Mugabe's last laugh

Jan Raath writes on the final chapter of the Zanu-PF leader's chaotic, brutal, vicious and ruinous rule

HARARE - The skin is drawn tightly over his cheekbones, the lips have become almost fleshless and the once obstinate jaw is reduced to a fragile, boney structure.

There is a likeness to the 3,000-year-old mummy of King Rameses II in the Cairo Museum. President Robert Mugabe, 91 in three months, evidently has the medical condition of inanition, the steady loss of fatty tissue from the bodies of the very old.

This aged figure will mount the podium in two weeks' time at the congress here of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU(PF) party, to the deafening hysteria of ululations, war chants and brandished fists of the assembled 3,000.

Mugabe's absolute rule is in its 35th year and it is apparent that he is so in thrall to his own authority that he has no awareness of his frailty. He still erupts in rage at the slightest hint of a challenge.

So three things are certain at this congress - he will not announce his retirement, the masses will endorse his continued leadership for another five years and not a breath will be heard on the issue of his successor.

But it will be a very different ZANU(PF) from the party congresses of the past. For the first time since its founding in a Rhodesian prison in 1969, the party is divided through the middle after a ruthless, coordinated purge that has stunned ordinary Zimbabweans.

The fragmentation of Morgan Tsvangrai's MDC, the only real challenge ZANU(PF) has ever felt, is a catalyst. The development could not have been a better example of French journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan's remark during the French Revolution that "the revolution devours its children."

The target of the purge is Joice Mujuru, first vice-president and the next-in-line to succeed Mugabe. She is also the leader of one of the two factions in the party that have been waging a hidden struggle for domination for at least 30 years.

In the last year, she has quietly manoeuvred her group into a position to again secure her the vice-presidency. She did this by taking nine of the ten of the party's provincial structures, crucial for leverage up into higher levels.

She made the mistake of becoming too powerful.

Just over a month ago, Grace, the 49-year-old wife of Mugabe, was catapulted out of a life of luxury shopping and travel into the midst of ZANU(PF) politics. She was nominated to head its Women's League. Under the guise of a series of "thank you" rallies around the country, she launched a fusillade of vulgar attacks and outrageous accusations against Mujuru.

This week she warned the vice-president that if she did not resign, "you will be humiliated and left naked and dogs will not come near you because you stink, even if you have put on perfume."

She also made it clear she was speaking for the party's other faction, led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has a record for intrigue and bloodshed to make him Africa's Richard III.

As the minister of national intelligence shortly after independence in 1980 he directed the slaughter of up to 20,000 Ndebele civilians during a small insurgency in western Zimbabwe. In each of the post-independence elections - with the exception of last year's that was won through Israeli-backed fraud - he was the operational head of ZANU(PF)'S campaigns of murder and terror.

Of course, both Mujuru and Mnangagwa vigorously deny they belong to factions, and profess love only for Mugabe.

Then followed a series of manufactured "votes of no confidence" in one provincial council after the other in which Mujuru officials were accused of "factionalism" and "disrespect for the first family" and summarily ejected. They were replaced by loyalists of Mnangagwa's faction.

In a matter of weeks, Mujuru's bulwark of structural support has vanished.

The third arm in the anti-Mujuru onslaught has been the state-controlled press, and its obsessive-compulsive czar, information minister Jonathan Moyo.

The Herald, ZANU(PF)'s flagship, every morning roars breathtakingly scurrilous accusations of alleged nefarious activity by the vice-president, her family and supporters, of corruption, abuse of office, sex abuse, extortion, treachery, of plotting Mugabe's downfall and, worst, of failing to attend the first lady's rallies.

When a Mujuru ally denied being involved in a coup plot, the Herald headline said he had "confirmed" it. When Mujuru issued a carefully-worded statement denying the plot allegations against her, the response from the Herald was: "Outrage over VP Mujuru statement."

It's well known that the central intelligence organisation keeps detailed files on all the ZANU(PF) top brass that are held for critical moments. It is assumed across the nation that the whole lot of them are up to their necks in malfeasance and greed, but picking on Mujuru is one of those moments.

"Ping-pong Jonathan" as he is known, is scarcely one to accuse Mujuru of "treachery." He has turned from fierce, articulate critic of Mugabe in the late 90s to Mugabe apologist in 2000, sacked by him in 2004, resumed his trenchant criticism and was openly back again to Mugabe apologist last year.

His past is too recent to escape. Last week the Daily News republished a 2011 essay of his under the headline: "Mugabe must go now! - Jonathan Moyo." Mugabe is known to admire his propagandist skills, and glosses over his foibles.

Then on Sunday, the nation gasped. The front page of Moyo's Sunday Mail ran the headline : "VP linked to President Assassination Plot."

It said party number five Didymus Mutasa and senior spokesman Rugare Gumbo had been caught asserting in separate conversations that "Mugabe will be shot." Another minister and politburo member had held meetings with "potential hitmen" in South Africa and Israel. "There is no way VP Mujuru can be separated from the intentions of her closest allies," it said.

No official sources were quoted. Police have refused to comment. All the alleged conspirators remain free.

And the supreme irony on Wednesday: state radio announced that Mugabe had flown to Equatorial Guinea. In his absence, it said, he had appointed vice-president Mujuru as acting president.

This is nothing unusual in a country where the behaviour of the government can swing hourly from Keystone Cops to Ton-Ton Macoute terror.

The "assassination plot" has nevertheless cast a dark new element of instability and potential chaos ahead of the congress. There are calls for members of Mujuru's faction to be barred. This sets the scene for violent clashes as the Mujuru faction tries to assert its right to be there and the other denies it.

It will certainly be Mugabe's last congress. Who he appoints to replace Mujuru - now almost certainly jettisoned - makes little difference for it will be vigorously contested by a very large and aggrieved constituency.

Antipathy to the loathed Grace was intensified by her fishwife attacks on the dignified Mujuru, and would make her a reckless choice.

Mnangagwa (a youthful 72)? I have an abiding memory of him, arriving from a flight at Harare airport, dressed in white slacks and shoes and a floral shirt and expensive shades, and being greeted not by his official driver, but a Chinese man opening the door for him to a white Mercedes with another Chinese at the wheel. For a glass of green tea at the embassy?

There are reports now that the Mnangagwa faction itself has begun to split with him, Grace and two other women elbowing each other out of the way for the vice-presidency. None of them have any hint of competence for the post that is meant to lead to national leadership.

ZANU(PF) has celebrated all its victories after every election since independence in 1980 - except last year's - with violent retribution against the losers. The defeat of Mujuru will be a major triumph. Scattered incidents of violence are occurring. ZANU(PF)'s biggest and most violent struggle could well be against itself.

The legacy of Mugabe looks to be an affirmation of his own rule - chaotic, brutal, vicious and ruinous.

The ridiculous youth wing of the party has already nominated Mugabe as their candidate for the next elections due in 2018. What they will get is an ancient goat in the seventh age of man,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything

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