Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mugabe Defies Downfall Prophecies

President continues to confound those who believe the odds are stacked against him remaining in office much longer.
By IWPR Srdan
While the vast majority of Zimbabweans are struggling to survive, President Robert Mugabe still has a strong support base which is willing to risk everything, including their lives and businesses, to ensure that the octogenarian leader remains in power.

Though many have prophesised his imminent demise, Mugabe has remained resolute and continues to defy conventional political wisdom.

Predicting Mugabe’s downfall is a risky business. When many people, including local and international observers, thought he had lost control of his party and would not be endorsed as its presidential candidate in next month’s elections, he has proved that he still had unwavering support from his comrades.

Constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku told IWPR that Mugabe’s supporters were not imaginary.

“Mugabe still has a lot of supporters and if you look at the election trend, you will find that he has maintained the same number over the last three elections. I also meet with [the ruling party] ZANU-PF - he has a lot of supporters, like it or not. The support he has is real and not fiction.”

Despite resentment of Mugabe's prolonged stay in power mounting among senior ZANU-PF officials, they have not managed to remove him from the helm of the party. In fact, party officials suspected of favouring his ouster have risked alienation from grassroots supporters, who see them as traitors trying to destroy the liberation movement party.

Many people have wondered why and how Mugabe has continued to survive, considering the country’s deepening poverty and economic crisis.

Didymus Mutasa, the powerful national security minister and ZANU-PF’s secretary for administration, said in early December that Mugabe had done "so many wonderful things" for Zimbabwe that it was likely that delegates to the party conference would appoint him president for life.

"There is a realistic chance that someone among the delegates or one of the provinces could come up with a proposal that he remains the party's presidential candidate," said Mutasa. "He has done so many wonderful things for this country and its majority population and he is not showing any signs of tiredness. So if it is raised, as I am sure it will be, why not?"

That is the general feeling among his staunch supporters, who are quick to laugh off any suggestions that this election would signal the end of his 28-year rule.

But what wonderful things has he done that make his supporters want to declare him life president?

Mugabe has created so much fear among his people that no one has the guts to stand up face-to-face against him.

No one, said one politburo member, would dare to stand up and register his or her opposition for fear of reprisals - as happened in 1998 to Dzikamai Mavhaire, a feisty politician from the southern Zimbabwe town of Masvingo, who moved a motion in parliament calling for a review of the constitution and advocated limited presidential terms. And said boldly, “Mugabe must go!”

Mavhaire was suspended from the party and consequently suffered financial ruin. As a member of parliament, he had been assured of a vehicle and free fuel as well as help for his farm. These benefits disappeared, as did any chance of government contracts.

Ever since, other ruling party deputies have been too frightened to discuss anything to do with the constitution, lest the presidential axe fall on them.

Mavhaire's confidant, the late Edson Zvobgo, was dropped by Mugabe from government and party office in 2000 for his criticisms of the head of state's ruling style and for suggesting he retire. Zvobgo, who never hid his own presidential ambitions, died a heartbroken man in 2004 at the age of 68. He was a founder member of ZANU- PF and had served in several government posts, including that of minister of justice.

Another ZANU-PF official, who asked that his name be withheld, said Mugabe had over the years perfected divide-and-rule tactics that fuelled factionalism in the party.

He said Mugabe had been switching support over the years among his touted successors, who include rural housing minister and party legal secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, ZANU-PF national chairman John Nkomo and Vice- President Joice Mujuru, wife of the powerful General Solomon Mujuru.

The official said Mugabe has undoubtedly used the confusion he created over the succession issue to convince his supporters of the need for him to continue as president to ensure a smooth handover of power.

With what happened in Kenya, where more than a thousand people died after the December elections, still vivid in people’s minds, many ZANU-PF supporters and other ordinary Zimbabweans are reluctant to dump the 84-year-old leader, who probably has the strong backing of the army and other security agencies.

Breaking away from Mugabe is not an option for many who have benefited from his patronage and do not want to risk losing everything by opposing him.

Because of this reason, many ZANU-PF senior officials backing independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni have chosen to support him clandestinely, while pledging Mugabe’s support publicly.

“Why risk losing my farm and everything that I have gained by breaking away from ZANU-PF? Many of my colleagues have started jumping ship and going back to Mugabe’s camp. We are reminded constantly of what it means to break away and the picture does not look very good,” said another politburo member, who asked for anonymity.

It is not only the ruling party’s supporters that want Mugabe to remain at the helm but also some powerful businesspeople, who are pumping billions of Zimbabwe dollars into Mugabe’s re-election campaign.

IWPR met with a group of ten such businesspeople at an exclusive club, where they were plotting what support they could give to ensure that Mugabe remains in office.

Some of them, particularly those that emerged during the country’s worst-ever economic crisis, say normalising the economy would be detrimental to their businesses.

“Personally, I want the old man to continue. I like the old man because I owe him everything that I have amassed. Look at me and look at how rich I have become because of the opportunities that opened up when the economy started crumbling,” said one the group.

“I will vote for him and put my last dollar to ensure that he wins the elections.”

Another said, “If the situation normalises, a lot of men will cry and lose everything. So we can’t afford that. We would rather pump money into President Mugabe’s campaign so that the situation remains abnormal.

“Zimbabweans have developed a culture of getting a quick buck and I know most people will not be able to go back to formal employment and wait for a pay cheque. People will find it difficult to cope when the situation improves.”

Zimbabwe has experienced a precipitous economic decline since 2000, when the government started seizing white commercial farms. Since then, unemployment has run riot at nearly 85 per cent, with the world’s highest inflation rate.

Nonthando Bhebhe is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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