Africa Watch

President Mugabe’s parliamentary gaffe

Is Mugabe’s rule finally ending?

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe’s latest gaffe in parliament might become the final turning point in the growing pressure to force him out of office: a bridge, or rather a speech, too far.

The 91-year-old’s blunder on 14 September when, opening parliament, he repeated his 25-minute-long State of the Nation speech of only three weeks earlier to the same audience (without realising his mistake), confirmed without doubt that age has at long last caught up with him.

The stunned, maybe embarrassed, silence in parliament, compared to the situation during his State of the Nation address when he was heckled and jeered by the opposition, made this mistake even more glaring.

It could have been total disbelief, or perhaps even pity, that overcame those assembled and allowed the country’s president to stutter on.

The fall-out afterwards and the scathing criticism that followed indicate that the inevitable is nigh, Mugabe’s long and unopposed rule is nearing its end.

More fuel

This latest blunder added more fuel to those clamouring for his immediate resignation or possible impeachment.

Zimbabwe’s vocal opposition has been calling for a non-partisan all-stakeholders conference to consider impeaching President Mugabe.

Although it is not expected to succeed, the call for impeachment amplifies the growing resentment with his rule and the relentless pressure will continue.

For Mugabe, the uncontested leader of Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, the pressure is not only uncomfortable and difficult to deal with at his age, but a burden added to his mounting woes with a party riddled with factionalism and infighting. 

That the opposition will apply constant pressure, was confirmed by Rugare Gumbo. The former Zanu-PF heavyweight and Mugabe confidant, was purged from the ruling party by Mugabe late last year, alongside former vice-president Joice Mujuru.

Now the spokesperson of The People First Movement (TPFM), formed by breakaway and disgraced former Zanu-PF members, Gumbo told the media that the movement’s modus operandi was aimed at “shocking and surprising” their political foes and warned, “there is more coming”.

Gumbo asserted that TPFM would not “relent” until Mugabe and the Zanu-PF were ousted from power and “stopped from holding back the country through their repugnant policies that are benefitting a few and well-connected individuals”.

Deliberate ploy       

Desperately trying to downplay Mugabe’s embarrassing faux pas, his supporters claim, unconvincingly, that the fiasco in parliament was a deliberate plot, “not only to embarrass the president, but to show the world that he [Mugabe] is not only old, but also incapable of presiding over the affairs of the State”.

But at the same time, in what would have been unimaginable a few months ago, senior Zanu-PF officials have reportedly indicated that Mugabe might be forced to quit before his current tenure ends in 2018, due to “explosive succession and economic problems”.

They were reported as saying: “We have been told that [Mugabe] is leaving after his SADC and AU mandates. Since he completed his SADC tenure last month and is finishing the AU one in January 2016, our understanding is that he will leave any time after that.”

This should not come as a surprise, as consensus is growing that the real power within Zanu-PF has shifted and now rests with a powerful and influential cabal with its roots firmly in the security sector.

In response, former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda voiced the opinion that, “Mugabe is a captured human being, held hostage by an internal power-hungry cabal bent on abusing an old man”.

It could be argued that Sibanda is vindictive after he had been dispelled from the ruling party in 2014 for being critical of President Mugabe and his wife, Grace, and for taking sides with former vice-president Mujuru. There is, however, credible independent evidence and sources to back up Sibanda’s opinion.

Body blow

According to reports, the Mugabe government is struggling to pay members of the country’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), another body blow for President Mugabe.

He relies heavily on the support of the CIO to keep him informed and provide vital information to prop up his increasingly unpopular government.

Forced to alter the payment procedure due to government’s restricted budget has generated disgruntlement. Morale and dedication to the job at hand are reportedly fading, which could spell danger for Mugabe’s grip on power.

Political uncertainty

Zanu-PF’s internal succession battle continuous to intensify and is becoming more acrimonious, to the extent that questions are raised whether the once seemingly indestructible party can stay intact and survive the post-Mugabe era.

The decision by Mujuru to rejoin the political battlefield has added to the strain and mistrust that has engulfed the ruling party.     

Mujuru was purged from both government and the party, together with several other senior party members, on untested and widely discredited allegations of plotting to oust and assassinate Mugabe.

Rattled by her dramatic re-entry into formal politics, Mugabe has embarked on a new wave of purges of her perceived allies, triggering even more distrust and disunity in the party and government.

Responding to these developments, TPFM’s Gumbo said that what was happening was “entirely predictable” as Mugabe and his brawling party were “clueless” about lifting Zimbabwe out of its current gloom – choosing to focus, instead, on petty factional matters.

“The purges will continue. They will not stop. Zanu-PF is now a heap of ruins. The party no longer has anything to offer. They do not know who their enemies are anymore and are now very confused,” he said.

There have been reports in the Zimbabwe media quoting what they say are “impeccable sources” that many Zanu-PF Members of Parliament aligned to Mujuru are contemplating resigning their seats en masse to put Mugabe and Zanu-PF  under even more pressure.

A number of Zanu-PF legislators have also indicated that they were prepared to jump ship in a bid to “end the current political madness” in the country and to force early national elections – possibly next year.

In response to the Mujuru threat Zanu-PF hardliners have been saying that the former vice-president and her allies face imminent arrest on account of various alleged crimes, including corruption, committed while still in the ruling party.

Mujuru and her supporters seem unfazed by these allegations and are apparently forging ahead with their plans to change the political face of Zimbabwe. It might even include an election pact with the main opposition MDC-T to confront President Mugabe and Zanu-PF head-on.

Zimbabwe is entering even more turbulent waters and the ramifications will reach far beyond its borders into the rest of Southern Africa.  

by Garth Cilliers

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