HARARE – He might be old and increasingly frail, slow and stuttering, but there is no doubt that in Zanu PF, President Robert Mugabe is still the glue that holds, albeit loosely, the fragmented party together.
Judging by the sea of people who flocked to his youth rally in Marondera last weekend, analysts said Mugabe was turning to youths and women as his faction-torn party grapples with elite discohesion centred on succession and the nonagenarian’s unquenchable thirst for power.
Now in the twilight of his long political career spanning more than five decades, the 93-year-old’s ongoing youth rallies are not about the youth or Zanu PF, analysts said, they are more about Mugabe himself — that those who seek to succeed him should not underestimate his popularity within the party.
Mugabe has lined up 10 youth rallies countrywide.
Analysts said the youth rallies are also meant to seal the succession debate once and for all that Mugabe is not going anywhere, yet.
This is cemented by First Lady Grace Mugabe’s utterances that her husband will rule Zimbabwe even from the grave.
According to Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo, the ruling party has now split into two antagonistic factions namely the Generation 40 (G40) and Team Lacoste formations.
Moyo, an alleged G40 faction kingpin, however prefers to call his camp the “loyalists” and attacks Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the leader of Team Lacoste who cannot wait to see Mugabe’s back.
The former teacher has dismissed any prospects of relinquishing power. And having fallen out with war veterans, hitherto the dynamos of his party, he is now turning to the youths.
The youths are the largest demographic group. A shrewd schemer, Mugabe hopes to tap into their raw energy in his bid to retain the crown.
This comes as the chemistry that Mugabe used to enjoy with the war veterans and the broader coercive apparatus of the State seems to have waned.
War veterans have always been the shock troopers of Zanu PF and Mugabe yet nowadays the public spats between them and some of the president’s appointees notably Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, embattled Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, ministers Moyo and Patrick Zhuwawo — all alleged G40 members — exhibit a quarrelsome relationship.
At the centre of this querulous relationship has been the war veterans’ repugnance of Grace, as a result of her undoubted control on Mugabe, Zanu PF and the State.
By turning to the youths, Mugabe is demonstrating to all and sundry that he is as young as he feels. And ahead of the 2018 elections, he seems to have lost trust in his old guard and now hopes the women’s league led by his wife, Grace, and the youths, led by the “grovelling” Kudzanai Chipanga, could shore up his re-election bid.
Take for instance events in Marondera a fortnight ago. On a sunny day, in a town that had been face-lifted to receive royalty, thousands of Zanu PF youths thronged Rudhaka Stadium to listen to Mugabe as he snarled at his impatient underlings, making it clear that he will not throw-in the towel anytime soon.
Chipanga encapsulated the thinking in Zanu PF. Their leader is a “god” of sorts, he is an angel, according to Chipanga.
“Truly speaking, in heaven there is God and here on earth there is an angel called Robert Gabriel Mugabe. You are representing God here on earth,” Chipanga gushed.
Amidst grinding poverty, with unemployment levels over 90 percent and the World Bank having slashed the country’s economic growth forecast to 2,3 percent from 3,8 percent, it seems the youths in Zanu PF — who are not spared the economic rot — have nothing to do than organise rallies for Mugabe.
“We are the vanguard of the party and there is nothing unusual with these rallies, because it is an opportunity for the youths to raise their concerns and challenges,” Chipanga told the Daily News on Sunday.
“We also seek to be assisted to tap into opportunities that are being provided by government. Government is doing a lot of turnaround programmes and our president is ready to listen. He is pro-poor and pro-young people.
“Therefore, we would like to use our president to catapult our young people into economic prosperity.”
On the campaign trail, Mugabe is doling out residential stands and vending bays to youths.
Analysts say Mugabe is alive to the growing chorus in the country to pass the baton, not only from the usual suspects in the opposition, but also from within his party Zanu PF.
Analysts insist Mugabe is using the rallies — with the next scheduled for Mutare then Masvingo — to make a bold statement.
Political analyst Dewa Mavhinga said Mugabe and Zanu PF are in full election campaign mode for the 2018 national elections in which the Zanu PF first secretary has been unanimously endorsed as the ruling party’s presidential candidate, when he will be 94-years-old.
“Mugabe is unlikely to step down at all, consider him Zanu PF life president and therefore any talk of him bidding farewell to anyone is misplaced.
“For those in Zanu PF, it is less about Mugabe’s health or physical condition and more about the myth and legend that Mugabe has become to them.
“Consider how senior Zanu PF officials like Chipanga deify and glorify Mugabe to the absurd point of talking about Mugabe ruling from the grave,” Mavhinga told the Daily News on Sunday.
The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute think-tank said the youth league has the potential to deliver another crushing victory for Mugabe and Zanu PF during the 2018 election.
“It is crystal clear that Zanu PF is already in the 2018 election mode and thus needs to keep its structures, primarily the youth mobilised,” the paper said, adding it was also about showing rival factions and those entertaining hopes to succeed him that despite his advanced age, he is still very popular in Zanu PF.
“Such rallies and the previous Million Man March organised by the youth league are usually organised amid growing chaos and weakness within the party, and the ongoing rallies were a way of stamping and cementing authority, and to react to opposition protests amid a regressing economy being presided over by Zanu PF.
Despite growing discontent between war veterans and Mugabe, “the party can do without them and rely on the youth to deliver victory.”
“It then remains to be seen whether or not … Mugabe will be able to avoid another bhora musango campaign and another embarrassing defeat in 2018,” the ZDI said in a recent political economy review paper. .
Analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Mugabe was now subjected to gross manipulation by his ever scheming underlings who are pursuing their own agendas.
“He is being pushed by ambitious people who have been using him and proximity to him to gain political weight,” Saungweme told the Daily News on Sunday.
“He is an old and tired man who should be resting. Those people like his wife who are forcing him to painstakingly go and address these rallies are speeding up his demise.
“He does not need to ascertain any power at this point. He is old and must rest. Moving around addressing the youth is not his making but a G40 ploy to put Ngwena’s (Mnangagwa) ambitions at bay.
“These useless rallies are concocted by people who are abusing an old man for their own ends.”