History on Repeat: Is ZANU PF Facing Another Putsch?

History on Repeat: Is ZANU PF Facing Another Putsch?

The past few days have been quite interesting with the developments in Zimbabwe’s ruling party ZANU PF.  The unfolding events have been triggered by a press conference by the now-suspended two  ZANU PF youth leaders, Lewis Matutu (Deputy Secretary for Youth) and Godfrey Tsenengamu (Political Commissar) naming what they allege are corrupt cartels which have caused harm to the country’s economy.

As a result, the two, as they expected, together with the Secretary of Youth in the ZANU PF politburo, Pupurai Togarepi were slapped with suspensions by the ZANU PF politburo for indiscipline and not following party procedure after labeling business tycoons Kuda Tagwirei, Billy Rautenbach and Tafadzwa Musarara as corrupt.

Interestingly, Kuda Tagwirei and Billy are believed to be close to Mnangagwa and his allies and an equivalent of South Africa’s Gupta family, which was accused of state capture. Ironically, Kuda Tagwirei is a member of President Mnangagwa’s Presidential Advisory Committee which is amongst other things tasked with advising the President on how to turn around the economy.

Deceptive leadership

I hasten to say that all which has been happening has exposed President Mnangagwa’s style of leadership as anchored on deception as well as showing that many within his party have lost confidence in his government’s commitment to fighting corruption. The public has long dismissed the so-called new dispensation’s efforts to fight corruption by pointing out that it has a “catch and release” policy. I would also argue that what is happening in ZANU PF is the re-emergence of the factions and an indication that the center is no longer holding.

Two days after the youth leaders were suspended, one of them a controversial figure Godfrey Tsenengamu, who actively campaigned against the late President Mugabe’s leadership which, at that time they described as very warm to looters, defiantly addressed a press conference in Harare. He threw more brickbats and vowed to escalate what he termed a fight against corruption and tacitly describing President Mnangagwa as “surrounded by criminals” like what the November 2017 coup announcer Sibusiso Moyo now Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said justifying the removal of former President Mugabe from the office by the army. However, questions are still being raised; if the former youth leaders’ actions are a real war against corruption or it’s a ZANU PF factional struggle to control the feeding trough at play. A closer look at these unfolding events is, therefore, necessary to understand the real story behind these developments. In this article, I will attempt to give different interpretations with regards to the unfolding events, which can form the basis of further discussions on this matter.

On the first look, the recent events seem to be a dress rehearsal typical of events preceding the November 2017 military coup when the likes of Tsenengamu, a known Mnangagwa foot soldier were at the forefront of supporting ED’s ascendancy resulting in his suspension twice from the ruling party. Fast forward to February 2020, it looks the current developments are a replica of November 2017, which exiled former ZANU (PF) Politburo member and minister Prof Jonathan Moyo likes to call a November in February. Whatever that means, February might have ushered in an era of ZANU (PF) members joining the general population in expressing their disappointment and frustration over the failure by the “new dispensation” to remove the criminals which they say continue to surround the leadership.

Diversionary tactics

On a second look, others are saying its nothing new but one of ZANU PF’s diversionary tactics that it has been employing over the years to distract the masses from the ailing economy and pretend to be fighting corruption. Equally, but more importantly, they are trying to distract the progressive forces to mobilize the masses to rise against the deterioration of the economy and the high cost of living. A recent report in the Zimbabwe Independent reported that the Joint Operations Command (J.O.C) has been doing joint intelligence analysis to understand the “national mood” to assess if there can be a national revolt due to the economic hardships experiencing the citizens. It might also be a counter-strategy, with the Tsenengamus pre-emptying a national revolt by calling for summits. Generally, we have seen before that despite mutation of factions, ZANU PF’s leaders are focused on power and grand looting, the factions maneuvers have everyone intrigued and side-tracked.

On the third look,  one cannot also rule out a lack of cohesion within the ruling establishment. Everything seems rehearsed, is history about to repeat itself? The likes of Tsenengamu and Matutu might have been let loose to test the waters and certainly, we should expect more drama. More conspiracies have been flouting linking the youths to either Mnangagwa and Vice President Chiwenga, with Tsenengamu vowing that their actions are neither supported by Mnangagwa and his deputy. History has also shown us that Tsenengamu and Matutu are in a party with a long history of using its youth as henchmen and certainly they are not on their own. What we are now witnessing is the re-emergence of the factions within ZANU PF and the biggest question on many observers is who is that faction behind Tsenengamu and Matutu or they are just overzealous youths overestimating their popularity?

Economic sabotage

Consequently, the following statements by the controversial war veterans leader and ZANU (PF) Politburo member Chris Mutsvangwa after the suspension of Pupurai, Tsenengamu, and Matutu, clearly backing the claims by the suspended youth leaders. It is now clear that some senior ZANU (PF) leaders are also convinced that there is a highly corrupt cabal that is very close to the center of power, is impoverishing the whole population and sabotaging efforts to develop the economy. What is also apparent is that some ZANU (PF) leaders are now convinced that the State, in particular, the presidium has been captured by Tagwirei and Rautenbach. What remains to be seen is how some of these ZANU (PF) leaders are going to respond to State capture: are we going to see them making concerted efforts to fight State capture and advance the interests of the majority or they are going to chicken out?

If the events of the politburo meeting are to go by as reported in the Zimbabwe Independent of the 7th of February 2020, somehow easily point to who might be backing the suspended youth leaders. The newspaper reported that during the politburo meeting Mnangagwa, Chiwenga, Shiri and others wanted Tsenengamu and Matutu to be expelled whilst Mutsvangwa, the ZANU (PF) National Chairperson Oppah Muchinguri and others were supporting their actions and were against harsh punishments for the two. Muchinguri was angling to be the vice president on the assumption that Chiwenga was not going to come back alive after that long stay in hospital in China.  While another school of thought argues that Matutu and Tsenengamu’s anger was because they were shut out of Jumbo Mine in Mazowe which Tagwirei and Emmerson Mnangagwa Junior are taking over. As such it might be more personal because they were benefitting from small scale activities

However, Mutsvangwa’s support of the youth was also quoted in The Standard newspaper dated 9 February 2020, when he said: “There is the outrage of ZANU PF youths and their stolen prospects of a better future, jealous of peer global fuel traders.’’ Mutsvangwa is also bitter after his deal of a second fuel pipeline from Beira to Harare was foiled and he accuses Tagwirei of being the behind because he wants to enjoy the monopoly in fuel. However, whilst Mutsvangwa backed the youth league leaders, what will be interesting to know is whether he was representing the war veterans or that was his personal viewpoint. If he was representing ZANU PF what then does it mean in the balance of forces in ZANU PF and the state.  The military’s hand is also written all over the mess, even the exiled former Minister of Information and political scientist Jonathan Moyo also seem to support this thesis as he posted on his verified Twitter handle; “It is unwise to call the forces behind Tsenengamu and Matutu chancers. No institution in the Zimbabwe political landscape plans better than the military. They’re no chancers. Often the problem is the poor content and objectives of their plans, not their lack of planning.” Considering, for example, how the military efficiently removed the feared long term leader Mugabe and its long active but controversial participation in politics one cannot rule out the possibility that the army continues to be key actors in the unfolding events.

In 2017, the military claimed that they are the stockholders in ZANU PF. The military’s interference in ZANU (PF) dates back to the liberation struggle. For example, it has been instrumental in issuing the Mgagao declaration that led to the ascendency of Robert Mugabe as the leader of ZANU. The military was also accused of having a hand in ousting the former Vice President Joice Mujuru from office. Most recently the military booted out Mugabe from power and ‘put’ Mnangagwa in office in November 2017.

The question now is whether Mnangagwa, the former Generals Chiwenga, Shiri and others are still representing the interests of the stockholders especially with regards to removing the criminals surrounding the leadership? The army and war veterans like the general population are not immune to the destructive actions of the people who are being accused of having captured the Zimbabwe State.

It is important to note that in what can be viewed as panic, an unsettled Mnangagwa, who narrowly escaped from an assassination attempt in Bulawayo in 2018 and the people behind that assassination attempt still to be arrested, continues to reshuffle the army commanders, with the latest happening a fortnight ago. This follows last year’s retiring of four commanders namely, Major Generals Martin Chedondo, Douglas Nyikayaramba, Anselem Sanyatwe, and Air Vice-Marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda and appointed them ambassadors a move seen at that time as an attempt to dismantle the military base which orchestrated the coup. It was said that they even resisted the retirements but eventually succumbed to take up their new roles.  Some pundits assert that Mnangagwa is fearing another military coup as he fears that some senior army commanders who were pro-Mugabe might regroup to oust him. Arguably, the current economic decay and continued flourishing of corruption are discrediting the justification for removing Mugabe. As the economy continues to sink with the leadership appearing to be clueless throwing the general population, the business sector and ZANU (PF) leaders as evidenced by Matutu and Tsenegamu’s statements into a state of despair, many people who fervently marched and welcomed the removal of Mugabe are now regarding Mnangagwa’s as worse than Mugabe.

Another important point is how in the first few months after the coup, soldiers took over the presidential close security tasks from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), while the Zimbabwe Republic Police were relegated to peripheral roles. However, reports suggest that the CIO now under the leadership of Moyo a close ally of Mnangagwa is now back in charge of Mnangagwa’s close security with privileges it enjoyed under the old Mugabe order being restored.

Considering the widespread and high state of suffering across Zimbabwe reports of disgruntlement of soldiers cannot be ignored, an article by the Zimbabwe Independent “Hungry soldiers spark govt fears” dated 8 November 2019 quoted military who revealed disgruntlement was at an all-time high in the armed service, particularly within the junior ranks. In a nutshell, we cannot overlook the military’s disappointment by the Mnangagwa leadership which has dismally failed to turn around the economy and tackle corruption. Thus it cannot be ruled out that the soldiers feel let down by Mnangagwa. Tsenengamu also fired a salvo to Mnangagwa warning that power is temporary and it can disappear any time another warning that something is cooking and that those who orchestrated his ascendancy don’t see him as invincible.

 Therefore, what is happening in ZANU PF is a re-emergence of the factions and a reconfiguration of forces. The question to ask is; are we headed for a repeat of the Simba Makoni situation?  Whereby Simba Makoni was encouraged and promised support by some party gurus that if he takes on the ZANU PF leadership and expresses his ambitions they will join him. Simba Makoni went on to challenge Mugabe but the party gurus developed cold feet and left Simba in cold. Only one party stalwart the late Dumiso Dabengwa joined and the Mavambo project collapsed like a deck of cards. If indeed Mutsvangwa and Muchinguri and the disgruntled military cabal are the power behind Tsenegamu and Matutu, are they not going to chicken out and leave the two in deep trouble and isolated?

In this section, I have looked at the implications of the actions of the youth leaders with regards to the factionalism and power struggles in ZANU PF. The follow-up section will delve much into the content of Tsenengamu’s press conference and its implications to ZANU PF.

Lost confidence in ED’S leadership

Here I will try to break down Tsenengamu’s press conference and what it might mean to the developments in ZANU PF but in particular to Mnangagwa’s leadership.  As initially advertised the press conference was supposed to be addressed by both Matutu and Tsenengamu, it is the absence of Matutu at the press conference worth mentioning. Tsenengamu either could not say why his colleague was not part of the conference. Could it be that Matutu is already chickening out after realizing that it might be a lone battle or he was advised to keep quiet? It is not surprising that soon he will be making a climbdown and I doubt if he will future in the events planned by Tsenengamu. Only time will tell. However,  listening to Tsenengamu, one can deduce that some youths (within the rank and file of ZANU PF) have lost confidence in Mnangagwa’s leadership in tackling corruption and uniting Zimbabweans.  Tsenengamu expressed his disappointment with his party leadership for doing nothing and not acting on their call after they previously named and shamed corrupt officials within the ZANU PF leadership. He added that after the expose of the corrupt leaders by the Youth league the party only responded by setting up a task force to look into the matter but nothing has been done resulting in the taskforce dying a stillbirth. As a result, Mnangagwa’s fight against corruption is being seen as a huge failure by some members of his party echoing the general thinking by ordinary people. A huge blow against ED is that both the ZANU (PF) Youth League and the war veterans who see themselves as the stockholders of Zimbabwe see his government as captured by a corrupt cabal and not having no will to fight corruption as looting of State resources continues unabated and cartels scale-up impoverishing the general population with the tacit support of the government leadership which has arguably been ignoring calls to distance itself of criminals and cartels.

POLAD

The second observation is the party’s stance on the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) a dialogue platform for parties whose leaders contested the 2018 presidential elections set up by Mnangagwa. Tsenengamu dismissed the initiative as futile adding that the only way forward for Zimbabwe is a dialogue between the two leading political parties, ZANU PF and the MDC Alliance while also admitting that the country’s problems are as a result of a political crisis which the country cannot afford to ignore. It seems this position is shared by many leaders in ZANU PF, with the likes of Politburo member Retired Col Tshinga Dube who has also openly dismissed thePOLAD initiative. Tsenengamu acknowledged that some hardliners in ZANU PF are not comfortable with a dialogue between Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.

The ZANU PF Youth are echoing what the opposition and many other people have said about POLAD: that it is useless and a waste of time and resources. Then what purpose is POLAD serving?

Tsenengamu dared Mnangagwa that he has failed to unite Zimbabweans as the head of state with that responsibility. Tsenengamu went on to give an ultimatum to ED that he should try to unite Zimbabweans by meeting the main opposition party the MDC Alliance. In another salvo, Tsenengamu reminded ED  that his victory was narrow thus he has no justification to act as if he was overwhelmingly elected.

The third observation is the policy differences within ZANU PF, which Tsenengamu exposes in particular on the issue of sanctions. Tsenengamu shied away from blaming sanctions from Zimbabwe’s woes adding that ZANU PF’s was against sanctions was rather an exercise in futility. In a nutshell, Tsenengamu dismissed efforts not to take responsibility for the current mess but blame sanctions.  Tsenegamu seemed to make the argument that the government’s efforts have been a huge failure in working hard to improve the conditions of living. Tsenengamu argues that the government’s performance has not been satisfactory and thus ED should be worried about that too. Tsenengamu wars that instead of suspending the youth leaders, ED should critically introspect and acknowledge that the lives of the people have further deteriorated during his tenure.  Burying his head in the sand and ignoring the devastating actions by cartels and corrupt business people will only serve to threaten to further destabilize Zimbabwe and his dream to that “2030 ndinenge ndichipo” into a pipedream.

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