Author Archives: Nicole Beardsworth

Zimbabwe – Removing a tyrant but not a tyranny?

As the upper echelons of Zimbabwe’s ruling party shift following President Robert Mugabe’s ouster, what can we expect from the ‘new’ regime in Harare?

The ‘Soft’ Coup

When on 14 November, army personnel carriers rolled into Harare, social media was ablaze with speculation. At 4 am on the 15th, the military appeared on the public broadcaster to announce that they had ‘secured’ the first family and were working to arrest criminals around the president. Military officials stated repeatedly and emphatically that this was not a coup, and that the constitution had not been abrogated. On 21 November, after a week of negotiations, Mugabe’s removal from the head of the ruling party and the instituting of impeachment proceedings against him, he resigned – ending his 37-year tenure. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko became possibly the shortest-serving acting president in African history upon Mugabe’s resignation, but his whereabouts remain unknown. Emmerson Mnangagwa was then chosen by ZANU-PF to be the new president of Zimbabwe, just twenty minutes later. Mnangagwa was inaugurated on 24 November as Zimbabwe’s third president.

It appears that the military had been planning their move for some time and had consulted with regional and international allies – although many, including China, deny this – to ensure that any intervention to remove the long-standing head of state would have international buy-in. But to carry it off, they had been warned that it needed to appear as legitimate and bloodless as possible. The military’s move had been planned for just before the December ZANU-PF congress where it was expected that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa would be removed; but it was moved up when Mnangagwa was unceremoniously removed on 6 November and Army General Constantine Chiwenga (Mnangagwa’s closest ally) received reports that he was to be arrested upon arrival in Harare from a trip to China.

Mugabe’s removal was extremely popular – prompting thousands of Zimbabweans to march and celebrate in the country’s largest cities, and in cities around the world. Despite the popular celebrations, most analysts remain sceptical and believe that his removal has allowed the ruling party which backed him and sustained his regime for four decades to ‘renew’ itself. The title of this article was taken from a quote by Bulawayo MDC Senator, David Coltart on the day of the president’s ouster – a reminder that the system that had sustained Mugabe for so long remained intact, despite his removal.

The Enigmatic Mr Mnangagwa

For those who don’t watch Zimbabwe closely, Emmerson Mnangagwa appeared to be a new, fresh and unknown figure. But Mnangagwa – or the ‘Crocodile’ (Ngwena) – has been at the heart of ZANU-PF and Zimbabwe’s politics for more than four decades. Mnangagwa is one of just two politicians who have served in every cabinet under Mugabe since 1980. Billed as Mugabe’s most likely successor in 2014 when he was appointed republican vice president, he and his allies had increasingly come under attack in 2017 from Women’s League President and First Lady Grace Mugabe as well as the ‘young Turks’ in the faction who supported her.

Despite the public attacks against him, Mnangagwa has spent the last two years positioning himself as a pragmatist and negotiator who would help to resolve the political and economic crisis wrought by the Mugabe administration. He had been reaching out to the farmers dispossessed in the early 2000s, to foreign diplomats in Harare who had been eager to see meaningful re-engagement with ZANU-PF and the opposition whose fortunes had declined markedly since 2009. This was partly the reason for his ouster, when leaked Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) documents reported on by Reuters suggested that Mnangagwa was planning a post-Mugabe future which would involve a 5-year transitional government with the opposition, and the backing of Western diplomats.

Three days after his inauguration, Mnangagwa formally dissolved Cabinet and announced that he was returning his key ally, former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa to his previous position to allow for continuity. Several key members of Mugabe’s last cabinet are facing charges, and their families have been subjected to significant abuse, harassment and intimidation by the security forces following the takeover. The former finance minister was also beaten so badly during his detention by the military that he had to be hospitalised. Despite Mnangagwa’s inaugural statement regarding a ‘return to democracy’ in Zimbabwe, many Zimbabweans are (understandably) sceptical. Analysts Tinashe Chimedza and Tamuka Chirimambowa refer to the new president as the ‘Trojan horse’ of the ‘deep state,’ which was desperate to ensure its political and economic survival. And despite the apparent lack of bloodshed of the ‘soft coup,’ it is clear that the involvement of the military in politics (and their choosing of an amenable successor) may set a concerning precedent.

The new president’s political history also provides some reasons to be suspicious regarding the likelihood of democratic breakthrough in Zimbabwe – he was implicated in the manipulation of electoral processes (including the stolen and violent 2008 polls) and in the misappropriation of diamond revenues in Zimbabwe and the DRC. He was also complicit in – and thus partly responsible for – the politically-motivated killings of 20 000 Zimbabwean civilians in the Matabeleland region between 1983 and 1987. As noted by Historian Stuart Doran, “Along with Mugabe and the minister responsible for defence, Sydney Sekeramayi, none of the Zanu politicians was more embroiled in the Gukurahundi than Mnangagwa. He was not the architect, but he was one of them. Of that there is no doubt.”

Where to from here?

If reports from inside the political negotiations are correct, it appears that Mnangagwa is still considering an ‘inclusive’ government which includes prominent members of the opposition – who had been caught completely unaware by the rejigging of the political playing field. It appears that he would like to use an inclusive arrangement to consolidate international goodwill, and possibly to postpone the elections scheduled for mid-2018. This is a risky prospect for the opposition, as suggested by Brian Raftopoulos; such an arrangement is likely to be a poisoned chalice for the weakened opposition who will almost certainly be given a marginal and negligible role. International political goodwill also already seems to be at a decade-long high, with the arrival of the first British Minister to the country in twenty years – though the content of the engagement was hardly a resounding endorsement. Less than a week after Mnangagwa’s inauguration, a Chinese envoy had also arrived in Harare and extended an official invitation from President Xi to the new head of state. Such events – along with frequent displays of public goodwill – may lead instead to a decision by Mnangagwa to renege on the negotiations for a more inclusive Cabinet.

The four years since Mugabe’s last electoral victory in 2013 have seen a collapse of living standards in the country. Zimbabwe’s economy is now half the size it was in 2000, with 95% of citizens no longer formally employed and a national budget of just $4 billion USD – of which 97% was spent on public sector salaries in 2016. The health and education systems are barely functional and propped up by donor interventions while the substitute currency has seen hyper-inflation soar at over 300% for 2017, despite the dollarization of the economy in 2009. Reports suggest that political insiders had been raiding the economy of hard currency while military elites monopolised the income from the country’s diamond reserves. On 28 November, Mnangagwa announced that he would be combining ministries and streamlining staff in an attempt to speed up decision-making, cut costs and increase productivity. He also plans to quickly revise the country’s indigenisation laws which legislate that all businesses must cede a 51% stake to a Zimbabwean partner. Suddenly – and for the first time in months – there are more dollars available in ATM’s, and reports suggest that black market premiums on notes have dropped from 85% to just 25%.

Although Mnangagwa clearly plans to repair the ailing economy, the likelihood of full liberalisation is low, given the high levels of military involvement – particularly in lucrative sectors such as diamond mining. Meanwhile, Ignatius Chombo – the finance minister at the point of Mugabe’s removal – has been charged with defrauding the central bank. These charges allegedly relate to corruption perpetrated two decades ago while serving as minister of local government, suggesting that the ‘new’ government will be loath to prosecute for more recent crimes in which current members of the administration might be implicated. Having instituted a three-month amnesty period for externalised ill-gotten funds and threatened to prosecute thereafter, it remains to be seen how tough the new administration will be on corruption. The high levels of complicity across the political and military elite suggest that this is unlikely. It appears that Mnangagwa is already reaching out to former dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers to help re-boot the agricultural economy – along with his flagship ‘Command Agriculture’ project.

Looking forward, the most likely outcome for Zimbabwe’s future is that we will probably see the emergence of something approaching a ‘developmental’ authoritarian state – in which levels of repression remain significant and citizen’s political and civic rights continue to be constrained, but the economy begins to grow again and people’s material prospects improve markedly. Having billed himself as a technocrat and pragmatist, Mnangagwa appears to have wagered that he can normalise relations with Western donor states to improve the economy and that – after decades of downward revision of democratic prospects in Zimbabwe and shifting donor goalposts – the international community would be satisfied by a veneer of democratic legitimacy coupled with significant economic growth and improved trade relations. However – in a stark break from the experience of his predecessor – Mnangagwa will only have two presidential terms in which to do so, following the introduction of a new constitution in 2013.

Amidst reports that Western diplomats had long been backing Mnangagwa’s push for the presidency, it is imperative that his administration is treated warmly, but with a healthy dose of scepticism, and that significant levels of aid disbursement are linked to meaningful democratic reforms. Equally, while they still have some leverage, opposition actors must also negotiate for an even playing field and the repeal of the most repressive legislation that had served the ZANU-state project for so long. If they fail to capitalise on it, this opportunity won’t come around again soon.

South Africa – President Zuma, low on allies but not out of ideas

In just ten weeks, South Africa’s long-ruling African National Congress (ANC) will head to an elective congress to install a new party president who will be the party’s national presidential candidate in 2019. Struggling under the weight of compounding corruption scandals and a battle for control of all sectors of the state, President Jacob Zuma has pinned his fortunes to the candidacy of his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former AU Commission Chair. Recently, Zuma (narrowly) survived his seventh parliamentary vote of no confidence, and is facing growing internal criticism by party heavyweights and the fracturing of the long-standing tri-partite alliance between the ANC and labour federation COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). As a result, Zuma is frequently portrayed as being on the back foot.

His current woes don’t originate in the (potentially soon reinstated) 783 corruption charges that he was facing prior to his presidency, nor the furore over the state financing of upgrades to his personal home, but from a trove of over 300 000 emails leaked to investigative journalism outfit, amaBhungane. These leaks detail the way in which Zuma’s friends and business associates – the controversial Gupta family – have used their political connections to act as gate keepers for dozens of state contracts, possibly amassing as much as R100 billion and shifting it offshore to accounts in Dubai and India. The leaked emails also suggest that, should Zuma’s succession plans come unstuck, he may be looking to relocate to Dubai. These emails helped to bring down London PR firm Bell Pottinger, as well as the South African leadership of auditing firm KPMG and software giant SAP, while many of the Zuma faction’s key acolytes at state-owned enterprises appear to be falling under the axe as reports of their financial crimes surface.

But don’t count Jacob Zuma out just yet. Zuma is a master tactician – he was allegedly the reigning chess champion on Robben Island – and a securocrat whose closest allies are in the intelligence community. As a result, he appears to always be one step ahead of his detractors. Through his appointments to various key cabinet and government posts, Zuma has managed to avoid prosecution over the old graft charges and dodge any serious investigations over the current allegations of corruption that have tainted his legacy. The office of the Public Protector – previously staffed by a corruption-busting lawyer – has been undermined by the selection of an apparent Zuma ally, while the head of the national prosecuting authority seems to be missing in action.

Ahead of the upcoming party and national elections – which will likely determine the fate of Zuma and his family – the president and his faction are trying to secure a win for Dlamini-Zuma. Bell Pottinger had apparently been asked to manage her campaign, but the campaign would only be successful on the back of sustained media coverage. A key Zuma ally who was responsible for ensuring positive coverage at the national broadcaster was removed in 2017, and the president has prevaricated on appointing a fresh and more independent board, chosen by parliament. Zuma has even gone so far as to have personal meetings with key SABC figures, potentially undermining the independence of the public broadcaster. The SABC is critical to the electoral fortunes of the ANC, and controlling the national broadcaster would help the Zuma faction to control the messaging ahead of the congress and national polls. As the ANC appears to follow the liberation party trend of moving from an urban-based to a rurally-based party, it will become increasingly important to be able to reach rural voters using the national broadcaster’s vernacular-language radio stations which have a listenership of over 37.6 million citizens – twice the number of people who voted in the 2014 elections.

In order to control the election outcomes and ensure continued flows of patronage, it is critical that the presidency be able to bend the country’s financial policy and budget to his own ends. Reports that the presidency is trying to capture the Treasury are not new. Such reports were buttressed by the removal of technocrat Finance Ministers Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 and Pravin Gordhan in 2017, and their replacement by unknown or inexperienced finance ministers. New reports have now surfaced that the new finance minister, a Zuma ally and Gupta-associate, has established a parallel administration at the National Treasury, side-lining key technocrats and delaying important investigations into maladministration and corruption. In September, Cabinet announced that the budgeting process for the 2018/19 financial year would be ‘overseen’ by the Presidency – raising further concerns that the president would then have greater control over financial allocations.

This is important as the President – and his preferred candidate – have been promising voters ‘radical economic transformation’ in order to shore up the party’s waning electoral fortunes and defuse the negative effects of Zuma’s numerous corruption scandals. This promised new policy is amorphous, swinging between being defined as the conditions to bring about a more egalitarian, inclusive economy and something approaching radical, racialized empowerment in productive sectors of the economy. Increased control over the 2018/2019 budget would allow the presidency to put into action some of the policies within this framework that, the faction hopes, would help the ANC carry the next national election.

But Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma don’t have the congress sewn up just yet. There is increasing pushback from within the ANC, and key figures have come out vocally in support of Dlamini-Zuma’s strongest opponent – Cyril Ramaphosa. The battle has quietly – and sometimes not-so-quietly – been raging at the provincial ANC congresses, with each faction battling it out to have their supporters elected and thus to control which voting delegates are sent to the December congress. There has also been significant inflation of reported numbers in the party’s provincial membership, as the number of members that a province has determines how many votes they are allocated at the congress. The greatest disparities have been found in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) – this province already has the greatest number of ANC members and thus delegates at the elective congress, making it a key succession battleground.

As Zuma’s support in other regions wanes, his faction is increasingly reliant on controlling the party’s structures in this king-maker province. The province has experienced increased levels of violence during periods of increased intra-party competition as around the 2016 municipal elections when more than a dozen council candidates were killed in the months before the polls. These killings have continued as the presidential succession race has heated up. In September the High Court nullified the election of a pro-Zuma ANC leadership in KZN, but a likely decision to appeal the ruling will probably leave the pro-Zuma leadership in place ahead of December. As for the other provinces with pro-Zuma administrations, Zuma’s support appears to be on somewhat shakier ground, making the battle for KZN a critical one.

When it comes to Cyril Ramaphosa’s candidacy, it appears that the Zuma faction is willing to play dirty. In September, apparently-leaked emails to a local newspaper appeared to imply that Ramaphosa was embroiled in a web of adulterous relationships but the ANC heavyweight has refuted most of the claims, arguing that it was Zuma’s allies in the intelligence services who had hacked his emails in a concerted political smear campaign. Journalists from the Independent – which is owned by a pro-ANC businessman – have hinted that yet another big Ramaphosa story is on the horizon. The race is likely to get very ugly ahead of December, and many a political skeleton will probably fall out of the proverbial closet. But just which way the December congress will go, is still very much up for debate.