New Politburo? Mugabe in a fix

As he teeters on the brink of the end of his life-long political career, President Robert Mugabe is still using the tactics of divide-and-rule that have served him so well in the past.


Despite official denials, political analysts are certain that he is about to reshuffle his Politburo in a desperate attempt to weaken potential challengers to his throne. A new Politburo was scheduled to be announced just after the death of former army commander and Zanu (PF) kingmaker Solomon Mujuru last year.

He had for a long time been seen as the leading figure in a faction gunning for the presidency of the party and the country. He died in a mysterious inferno at the farm he had occupied.

Throughout his tenure as the iron-fisted ruler of Zimbabwe, Mugabe has encouraged factionalism as a strategy to maintain his grip on power. He has successfully played one group off against another – thus keeping himself in an unassailable position as head of both party and state.

This strategy worked fine in the days when Zimbabwe was a de facto one-party state. But now that there are other political parties in the mix, factionalism has weakened Zanu (PF) to the point where it appears likely to implode.

The hatred among the various factions of the party is now so strong that Mugabe is the only person acceptable to all – despite the fact that they all want him to go. He is the glue that holds the party together – and everybody knows it.

For years now Mugabe has offered one excuse after another to maintain his position. At one time he said he couldn’t go before finishing the land “reform” programme. Then he said he had to see the indigenization exercise through – making sure some Zimbabweans were wealthy. Now he says he can’t go because factionalism would destroy the party.

John Makumbe, a political scientist and University of Zimbabwe lecturer, said Mugabe was likely to trim the old guard to make way for more Young Turks.

‘‘It is clear that he is increasingly seeing the old guard—the likes of Emmerson Mnangwa, Sydney Sekeramayi and Didymus Mutasa—as problematic. He knows that they need to be diluted with new blood,” said Makumbe.

‘‘But by moving to get more of the so called Generation 40 into the Politburo, Mugabe is in a fix. He knows he cannot really trust the Young Turks – yet they are crucial for the party’s resurgence, if it will ever come,’’ he added.

He singled out the likes of Saviour Kasukuwere, Walter Mzembi and Christopher Mutsvangwa as some of the young leaders who are “unguided missiles”. Kasukuwere, who holds the indigenisation brief in the current Politburo, was fingered by Wikileaks as having several years ago admitted to a western diplomat that Mugabe should go.

The Politburo is dominated by the old guard, most of whom participated in the 1970s war of liberation. Many have been rejected by the electorate and have had to be appointed by Mugabe as senators in order to take up ministerial posts.

Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, once considered Mugabe’s blue-eyed boy, has failed to win his KweKwe seat since 2000. Despite being dependent upon Mugabe’s favour for his political position, he recently indicated his wish to replace him.

Makumbe said Mugabe could afford the luxury of side-lining the old guard.

‘‘His real power at the moment lies with the army and security forces. For as long as he keeps them on his side, there is not much people like Mnangagwa can do,’’ he said.

The problem, Makumbe added, was that some members of the army and security figures Mugabe relied upon to keep him in power were aligned to factions led by the old guard. There have been reports that Constantine Chiwenga, the Commander of the Defence Forces, is now leading a ring of hardliners in a quest to take over as president.

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