from Africa in Transition

How Do Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF Hang On In Zimbabwe?

May 13, 2013

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Simukai Tinhu analyzes the staying power of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in a thoughtful article, “Zimbabwe: Mugabe’s Will to Power.” It was published in ThinkAfrica Press on May 9. Also a “must-read” is the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) report “Zimbabwe Elections Scenarios;” it appeared May 6.

The ICG provides a thorough briefing on Zimbabwean legal developments in the run-up to the next elections, a review of domestic politics, and an analysis of the role of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)—with recommendations to Zimbabwe’s “stakeholders.” The ICG report will be widely used as a quick reference.

Tinhu’s much shorter article is an analysis of the sources of Mugabe’s power: manipulation of the voters, intimidation, violence, domination of the media, wholesale abuse of the rule of law, and very good organization. And then there is the charismatic personality of Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s last surviving “liberation” leaders.

However, in addition, Tinhu cites more subtle advantages. Among those he discusses are:

1) As the most powerful party, ZANU-PF attracts the most skillful politicians. They have created a popular, anti-Western ideology. Support from the West (whether governments, non-governmental organizations, or individuals) for opposition movements or figures only undercuts them and strengthens ZANU-PF.

2) ZANU-PF has a big, permanent support base among rural peasants.

3) ZANU-PF openly plays the race card, using propaganda to the effect that the opposition is seeking the return of “white rule” and conniving with foreigners to loot the country.

Moreover, Tinhu argues credibly that ZANU-PF’s greatest source of strength is cohesion among its elites. He says that in return for their loyalty, ZANU-PF tolerates elite corruption. However, if an individual or faction starts to behave independently, the party passes evidence of corruption to an attorney general. So, corruption keeps talented elites in the party—and prevents them leaving.

Tinhu sees Robert Mugabe as essential to the unity of ZANU-PF polity, but, once he dies, all bets are off. He discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Mugabe’s most likely successors, again according to conventional wisdom: Emmerson Mnangagwa and Joice Mujuru. However, he identifies a new “dark horse,” Saviour Kasukuwere, minister of youth and Mugabe’s point man for “indigenizing” foreign-owned enterprises.

Tinhu’s piece, read with the International Crisis Group report, provides background and analysis as to where Zimbabwe is now and what some of the options for the future might be. Both are a useful corrective to the view that Mugabe is so awful that his government could not survive absent repression. The reality is that many Zimbabweans support Mugabe and ZANU-PF out of conviction as well as fear. A central reality of Zimbabwe is land hunger. Mugabe drove the whites off the land by riding roughshod over the rule of law and destroying the economy, in the short turn. But from the perspective of many Africans, he achieved justice. This provides him a strong support base, which he augments through corruption and coercion.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Wars and Conflict

Civil Society

Elections and Voting

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