PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, currently locked in a vicious internal power struggle with the war veterans backed by the military, is coming under a growing siege both from within and outside as forces of dissent and opposition against him converge.
This comes as cabinet and the Zanu-PF politburo this week discussed the current social unrest and national emergency triggered by protests which have rocked the country since last week. The crisis was sparked off by the Beitbridge explosive riots last week over the import ban on certain commodities and demonstrations in Harare on Monday before Wednesday’s national shutdown.
The on-going crisis loomed large in the politburo meeting on Wednesday where Mugabe and Zanu-PF officials directed Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo to unleash police to crush any protests going forward.
Politburo sources said the increasingly vulnerable Mugabe has dispatched senior politburo members to the country’s 10 provinces to hold inter-district conferences to intimidate and discourage Zanu-PF members from being involved in the anti-government protests.
“We are going to be holding the inter-district conferences starting tomorrow in Masvingo. Secretary for transport in the politburo Oppah Muchinguri will engage party officials and members on the need stay away from and counter protests and demonstrations,” a senior politburo member said.
Mugabe has remained at the From State House as protests spread countrywide, but is expected to hold a rally in Bindura today in a panicky bid to shore up his faltering political position.
Fearing the situation could spill out of control, government has also partly climbed down on the Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016.
Industry and Commerce secretary Abigail Shonhiwa told journalists attending a Buy Zimbabwe conference in Mutare yesterday that individual importers would get a reprieve to resume imports on condition that the commodities would not be for commercial purposes.
“The statutory instrument impacted on the ordinary persons who will be buying few items for the family,” Shonhiwa said. The removal (of the general import licence) is supposed to have an impact on commercial imports and that is a matter being tightened up. The measure is for commercial imports and we will come up with a document that will highlight the administration of this instrument in relation to individual importers.”
The climb-down comes at a time when Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha had said government would not back down on the policy despite the protests.
“There is no change whatsoever in government’s position. The Statutory Instrument went through all the processes of public consultations with relevant stakeholders and then through cabinet. So how can we just wake up one morning and declare that we have changed the policy?” Bimha said. “The SI is in the interest of the economy because we are looking at how things will change in the medium to long term and not its effects today.”
In the wake of rising popular discontent and social unrest fuelled by the current economic implosion, Mugabe is now battling his biggest challenge yet as he, for the first time, faces direct hostility to his rule by senior Zanu-PF officials, war veterans and military commanders as well as new social movements protests.
He now has to contend with an emerging broad social movement crystallised around Pastor Evan Mawarire who this week spearheaded Wednesday’s national shutdown.
Mawarire and his civic society allies are threatening rolling mass action against Mugabe unless government comes up with compelling and urgent economic interventions to ease the current financial and economic crisis.
Apart from the new social movements challenging Mugabe, there is also the resurgent MDC-T which since April has been staging protest marches in the major cities – Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare – demonstrating against company closures, job losses, unemployment, corruption, poverty as well as gross human rights abuses.
Opposition parties are also working together to form a grand coalition against Mugabe with smaller groups having already signed a framework of co-operation called Coalition of Democrats.
On top of that, former vice-president Joice Mujuru has also swung into action with her Zimbabwe People First party, staging impressive rallies in Bulawayo and Harare. Her Harare rally was big as Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s rallies. This is yet another headache for Mugabe.
With the ultimate goal being a coalition involving Tsvangirai, slowed down by a cancer ailment, and Mujuru, the 2018 elections could be a watershed for Zimbabwe.
After Wednesday’s national shutdown also partly triggered by cash shortages and failure to pay in full the civil servants salaries, government is now running around to pay the health sector today, bringing the pay date forward in order to halt the strike and prevent looming rolling mass action. Government had initially indicated that it would pay health workers on Thursday next week.
Teachers were paid yesterday.
Mugabe’s weak position has been worsened by his recent outburst in which he described war veterans, who are backed by the army in their current activities, dissidents, following their involvement in his succession battle.
Despite attempts to remove the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga in order to realign the army to his political and succession designs, Mugabe seems to be now backtracking.
Last Saturday evening, he appeared to make a conciliatory move when he attended Chiwenga’s birthday party at his Borrowdale Brooke home in Harare where Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was also present. Sources said Chiwenga, who backs Mnangagwa in the succession battle, had invited mainly military personnel and war veterans.
Given the hostilities with the war veterans and senior army commanders, which have been Mugabe’s pillar of strength, his last line of defence appears to be now crumbling. It is only being held intact by his coup-proofing strategy which involves appeasing the military ahead of other public servants through preferential salary payments and massive promotions.
While other public servants went on strike, the military had already been paid their June salaries before the end of the month. In addition, army bosses have been receiving numerous top-of-the-range vehicles since 2013, including as recent as a fortnight ago.
Since the 2013 general elections, the government has also been buying military equipment as it secretly bolsters its instruments of repression to combat any possible Arab Spring-style uprising due to the explosive socio-economic situation in the country.
While the situation remains tense, the Joint Operation Command which brings together the army, police and intelligence chiefs, has put the military on high alert as protests loomed large in security meetings of late.