The Age of Foolishness: Factionalism Necessary for Our Democracy

We are living in interesting times- yes they are also hard times but still who says we should not laugh once in a while. In Shona there is a saying ‘kuseka nhamo kunge rugare’- (laughing at trouble/poverty as if it’s all ok). I think we all need to take some time out to laugh at the messy and mediocre politics we are being subjected to and also how we have all-thanks to a very excitable media have been sucked into senseless factional politics- as if there are no other things happening in our country.  Indeed, politics has become the new arena of comedians and it’s not limited to Zimbabwe- just look at what is happening within the US Primaries-Donald Trump has stolen the show and down South in Mzansi #PaybacktheMoney has all of a sudden become real-things are not so rosy for Prez Mshini Wam’. Whilst we can and should take time to laugh at all these developments we must also be very concerned- what is going on? How did we allow our politics to sink so low? The factionalism within the ruling party and the real threat of elevating an individual above the political party require some sober and elaborate reflection beyond the 140 characters that twitter allows us. These factional fights are reshaping ZANU (PF) profoundly and in the process also potentially the broader political party terrain.

It’s interesting how history has a tendency to repeat itself especially when it comes to intra-party conflict within ZANU (PF) and the other political formations before it. The late Masiphula Sithole did a brilliant job of analyzing factionalism in the party through his seminal ‘Struggles within the Struggle’. The book remains very instructive in terms of helping us in analyzing and understanding the ruling party especially the current intra-party fights. ZANU (PF) as a party has always been a marriage of convenience even before unification with PF-ZAPU. The current round of factionalism within the ruling party has dominated headlines for more than two years now to an extent that even others in the opposition have weighed in claiming that it may lead to civil war or some form of conflict. A bit alarmist but I think there is a limit to how elites who are far removed from everyday social realities can lead a whole nation into a civilian conflict just because of their very evident senseless brawls for power- at the most they can buy off some youths with alcohol to cause violence but I think thoughts of conflicts are stretching the imagination a bit.

My main premise about ongoing intra-party factionalism is that although potentially disruptive it’s a necessary evil and may actually have a positive impact on our democracy. The argument may initially sound crazy but just look at all the brave attempts made by the MDC since the turn of the century- what did it lead to- a stronger ZANU (PF).  The ruling party is at its best when under threat for instance in the aftermath of the Constitutional Referendum defeat of 2000. It immediately re-activated/mobilized its liberation war credentials which included revamping the war veterans as a very vocal entity of the party and also the abuse of unemployed youths as Green Bombers. It turned around from its stance of opposing/quashing land occupations/squatting that had characterized Zimbabwe since independence and instead turned on its former ally the Commercial Farmers’ Union and endorsed land occupations as a state/party supported strategy.  The party was in a no nonsense mood- they had identified the enemy in the form of the MDC and its various allies- it was out to destroy the enemy. It took them exactly 13 years to accomplish that and in the interim period (save for the 2004 Tsholotsho Declaration) factionalism went underground so as to deal with the external enemy. Factional fights (although always present) literally re-emerged in the public space soon after the 2013 elections and it’s been bloody) ever since. Forget about ZimAsset and all those supposedly nice things such as a ten-point plan for economic turnaround- it’s all about the post-Mugabe dispensation and everyone in ZANU (PF), yes including the Head of the Women’s league is preparing for that day.

Being an elite in ZANU (PF) vematumbu like my aunt would call them has meant a privilege to carry out wanton accumulation through the abuse of the state. Just look at how those who fall from ministerial positions quickly vanish into obscurity and depressing poverty. The current factional struggles are about elite preservation and have nothing to do with the starving masses of Zimbabwe. So if they want to fight and kill each other let them do so- this has got nothing to do with Zimbabwe- maybe except the media which seems to be enjoying the child-like accusations and sadly gossip as well. But let’s all remember this is not our fight- Lets allow them to continue (vanyatso damburana kuti vapedze shungu) some good may come out of it- a weaker ZANU (PF) with no capacity to threaten others with violence

Rather than being pessimistic about factionalism I see a lot of possible good out of it- why should people pretend to like each other when they don’t? Given the number of opposition parties that have come and gone such as PF-ZAPU, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM), the short-lived Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (ZUD) and then the Movement of Democratic Change some of us have come to the conclusion that it will only take that ZANU (PF) to destroy itself. History has also taught us that when there is no external threat ZANU (PF) likes to engage in these intra-party factional fights. This time the grand puppet master does not look like he is in control-who let the dogs out?

I hear others complain that these factional fights are taking place at the expense of taxpayers-true. But did we really expect the people who helped destroy the economy to rebuild it? There are some who are trying no doubt but the general posture within ZANU (PF) is ‘we don’t care- let it all burn’ – we will rebuild once we are in power. Let them dish out the dirt on each other, arrest each other, discipline and expel one faction after the other- none of them are really concerned about us-it’s a battle of the chefs and we gain absolutely nothing out of it- except of course the wisecracks on twitter. Do you think they would have revealed that there is a US$15billion missing from the diamond revenues- were it not for factional fights- please tell us more because if non-ZANU (PF) raise it they will be arrested for all sorts of flimsy reasons such as treason.

The faction based struggles within ZANU (PF) since the days of Edison Zvobgo have never been about huge policy differences but always about the post-Mugabe dispensation. The climax of the current round of factional fights was probably the dethroning of the then Vice President Joyce Mujuru. At that particular moment it looked like Mnangagwa’s star had begun to shine again- what could go wrong- the man was appointed into the presidium alongside a relatively unknown Bekezela Mphoko literally suggesting that he was second in command. For those in the know- the honeymoon period for Mnangagwa did not even last 100 days-there was already simmering tensions especially around his failure to prop up those who had fought in his corner.

It would seem as if the G-40 emerged out of this disappointment with Mnangagwa[1]. But there is a school of thought that the forces behind the expulsion of Joyce Mujuru were just allies of convenience.  We will never get to know the truth especially given that there is an official denial of factions within the ruling party. My main point is that all this confusion and intra-party fighting is helping destroy ZANU (PF) a party that has always struggled to tolerate dissent and sought to obliterate anything that looked like an opposition to its hold on power. But now as they say the enemy within is always harder to take down than the one on the outside. Who is the real ZANU (PF), is it the war veterans who fought in the liberation struggle or the young turks or could it be just one person, the center of power?

Whoever thought we would see the day when war veterans are tear gassed, ZANU (PF)’s kangaroo courts expel more than 5 members (its foot soldiers) at any sitting- the house is on fire and this time round Mugabe’s divide and rule tactics will not work. He simply has no capacity to rein in on what is going on- at best he may actually worsen factional fights given the near impossible task of taming his wife’s vitriol against perceived enemies. It is also evident that the Mnangagwa faction (Team Lacoste) unlike Mujuru is not anywhere close to surrendering their foothold/grip on power despite losing loyalists-just look at the demands made by war veterans- they need somebody with liberation war credentials as their political commissar.

The only thing that can stop factionalism is a vibrant opposition party. Given the current disorganization within the opposition movement there is no reason to assume that factional fights are coming to an end. Yes, they may successfully defeat Team Lacoste but within G-40 there are a number of factions. Ideologically bankrupt political elites currently dominant in ZANU (PF) are by nature very selfish and have an exaggerated sense of their worth- thus will continue to fight for domination.

The positive aspect about G-40 is its imminent collision with the security and intelligence apparatus. The G-40 is probably a brave attempt to break away from the suffocating war of liberation credentials narrative that has suffocated our politics and if it succeeds as a project it will probably, come 2018, have an evenly fought fight against the opposition movement. Suggesting that 2018 could be an exciting election year whether Mugabe is alive or not. If I were in the opposition I would honestly do nothing until ZANU (PF) is done destroying itself. By 2018 we may have three factions of ZANU (PF) battling it out against also three factions of the MDC and the others. That is very important for democracy- we are tired of alliances of convenience.

That being said we need a new politics based on accountability, being issues driven rather than the personality cultism we see being peddled by ZANU (PF) and also a movement away from rhetoric. Since the turn of the century our politics has been super-charged around sanctions, imperialism and nationalization. When will it end? To be fair ZANU (PF) has made some significant structural changes to the political economy of Zimbabwe especially around land ownership. The challenge is that we took the land and forgot that we have to till the land. It’s not rocket science we just need a leadership that can roll their sleeves promote ‘national interest’ above political party interest and stop confusing us by saying all the right things and then doing all the bad things.  When will those in leadership take responsibility instead of spending time blaming others even shadows. How can they still be in power after conceding that the country cannot account for US$15billion from diamond sales?  All they do is to use it as an excuse for factional fights-really. If they had any trace of decency in them wouldn’t they have resigned by now. Aiwa let it burn!

[1] I do not have much knowledge about the causes of the split- Alex Magaisa’s various articles provide a more detailed and nuanced analysis on the splits within ZANU (PF)