HARARE – As President Robert Mugabe prepares for the make-or-break elections next year, in which the opposition could contest as a coalition, the Zanu PF leader faces a dilemma as to whether he should completely ditch the war veterans who are increasingly getting outspoken about his leadership or lean towards the youths for his 2018 re-election bid.
Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980, is currently meeting Zanu PF youths through what has been called youths interface rallies, which are essentially some form of dress rehearsals for his 2018 campaign, with the next meeting scheduled for tomorrow in Masvingo.
The rallies have been a show of force by the increasingly influential Zanu PF youth league which is emerging as an alternative to Mugabe’s bid to retain office in next year’s watershed elections, riding on the frosty relations between the veteran politician and the disaffected war veterans.
War veterans have always been the fulcrum of Mugabe’s power-retention machinery since the emergence of the opposition MDC as a credible challenge to his rule at the turn of the millennium.
Political analysts told the Daily News that next year’s elections could be decided by the youth vote, hence Mugabe is leaving no stone unturned to lure the youths on his side.
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant for southern Africa at the International Crisis Group, said Mugabe was aware of what was at stake in 2018 and would pitch his bid based on the support of the youths.
“I suspect the door will be left open for those war veterans who can commit to a Zanu PF victory as well as accommodating a greater role for youth formations in the election mobilisation strategy.
“When I say youths are critical constituencies I mean both as a mobilising base and as voting fodder. The numbers at the (interface) rallies are impressive but does that translate into votes? What can Zanu PF offer youths beyond policy promises that have limited prospects for implementation?” Pigou said.
Speaking at his first interface rally in Marondera at the beginning of the month, Mugabe did not leave anything to imagination as he heaped praise on the Zanu PF youths for organising “a successful and well-attended” rally.
“I have come here to thank you for the respect that you have always shown me, including when you organised the million-man march. The nation was shocked by the support and even some Sadc countries as well as the West.
“Of course, I was boasting because of the support that you give me and even today I am shocked there are so many people when I thought I was merely going to address people from this province but I realised that other provinces are also here,” said Mugabe.
In May last year, Zanu PF youths organised a hugely successful “million-man march” in support of Mugabe, after his leadership had been put under a microscope by the former liberation war fighters who had authored a stinging communiqué, disparaging his administration.
Some of the leaders of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) had to be arrested on suspicion of penning the stinging communiqué, and are currently out on bail.
They are facing charges of undermining Mugabe’s authority.
Until that happened, the ex-combatants had served as Mugabe’s pillars, waging particularly brutal campaigns against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC, especially in the bloody elections of 2000 and 2008.
The fallout opened a new chapter in Mugabe’s relations with the former liberation war fighters, who responded by dropping the Zanu PF leader as their patron.
Mugabe was also forced to drop ZNLWVA chairperson, Christopher Mutsvangwa, whom he had appointed War Veterans minister the previous year, while many of the association’s leaders were also banished from the imploding liberation movement, in addition to being hauled before the courts.
Since then, there has not been any love lost between Mugabe and the war veterans, with the Zanu PF leader leaning more towards the youths as his storm troopers.
Amid the internecine fighting within Zanu PF, blamed on Mugabe’s own failure to resolve the thorny succession issue, the youth league has emerged as his preferred route to 2018 national elections.
Party insiders said Mugabe now prefers the youth league over the ex-combatants as he fears another internal rebellion — Bhora Musango — which in 2008 saw bigwigs campaigning for themselves and left the Zanu PF leader in the cold, resulting in his defeat in the first round of the March 29 presidential election.
Zanu PF is currently deeply divided, with a camp opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe, the Generation 40 (G40) faction, involved in a life-and-death tussle with the VP’s backers, Team Lacoste.
Mutsvangwa’s executive has publicly said it favours Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe at both government and party levels.
Shakespeare Hamauswa, an analyst, said women and youth leagues have always been the pillars of all political movements in Zimbabwe and therefore, were yet again, likely to influence the voting patterns in next year’s elections.
“The war veterans have been working with these two groups and now Mugabe knows that power lies on these two groups. In this case the war veterans are like fish and youth and women the water but with the war veterans now divided such that their power and influence is now limited, Mugabe will have to make do with what is available,” said Hamauswa.
Political analyst Dewa Mavhinga said the security commanders hold sway in Zanu PF politics and were likely to engineer another Mugabe victory next year.
“The bedrock of Mugabe’s power in Zanu PF and in managing elections lies with the security forces, particularly sections of the army and the Central Intelligence Organisation,” he said.
“To that extent Mugabe can afford to do away with his links with war veterans and turn to the youths, or any other sector, knowing well that his strength lies with loyal State institutions that are prepared to ignore rules for free and fair elections in order to retain Mugabe in office,” said Mavhinga.
Yesterday secretary-general of the ZNLWVA Victor Matemadanda said the youths would not pull it off for Mugabe without their involvement.
“It will be much easier for a war veteran to convince rural dwellers to attend Zanu PF rallies after explaining why some promises made at independence were either fulfilled or not because they have a relationship that dates back to the liberation war than someone who they may easily dismiss as someone singing for his supper because he or she benefits from being either a central committee or politburo member.
“The fact that youths are fronting Mugabe’s campaign may not necessarily matter though because what Zimbabweans are concerned about is what promises are there for the future and why some that were made have not been fulfilled.
“So it is really about the campaign material, how is it packaged and I don’t know what strategy these youths are using but without the delivery component, it will be very difficult for them,” Matemadanda told the Daily News.