylor. So, he now believes, and certainly those close to him, the securocrats, believe that the only way to keep his immunity is if he remains in office.
The problem they are wrestling with is whether he should have both Executive authority and power on the one hand and the ceremonial responsibilities of a Head of State on the other. That is why I gather that some of the people working behind the scenes within his party and Government are trying to do through this proposal, is to bring back the pre 1987 arrangement of a Titular Head of State with ceremonial powers and an Executive Prime Minister so that Mugabe can, from 2008, as a result of this proposal, become a Titular Head of State. And the reason is simply because he is afraid of what is going to happen to him within Zimbabwe and Internationally. But, on the other hand, the rest of the country is concerned about the fact that the decay, the economic meltdown, the breakdown of institutions in the country; all this is related to his rule, and his being in office himself and that there can be no recovery of any kind as long as he is in office. And, I think that’s why there is a push, even from his own party to get him to leave when his term expires.
Violet: But, what about some of these people you mention who are working from behind the scenes? You know, where is Mugabe getting his support base from? Who are these people who are supporting him and who want to extend his rule?
Professor Moyo: Well, one thing we can conclude from the annual conference is that he seems to be losing very fast the support of the various factions within his own party. And, certainly, the two major factions do not agree with him on this one. But, he is enjoying the support of the security arms of the state. Clearly, JOCs is still behind him; the Joint Operational Command which is made up of CIO agents, Army and the Police. They support him.
And there seems to be an unwritten rule here that we have to reckon with which comes from this JOC circle and it is that they believe there are founding fathers connected with the liberation struggle who should, in their view, not be subjected to the indignity, they believe, of dying outside office. The feeling; the unwritten but very strong feeling, is that of the founding fathers, including the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, and the late Vice President Simon Muzenda, Mugabe and Vice President Joseph Msika, these people should die with the dignity of their offices, so goes the argument. And, they say this happened to the late two Vice Presidents and they can’t imagine someone like Robert Mugabe dying as a former President, a retired President and so forth. And, the feeling there is that if we are going to have a new dispensation where power is sought through a transparent competitive process, it should be after this too. If you combine that thinking, which I know for a fact is deeply held in certain circles within the ruling elite plus Mugabe’s fear of prosecution and exaggerated need for immunity, then you can understand why there are problems around this proposal.
Violet: And, you know Professor Raftopoulos, on the issue of people dying in office, as Professor Moyo said, there is also this talk that Mugabe wants to die in office. But, the truth of the matter is that no one is immortal; one day he will die. So, what will happen, if you don’t have a successor?
Professor Raftopoulos : Well, clearly that’s one of the real problems that we’re facing; the issue of Mugabe’s security but also this sense of obligation that they feel that the people of Zimbabwe have. It’s creating enormous problems for the nation because an unresolved issue around the succession could cause a great deal of turmoil, not just in the ruling party and for the State, but for the Nation itself. This is particularly the case when we know how much the State has been securitised, militarised, and that the military are now a major factor in the succession battle. So, as I was saying earlier, I think this does present the nation with an extremely dangerous situation and we need to find a way that this can be resolved without taking us into further dangerous waters.
Violet: And Peta, you know still on the same issue. Many have asked what would happen if Mugabe dies in office, will this make this worse or better? How would you answer them?
Peta Thornycroft: Well, at the moment until he changes the Constitution 90 days after Mugabe dies there has to be a Presidential election. I’ve still been surprised that he hasn’t been worried about that. Maybe he feels that they have so sufficiently defeated the opposition that he doesn’t have to worry about any challenge for any successor. So they do have to deal with that at some stage unless Mugabe believes that he’s got the same genes as his mother and is going to live on until his nineties, and certainly, his health seems extremely robust. But, I am surprised that they’ve taken that chance and it must be indicative of the lack of coherence within ZANU PF. They had a chance to do it when they changed the Constitution for the 17 th time, they had a chance to do it then and they ducked it. So the question of succession as both Jonathan and Brian have said, is an extremely dangerous one at the moment.
Violet: And still on you Peta, there seems to be high levels of discipline from ZANU PF or within ZANU PF. Does this actually make work more hard for the opposition.
Peta: The opposition; it’s really hard to see that the opposition plays any role at the moment in the political life of Zimbabwe . Certainly, as a journalist, I don’t really even phone them now for quotes because those quotes are just quotes, they don’t have any apparent backing by initiatives that would influence the political situation at the moment. So, unless the opposition; and I’m not just saying the two factions of the MDC; I’m saying the broad Civil Society, the Churches, the Students etc get together and form some kind of bulwark so that Mugabe or so that ZANU PF, whichever division within ZANU PF, so that ZANU PF doesn’t just have it all it’s own way one way or another. Because, I think there’s a great fear that even if Mugabe doesn’t stay in Office, even if those who want him to go manage to prevent him staying in power, that we’ll just have more of the same from the next ZANU PF administration. It might have a better gloss to it, it might have gotten back into the International Community, it might have even tinkered with some legislation to make it less abusive. But, the fact is, there’s a spirit and an ethos within ZANU PF that’s out of date and out of kilter certainly with the way in which the region is moving and in fact the way in which Zimbabweans want to live, and some of them have known more freedoms than they have now. But, I really fear that whatever happens in the succession race right now, we are just going to get more of the same but looking a bit better.
Violet: And Professor Moyo, still on the issue of the opposition. What are your thoughts on this? If ZANU PF has somehow been weakened by in-fighting, why is it that the opposition has failed to dislodge it?
Professor Moyo : Well, I suppose by opposition you mean specific groups and so forth. My take would be rather different. In fact my answer to your question ‘what would happen if Mugabe were to die’ would be that we would have blood on the floor and ZANU PF would split and I think those conditions would be of great benefit to the opposition in the sense that even now with all these developments within ZANU PF against the background of the economic meltdown, the conditions; the political conditions are conducive to the growth of the opposition. The prospect of an enlarged opposition which would include significant elements from within ZANU PF have never been brighter, in my view.
So while I see that the specific opposition defined as the MDC has problems at the moment, and some people, I just saw a BBC report saying the opposition is even weaker than ZANU PF. I don’t think that is correct, I think developments on the ground are such that we may see emerging a new and much stronger enlarged opposition. I really do believe that. There are some structural problems within ZANU PF which indicate that either the party might split or something unprecedented might happen within the party. But, the sentiments we find within ZANU PF in opposition to the Mugabe agenda are also the sentiments we find within the current opposition. And, I think what we might see happening is a closing of ranks of certain people. While the factions themselves n ZANU PF don’t seem to have reformers as leaders, within the general membership and within the general political, economic thinking within ZANU PF, there are many whose world view or whose vision is indeed the vision we find within the opposition. So, there is a shifting political consciousness that I see developing in our country. So it’s not so much ZANU PF versus the opposition, it’s the growth of opposition from within ZANU PF feeding into the existing opposition to respond to the overall political situation in our country.
Violet Gonda: And we will continue with this teleconference on the 3rd of January 2007 when foreign correspondent Peta Thornycroft will give us her input on why the international media has lost interest in the Zimbabwe story. We will also take a look at how the draconian legislation largely attributed to Professor Jonathan Moyo has had a negative impact on the media in Zimbabwe .