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Zimbabwe: A Time Bomb for Unprecendented Socio-Political Chaos

Members of the ZANU-PF at their annual convention / rally

Southern Africa – Zimbabwe’s ruling party and the entire government are grappling with deep-seated infighting. The infighting and slowly emerging political and social chaos are due to the old age and poor health of President Robert Mugabe, age 91, who has clearly not groomed any potential leaders.

The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) has been the ruling party in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 when former school teacher and guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe fought the colonial power and took over the reins of power in the country.

Leading partisans of the Zimbabwe African National Union -PF party are privately worried that the aging leader may soon be called to rest and a power vacuum might exist without any prepared leaders to step up.

Internal sources say the President’s ruling party is increasingly riveted by factional fighting, with several splintered opposition groups pledging to mount a united challenge to force the 93-year-old leader in party’s leadership elections. At the center of all this is the idea that the President is trying to prepare his wife Grace for leadership.

THE VIDEO – is a highlight of International News Group Aljazeera review of life in Zimbabwe and the prospects of the opposition in taking power

Observers say some leading figures in the ruling party are backing Mugabe’s wife, Grace, as his predestined successor but some progressives in the party think it is a bad move.

As the ZANU-PF struggles to find a leader who could eventually replace Mugabe. Street brawls between party while the party insists that Mugabe will stand for re-election next year, extending his 37-year rule of the southern African nation, key opposition politicians have announced that they will form a coalition to challenge him. The country faces widespread poverty, massive unemployment and the collapse of basic services.

President Gabriel Mugabe previously considered throughout Africa as a revolutionary and politician was born 21 February 1924 in the Shona family at the Kutama Mission village in Southern Rhodesia’s Zvimba District. His father, Gabriel, was a carpenter, while his mother Bona taught Christian catechism to the village children.

President Mugabe surrounded by ZANU-PF Party’s young politicians

He has been president of Zimbabwe since 1987; he previously led Zimbabwe as Prime Minister from 1980 to 1987. He also chaired the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) group from 1975 to 1980 and has led its successor political party, the ZANU-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), since 1980.

Ideologically President Mugabe is an African nationalist. During the 1970s and 1980s he identified as a Marxist-Leninist although after the 1990s self-identified only as a socialist; his policies have been described as Mugabeism.

Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia. Following an education at Kutama College and the University of Fort Hare, he worked as a school teacher in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Ghana.

Infuriated that Southern Rhodesia was a British colony governed by a white elite, Mugabe embraced Marxism and joined African nationalist protests that called for an independent black-led state.
After making anti-government comments he was convicted of sedition and imprisoned between 1964 and 1974. On release he fled to Mozambique, established his leadership of ZANU, and oversaw ZANU’s role in the Rhodesian Bush War, fighting ex-prime minister Ian Smith’s white-minority government.

He reluctantly took part in the peace negotiations brokered by the United Kingdom that resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. The agreement dismantled white-minority rule and resulted in the 1980 general election, at which Mugabe led ZANU-PF to victory and became Prime Minister of the newly renamed Zimbabwe.

Initially, Mugabe’s administration expanded healthcare and education, and—despite his Marxist rhetoric and professed desire for a socialist society, he adhered largely to conservative economic policies.

As prime minister, Mugabe initially emphasized racial reconciliation and was keen to building a good relationship with white Zimbabwean citizens. To prevent a white exodus, he tried to allay fears that he would nationalize white-owned property.

Furthermore, he appointed two white ministers—David Smith and Denis Norman—to his government, met with white leaders in agriculture, industry, mining, and commerce. Hence, he impressed senior figures in the outgoing administration like Smith and Ken Flowers with his outward sincerity.

ZANU-PF Women League

With an end to the war, petrol rationing, and economic sanctions, life for white Zimbabweans improved during the early years of Mugabe’s regime. In the economic boom that followed, the white minority—who controlled considerable property and who dominated commerce, industry, and banking—were the country’s main beneficiaries.

As his desire to hold on to power increased, Mugabe became paranoid and racial tension began to surface. Over the course of the 1990s, Zimbabwe’s economy steadily deteriorated.

By 2000, living standards had declined from 1980; life expectancy was reduced, average wages were lower, and unemployment had trebled. By 1998, unemployment was almost at 50%. As of 2009, three to four million Zimbabweans—the greater part of the nation’s skilled workforce—had left the country.

In 1997 there were growing demands for pensions from those who had fought for the guerrilla armies in the revolutionary war, and in August 1997 Mugabe put together a pension package that would cost the county ZD 4.2 billion.

To finance this pension scheme, Mugabe’s government proposed new taxes, but a general strike was called in protest in December 1997; amid protest from ZANU-PF itself, Mugabe’s government abandoned the taxes.

In January 1998, riots about lack of access to food broke out in Harare; the army was deployed to restore order, with at least ten killed and hundreds injured.

In February 2000, land invasions began as government-supported armed gangs attacked and occupied white-owned farms. The Mugabe’s administration referred to the attackers as “war veterans” although the majority were unemployed youth who may have been too young to have fought in the Rhodesian War.

The president claimed that the attacks were a spontaneous uprising against white land owners, although the government had paid Z$20 million to Chenjerai Hunzvi’s War Veterans Association to lead the land invasion campaign and ZANU-PF officials, police, and military figures were all involved in facilitating it.

Some of the president’s colleagues described the invasions as retribution for the white community’s alleged involvement in securing the success of the ‘no’ vote in the recent referendum.
President Mugabe himself justified the seizures by the fact that the land had been seized by white settlers from the indigenous African population in the 1890s. He portrayed the invasions as a struggle against colonialism and alleged that the United Kingdom was trying to overthrow his government.

In May 2000, he issued a decree under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act which empowered the government to seize farms without providing compensation, insisting that it was the British government that should make these payments.

President Mugabe with wife, Grace, at ZANU-PF rally

After almost three decades of rule, the Zimbabwean leader has refused to retire and turn over state power neither has he nurtured a credible succession plan apart from behind-the-scene powerplay tactics through which he is lobbying to have his wife, Grace, his second wife to succeed him.

According to several Mugabe’s biographers, including Heidi Holland, the veteran Zimbabwean leader first wife, Sally Hayfron, a Ghanaian, was Mugabe’s “confidante and only real friend,” being “one of the few people who could challenge Mugabe’s ideas without offending him.” Their only son, Michael Nhamodzenyika Mugabe, born 27 September 1963, died on 26 December 1966 from cerebral malaria in Ghana where Sally had worked while Mugabe was in prison.

Sally Mugabe was a trained teacher who asserted her position as an independent political activist and campaigner. She was appointed as the head of ZANU-PF’s women’s league, and was involved in several charitable operations.

She later suffered from renal failure and died in 1992.

While married to Sally Hayfron, in 1987 Mugabe began an extra-marital affair with his secretary and current wife, Grace Marufu; she was 41 years his junior and at the time was married to Stanley Goreraza. In 1988, she bore Mugabe a daughter, Bona, and in 1990 a son, Robert.

The extra-marital relationship was kept secret from the Zimbabwean public, although Hayfron was aware of it.

Following Hayfron’s death in 1992, Mugabe and Marufu were married in a big Catholic wedding ceremony in August 1996. As First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace gained a terrible reputation for indulging her love of luxury, with an interest in shopping, clothes, and jewelry. These lavish shopping sprees have led to her receiving the nickname “Gucci Grace”. Additionally, she has also developed a reputation for corruption.

In 1994, President Mugabe received an honorary knighthood from the British state; this was stripped from him at the advice of the UK government in 2008. The Zimbabwean leader also holds several honorary degrees and doctorates from international universities, awarded to him in the 1980s; at least three of these have since been revoked.

In June 2007, he became the first international figure ever to be stripped of an honorary degree by a British university, when the University of Edinburgh withdrew the degree awarded to him in 1984. On 12 June 2008, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Board of Trustees voted to revoke the law degree awarded to Mugabe in 1986; this is the first time one of its honorary degrees has been revoked.

Yet, the aged African leader has not changed his political posture. He continues to seek more and more political authority and hangs on to power with no clear path at ensuring a succession plan. Consequently, and since his age cannot permit him to be as strong and cognitively active as he used to be, there is a huge power struggle with a potential for disastrous effect should he die any day. The fear by specialists in Africa’s conflict say this is how conflicts and civil are initiated throughout the continent, when leaders rule badly and leave room for democratic culture by staying on to power for decades.

Zimbabwe’s Tsvangirai (center) and Mujuru (right) in anti-Mugabe alliance

Long-time Mugabe critic Morgan Tsvangirai and former Vice-President Joyce Mujuru say they will work together in next year’s election. Political analysts say the alliance is an important first step towards uniting a deeply divided opposition.

International political observers say if this alliance succeeds it will be the first time President Mugabe has faced a united opposition on this scale since coming into power in 1980. At least a dozen parties are expected to be part of the coalition.

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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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