Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1334, (2 - 8 March 2017)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1334, (2 - 8 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Growing struggle in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s dead body could stand again in next year’s presidential elections in the country

Growing struggle in Zimbabwe
Growing struggle in Zimbabwe

Amid rumours that the health of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, 92, is failing and with the 2018 presidential elections in the country fast approaching, there are growing divisions within the ruling party and among the country’s opposition leaders, reports Haitham Nouri.

As well as the political tensions, health services in Zimbabwe have all but stopped as a doctors’ strike is continuing and the government is refusing their demands for better pay, improved working conditions, and greater social benefits. Meanwhile, the country is in the throes of ballooning inflation, threatening opportunities for economic reform.

Grace Mugabe, 51, the wife of a president who has been in power since the end of white minority rule in Zimbabwe in 1980 after leading a bitter independence struggle against the then apartheid regime, told a rally of supporters of the country’s ruling Zanu PF Party that “if, God forbid, president Mugabe dies, his corpse will run in the elections and he will win votes. This shows you how much the people love the president.”

Her comments came amid rumours that Mugabe had died, though these were scotched when he arrived back in the capital Harare from a trip to Dubai where he had been on business regarding his son Robert Mugabe Jr.

The latter was involved in a brawl in a night club in Dubai last year, resulting in the dismissal of Max Mapfumo, one of Mrs Mugabe’s long-term advisers, for failing to settle the matter.

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper has reported that Mrs Mugabe has made sweeping changes in her personal staff, including her bodyguards, out of concerns that rivals in the ruling Party may be spying on her. It said that a “war” inside Zanu PF had caused her to change her bodyguards and axe two of the advisers who have been with her for 20 years, Mapfumo and Albert Mujuru.

There is an ongoing struggle between Mrs Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa, vice-president and minister of defence, about who will succeed Mugabe when he dies. Each camp has supporters within the ruling Party: Mrs Mugabe is supported by the Generation 40 or G40 camp, a group of Party youth, while Mnangagwa leads the Team Lacoste.

Mugabe himself has criticised the divisions within the Party and the rivalry between G40 and Lacoste, and his nephew Patrick Zhuwao has removed himself from the G40 camp.

Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwe priest, has said he is open to running against Mugabe in the 2018 elections. He made his announcement in court last week upon his return from the US during his trial on charges of “harming the country”. The trial has now been postponed until mid-March.

Mawarire had earlier fled the country out of fears for his life after launching the social media campaign #ThisFlag, as well as organising anti-government protests.

Over the past three weeks, various protests have taken place in Zimbabwe, but the doctors’ strike remains the strongest, especially since the country has one of the best healthcare systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, a haemorrhaging of qualified doctors and nurses has mirrored the economic decline of the country and the unprecedented levels of inflation.

The strike began earlier this month when the government did not respond to doctors’ demands to raise their wages to $10 per hour instead of the current $1.2. They have also demanded that their cars should be exempted from licence fees, that the government should guarantee jobs for junior doctors, and that it should allow those who do not have a government job to open private practices.

Opening a private medical clinic in Zimbabwe is only possible if a doctor has first worked in the public sector for several years.

European news agencies in Harare have reported that queues of patients are growing because few doctors are still working. AFP reported that one doctor, who preferred to remain anonymous, had said that “most young doctors are participating in the strike” and that he expected more senior doctors to join the strike next week.

There has been no comment from the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health, but the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, issued a statement condemning the government.

“While Mugabe and his inner circle travel to Singapore, India and other destinations in search of healthcare, Zanu PF has shown nothing but indifference towards the doctors’ strike,” the statement said.

Zimbabwe has suffered economic hardships and unprecedented inflation for much of the last decade. Over recent months, there have been serious shortages of liquidity and hundreds of account holders have been sleeping on the streets in front of banks waiting for their doors to open so they can withdraw their deposits.

The government has been struggling to pay salaries, postponing pay day several times until funds are available.  

Tsvangirai is expected to be the opposition coalition’s candidate in the 2018 elections. He lost against Mugabe in three previous elections and has accused the president of rigging the elections in order to remain in power. After the 2008 elections, the two men negotiated a power-sharing deal whereby Tsvangirai would lead a coalition government.

But “the formula agreed in 2008 cannot be repeated,” Tsvangirai has declared. “We must consider the peaceful transfer of power. This will be decided by the people of Zimbabwe.”

The opposition parties have also met in South Africa in order to close ranks against one of the longest-serving African leaders. However, Mugabe has the support of forces in society and in the government institutions, most notably the army whose commanders have declared that they will not salute a man who did not fight in the independence war (the war against apartheid rule in the 1960s and 1970s led by Mugabe).

Mugabe is popular among war veterans, and he has been backed by China through low-interest loans that have increased his popularity among the middle classes who benefit from the infrastructure projects being constructed by China in dozens of African countries.

Zimbabwe’s authoritarian government could fall apart, especially after the overthrow of Gambia’s president Yehia Jammeh who lost in his country’s presidential race but rejected the results, subsequently being forced by other West African countries to step down.

A similar scenario could be repeated in Zimbabwe, observers say, especially since the South African Development Community (SADC) forced Mugabe to share power in 2008.

On the other hand, many in Sub-Saharan Africa are still content to support the continent’s strongmen out of fears that in their absence its fragile states that could erupt into civil war due to ethnic, religious and tribal diversity.

It may be that such fears will continue to protect the Zanu PF regime in Zimbabwe, even if Mugabe’s days are numbered.

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