A significant political shift has taken place in Zimbabwe with the recent militarisation of the state, as the internal factional politics within the ruling party, Zanu PF’s G40 and Lacoste, have reached dismal heights.
The dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa from his post on 6 November has resulted in a military take-over by the security forces. What ramifications could a military coup have for the state?
And what could a transition of power mean for Zimbabwe?
The effects of the recent expulsion of Mnangagwa from Zanu PF have been both complex and far reaching as they have demonstrated the beginning of an internal leadership renewal process within the party.
Mnangagwa has played a significant role within the pre and post-independence eras of the nation.
Apart from participating in the liberation struggle by joining forces with the guerrilla movement in Mozambique in the 1970s under Robert Mugabe’s leadership, the outgoing VP was most notably implicated in the Ghukurahundi massacres in the early 1980s, a politically motivated attack to flush out dissidents and an estimated 20,000 civilians (mostly of Ndebele ethnic origin) in a state-sanctioned ‘ethnic cleanse’ under the hands of Mugabe’s deployed 5th Brigade.
As head of Mugabe’s election campaign in 2008, he was implicated in the violence against supporters of the main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
In Mugabe’s new government Mnangagwa was tasked with leading the security forces and has maintained strong links with the military most notably with the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander and Army General, Constantino Chiwenga.
Chiwenga was however outside of the country in China on state business when Mnangagwa was fired from his position of VP in government and subsequently had to flee the country for his safety, with Mugabe making further moves to amend the constitution to facilitate the incorporation of the provision of a third candidate for Vice Presidency which many believed would be his wife, the First Lady and head of the G40 faction within Zanu PF, Grace Mugabe.
Following the expulsion of the Party’s previous VP Joice Mujuru, within which Mnangagwa was highly instrumental in late 2014, the latter has been a significant rival to Grace Mugabe’s G40 faction ever since, heading the Lacoste faction within Zanu PF. The two factions have been embroiled in a public battle for succession within Zanu PF for the past three years.
Though Mugabe has allowed the factions to largely fight it out between themselves, not allowing one to become more powerful than the other, the recent and unexpected move to oust Mnangagwa from the party, while amending the constitution to potentially elevate the position of the First Lady to VP status alongside two other serving government ministers (Sydney Sekeramayi and Phelekezela Mphoko) has signalled a significant turn of events that may have potentially destabilising efforts for not only the nation but the region at large.
The depths of Mnangagwa’s long standing history with the security forces however is yet to be seen. How far does his influence go within the army and military? The depth of these alliances may determine the nature and extent to which there could be a successful military coup in Zimbabwe upon his return.
With events rapidly escalating in Zimbabwe and the recent take-over of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting airwaves by the security forces, it is believed that a military take-over is already in the works. Though the army has gone to great pains to emphasise that a military coup is not taking place, as well as ensuring the safety of President Mugabe and the nation as a whole, and with citizens being urged to return to their daily business as usual – possibly in an effort to curb fears of this escalating into a civil war or bloodshed which could destabilise the region – the ramifications of this military intervention upon the state, particularly in Zanu PF’s internal affairs, cannot be understated. This was emphasised in the public statement made by General Chiwenga in his public national address that the ‘Zimbabwean forces are [simply] pacifying a degenerating political, social and economic situation in the country which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict’.
Zanu PF is in crisis and possibly imploding and regenerating itself. If Mnangagwa emerges as the Party’s new leader, which might not be totally implausible as he possesses not only the liberation war credentials, but demonstrates an unwavering allegiance to the Party’s founding ethos, values and ideals, alongside the backing of a significant portion of the security forces and the West at large who have pit him as the most viable successor to Mugabe, this would all make him a good candidate to lead the Party into its new phase and put an end to the Party’s succession battles.
But if so, what does this mean for the opposition and more broadly for the nation of Zimbabwe?
The implications of a ‘renewed Zanu PF’ for Zimbabwe could be complex and far reaching. For the opposition this could mean the firmer re-entrenchment of a much tougher Zanu PF as Mnangagwa is younger than Mugabe and potentially more ruthless an opponent.
Tsvanigirai’s refusal to step down within the MDC opposition party, despite his age and ailing condition, to allow for a younger leader such as his acting VP, Nelson Chamisa, to take over, may weaken the opposition’s ability to respond to this new threat and present a more united front in pushing for elections next year.
For the nation at large, this could mean a reinvention of the current status quo, with Zanu PF still firmly in power, and possibly even more entrenched than before, though now with the West backing a new leader such as Mnangagwa, the nation may see some limited reforms taking place with a looming possibility of a transitional government and potentially another coalition government in the future should the two main parties Zanu PF and the MDC be cajoled into another Government of National Unity (GNU) by outside forces.
Kuziwakwashe Zigomo is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations.