Factionalism and Coalition: The two sides of Zimbabwean politics

On 21st May 2017, growing factionalism in the ruling ZANU-PF provoked violence at the party’s provincial headquarters in Zimbabwe’s second largest city – Bulawayo. Party youths disrupted a meeting at the headquarters accusing the provincial leadership of supporting the embattled Minister of Local Government Saviour Kasukuwere and riot police had to be called to restore order. Although such factionalism and violence is not new to politics in Zimbabwe, given the continuing questions surrounding Mugabe’s succession and the prospect of an opposition coalition, ZANU-PF’s supremacy could be under pressure as elections approach in July 2018.

A number of senior cabinet ministers have been accused of challenging Mugabe’s leadership in the past and, based on very little evidence, have been attacked by sections of ZANU-PF. The most recent to fall foul of this is Kasukuwere, who has been accused of setting up parallel structures in the party in order to unseat Mugabe. Significantly, Kasukuwere is viewed as a leading member of the G40 faction, which is opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe as President and reportedly support the First Lady – Grace Mugabe. This suggests that Mnangagwa and the so-called Lacoste faction are attempting to asset their authority in the party and block any challenge from the G40 faction. Although large sections of ZANU-PF have publicly called for Kasukuwere’s removal from not only his cabinet post but also the party, it appears that the second vice president – Phelekezela Mphoko – supports Kasukuwere. This is significant as Mphoko is the chairperson of the ZANU-PF appeals committee and therefore reviews disciplinary cases brought against party officials. This suggests that the factionalist infighting that surrounds Kasukuwere is likely to continue in the coming weeks. Moreover, such infighting is unlikely to pass even if Kasukuwere is removed from the party.

Although Mugabe has been confirmed as ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate for next year’s election, it seems that this has had little effect on the factionalist politics associated with his succession. Considering Mugabe’s age, his increasingly frequent international health trips and his deteriorating public persona, it is unsurprising that factions are trying to establish their position in the party. Presently, Mnangagwa seems the most likely to succeed Mugabe, given the opposition to the G40 faction from within ZANU-PF and his strong links to the security forces. Such links are extremely valuable and are likely to become more important in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The Commander General of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ recent warning to the influential War Veterans Association, regarding criticism of Mugabe’s leadership, demonstrated the security forces’ willingness to intervene in politics, which will be an important factor in Mugabe’s succession. Grace Mugabe would need her husband’s support and influence if she was to assume the presidency and as it seems increasingly likely that Mugabe will die in office rather than stand down, this puts Mnangagwa in the pole position to succeed him.

Whilst ZANU-PF is once again preoccupied by factionalist infighting, it seems that Zimbabwe’s divided opposition are finally coming together to provide a united front against the ruling party. Zimbabwe’s main opposition party – Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – splintered in 2005 and 2014, leaving three smaller opposition parties: MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T); MDC-Ncube (MDC-N); and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Although the relationship between these parties’ leaderships has been strained at the best of times and hostile at the worst, they are putting aside their differences to form a coalition. The PDP’s leader – Tendai Biti – who once said that “we don’t share the same values with MDC-T” and stated that “Morgan Tsvangirai was a thief”, has now been welcomed back by the largest MDC faction (MDC-T) and its leader. Upon joining forces again with the MDC-T, Biti said that the opposition was “putting Zimbabweans first” and the MDC-N leader – Welshman Ncube – stated that “we owe it to future generations”.

Although the re-unification of the splintered MDC is undoubtedly important, significantly, this grouping has been joined by a new opposition party – National People’s Party (NPP) – which is headed by the former vice president and ZANU-PF stalwart Joice Mujuru. Mujuru was expelled from ZANU-PF in 2015 after being accused of trying to illegally remove Mugabe from power. On 19th April, the previous adversaries – Tsvangirai and Mujuru – signed a memorandum of understanding which outlined their commitment to field a joint candidate to challenge Mugabe in July 2018. On 20th May, Mujuru proclaimed that the “NPP and MDC are one and the same thing”. This is significant as Mujuru’s participation in the coalition could enable the opposition to attract support from outside of their urban centre strongholds. Unlike Tsvangirai, Mujuru was part of the liberation struggle and reportedly still has strong links with Zimbabwe’s security apparatus. This means that it will be harder for ZANU-PF to side-line her and it is possible that she may be able to draw support away from the ruling party.

The opposition coalition will try to tap into the burgeoning discontent in the country due to its dire economic situation. This discontent was illustrated by the popularity of anti-government protest movements in 2016 such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka. Although these groups are working outside of the party system, it is likely that their followers will support the coalition.

Nevertheless, the coalition is in its early stages and it is not clear if it will be able to stay together until the election next year. Although the leaders of each party are promoting unity, members of both the MDC-T and the NPP believe that their respective leaders should be the coalition’s presidential candidate. It seems likely that primaries will be held to decide this, which will indicate the durability of the coalition. Furthermore, even after this is decided, the coalition will have to turn its attention to policy formation, which again will highlight the differences between the parties. Thus, although this is a positive step for the opposition, compromise and co-operation will be key to maintaining this united front ahead of the election in July 2018.

As ZANU-PF is entering a new round of factionalist infighting associated with Mugabe’s succession, the opposition is positioning itself to pose its strongest electoral challenge since the contentious 2008 election. If the opposition coalition selects a leader, formulates joint policies and remains united, it could potentially draw widespread support from across Zimbabwe. Although this unity is yet to be tested and ZANU-PF’s resilience should not be underestimated, the continuing factionalism within the ruling party is only likely to strengthen the opposition’s resolve.

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