When Jacob Zuma at last leaves the office of President, which he has sullied for the past eight years, there will be almost as much jubilation as there was a week ago when Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, after 37 years of looting and utterly incompetent rule, was given as dignified an exit as any doddering dictator could have hoped for. To boot, Mugabe and company get immunity and to keep their ill-gotten gains. Will the same thing happen in South Africa? Probably.
Bending to the demands of his precocious wife, Grace, in a moment of senile devotion Mugabe forgot his real job: to keep Zanu-PF united and the pillage flowing. Not that he ever wanted to resign, but before the question of succession became a lived reality, the party would probably not have allowed him to leave office even if he had wanted to. He was the glue keeping the corruption together and the looting profitable for the elite; the one-time father of the Chimurenga and the man with the essential connections and the necessary stature among African leaders across the continent which Zimbabwe needed. Mugabe could also take the heat from the outside world.
It was always intended that Emmerson Mnangagwa was going to succeed him, the enforcer behind the throne – for Zimbabwe has not been a democracy for a very long time and still isn’t. When Mugabe faltered around 2009 and 2010, Thabo Mbeki brokering a government of national unity seemed poised by hook by crook to make this happen, having come a long road with Mnangagwa himself.
Mnangagwa, ‘the crocodile’, was a key figure in the Gukurahundi – the mass slaughter in Matabeleland which genocide scholars put at 20,000 people. He also presided over the torture and detention of the ANC military command (which mostly supported Mugabe’s rival, Joshua Nkomo) in southern Zimbabwe in the mid-1980s. During election cycles, Mnangagwa unleashed the army and the war veterans to terrorize the populace and torture the opposition to ensure electoral victory for Zanu-PF under Mugabe. Over the years, he has run the ministries of justice, defence and state security, as well as finance.
Amidst celebrating the demise of Mugabe, one must not forget he has been brought to power in a military coup, politely called a “military intervention”
This time, Mnangagwa used the army to install himself. Amidst celebrating the demise of Mugabe, one must not forget he has been brought to power in a military coup, politely called a “military intervention” to avoid triggering regional defence agreements. Perhaps one day we will find out what Mnangagwa had to promise Zuma to keep South Africa out.
Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF were never going to allow the state they have captured, together with the diamonds they are plundering in the Congo, to fall into the grasping hands of Mugabe’s ex-secretary and wife to whom they have scant loyalty. The last time she attacked a vice-president, Joice Mjuru in 2014, the inner circle shut her out too. Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF crocodile faction has now resorted to a misogynistic vilification of Grace Mugabe for the benefit of party unity.
Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF crocodile faction has now resorted to a misogynistic vilification of Grace Mugabe for the benefit of party unity.
Grace Mugabe used a classic strategy in liberation party politics; while her husband leant her backing through shock cabinet reshuffling, she rose on the support of the women’s league and youth league, as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is attempting in South Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma is no Grace Mugabe, except in one essential sense: both come in to play to preserve the incumbent’s legacy after succession. Both are also divisive to their parties.
Events in Zimbabwe do not bode well for Dlamini-Zuma. Looking across the border, many in the ANC now feel emboldened to remove Zuma, and the party is already undertaking internal electoral reforms in the hope that at the next elective conference the party won’t be split too badly.
Time will tell if removing Mugabe will bring change to Zimbabwe. Given his history, a Mnangagwa presidency is a closing of ranks and most likely to maintain the status quo, perhaps with even greater brutality. There is an outside chance he will seize this historical moment, something Zuma was meant to have done when he was elected, but failed to redirect the economy, instead setting up a personal fiefdom and betraying almost everyone who supported him – the so-called “coalition of the wounded”.
The other serious presidential contender in South Africa appears at this stage to be Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. But he is not emerging as a unifier. That is to his credit. The ANC needs wholesale purging and reform.
Zuma’s presidency did not help the poor who voted for him; quite the opposite. He has exacerbated the structural problems in the economy. His shenanigans with shuffling finance ministers and discrediting the country internationally has destroyed millions of jobs. His obstinacy around the minister of social development has imperiled the social grant system. His personal actions have severely damaged the revenue services, the treasury and the budgeting office. His nepotism and dealing with the Gupta family have wrecked the state-owned enterprises – the railways, the national airline, the electricity utility – and he is now selling off Denel, the arms company. He has hollowed out the national prosecuting authority, the intelligence services, the police, and the public protector to protect himself, leaving the country almost defenceless against organised crime and street thugs. He has damaged the ANC’s electoral brand, killed the tripartite alliance and destroyed the unions. Meanwhile, he is quietly allowing KwaZulu-Natal to slowly backslide into a potential bloodbath. His successor is supposed to fix all this. A party unifier won’t cut it.
Zanu-PF cannot be reformed; it is a party beyond redemption. The ANC might still have a chance to come back from the brink. By mid-December, after the ANC’s 54th National Conference, South Africa may well find its fate in the hands of Ramaphosa. The nation will be forced to place its hope in him to do the right thing, just as Zimbabweans are hoping against the odds that Mnangagwa will.