PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has led Zanu PF and Zimbabwe with an iron fist since independence in 1980, but as age catches up with one of the world’s oldest leaders, there are signs his tight grip on power is loosening.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
Mugabe’s word is no longer taken as the gospel in the ruling party, as factions vying for the control of the party after his departure have now taken to public brawls.
Picking up fights and publicly dressing each other down has become fashionable in Zanu PF and no matter how Mugabe has tried to flex his muscle by issuing directives, senior members of his party have acted otherwise.
The party is sharply divided between loyalists of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who are known as Team Lacoste, and the Young Turks under the G40 group, which once had the backing of First Lady Grace Mugabe.
In a bid to contain the impeding implosion, Mugabe early this year urged party members to desist from using social media to attack each other and not to wash their dirty linen in public, among other measures.
But the opposite is true and it is now a bare-knuckle fight in Zanu PF as leaders engage in open fights, with the State media becoming a battle ground.
Political analysts say Mugabe has long lost control of the party.
“The bottom line is this: It is all about factionalism and fights to resolve the Mugabe succession,” political analyst and senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said.
“The only way for Mugabe to put finality to it all and restore order is to directly address the question of succession. After all, these so-called orders by Mugabe are irrelevant to ordinary Zimbabweans.”
He added: “They are not about improving people’s lives. Instead, they are just about managing factions and internal squabbles.
“It is a shame that Zimbabwe is on autopilot as Zanu PF leaders jostle for political control, having long abandoned an agenda to address bread and butter issues.”
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said it was dog-eat-dog in Zanu PF because of the unresolved question of Mugabe’s succession.
“Clearly, it’s a dog-eat-dog situation, which suggests it’s the last phase of the struggle for dominance in Zanu PF,” he said.
“It seems they have an approach that it’s now-or-never and that if you comply with the dictates of the leader, you will lose out in that struggle. That you will be behind others in the struggle of hegemony. So it’s like a case of now-or-never, as they push for the maximum.”
Another analyst, Rejoice Ngwenya said Mugabe was now incapacitated to deal with the divisions rocking Zanu PF.
“Mugabe is on his death bed. So why would they listen to him? These wars are about the post-Mugabe era, design for future constituencies,” he said.
“Actually, defiance of Mugabe is now some mark of ‘integrity’. He is wasting his time — a tired, old voice nobody wants to hear.”
Ngwenya added that the impact of the defiance was that he had been “totally degraded”.
Another political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya said it was not like the senior officials were defying Mugabe, but it was the 92-year-old leader who was deliberately manipulating the power dynamics in Zanu PF.
“I don’t think it is defiance against Mugabe. It is only that he is not firm,” he said.
“I suspect that Mugabe is the one allowing the chaos in his party because he is not decisive.
“The alleged defiance is only happening at the behest of Mugabe.
“Please make no mistake, the president is in charge of both the State and the party and if he wants to make a decision, that decision will stand. All these people serve at his mercy.”
He said the situation was being worsened by Mugabe’s advanced age.
“All that is happening is serving Mugabe’s interest because as it stands, no one can ascend or is in a clear position to accent,” he said.
“The danger only comes on his followers who are given an impression that the centre is not holding and that he is not in charge.”
Mugabe wants to run for another term in 2018, but this has not stopped Zanu PF factions from brawling over his succession.