Once again the country has been awash with rumors of serious health problems affecting the President while he is away on holiday in the Far East – or Dubai or wherever he has been for the past month. Unusually a picture of him on holiday with a few family members and with the Vice President and his wife appeared in the social media. Almost immediately rumors began to circulate that he had had a heart attack and was in intensive care.
To buttress these reports Emmerson Mnangagwa returned from his hurried trip to the holiday destination of the President and was promptly appointed “Acting President”. Everyone put two and two together and came up with a six – “Zanu PF was preparing for the 90 day period before the Party has to convene a Congress to elect a candidate to complete the remaining period of the current term of office of Mr. Mugabe”. Logical and plausible – essential elements for a really good rumor!
The State media immediately issued a statement that he was in good health and everyone automatically concluded that something was very wrong.
I do not really care about whether or not he is ill, we all have to face our maker sooner or later and I cannot see his death really changing anything here in the short term. But I am curious as to why these rumors get so much traction? Partly it is because we have lived for so long under a regime that seldom tells us the truth. Our media is so controlled and dedicated to propaganda that anyone can start a rumor and it immediately gains credence.
Then there is the simple fact that Zimbabweans, as a whole, are sick and tired of living in a constant state of crisis and uncertainty. They are fed up with Mr Mugabe’s rule and control over all aspects of our collective misery and they look forward with eagerness, to some form of change – any sort of change that might deliver some relief.
And so we live in rumor City, all of us, and wait anxiously for a sign that something is going to happen that will open up the possibility of change and some improvement in the way we are governed. Whatever the truth about his health, the simple fact is that he will be another year older in February and is already an old man with diminished capacity to manage his responsibilities as Head of State.
If the Zanu PF Party does not appreciate that it has to make plans for a smooth transition to new leadership then they are extremely short sighted. That may be the case but it is more likely that they simply cannot agree on who to take over in the event that Mr. Mugabe can no longer handle the affairs of State. Putting Mr. Mnangagwa into the position of Acting President at this juncture certainly puts him into that place where he would automatically assume the Presidency for 90 days while the Party prepares for a special Congress to elect a new leader.
However, that then leads to another uncertainty – would Mr. Mnangagwa get the nomination and win a vote in such a Congress? The simple answer is, maybe not, as he does not control a majority in the Congress and is by no means certain to be the choice of many. He will be challenged unless he can, like Mr. Mugabe has in the past 35 years, simply intimidate everybody to bow the knee and accept him as the only candidate.
The outcome of such a struggle for power in Zanu PF could be very nasty. Already the temperature is rising and I understand that Mr. Mnangagwa’s offices were broken into yet again this past few weeks and the furniture vandalized and defaced – clearly a warning. You have to be either very brazen and courageous to do such a thing, or very confident that you will not be found out and punished. For anyone to do this sort of thing as a lark would be very foolhardy and my bet is it was an inside job done as a warning to him from his many enemies.
We are clearly not being kept informed of the state of the Presidents health and in these circumstances rumors are bound to circulate, especially when he disappears for weeks at a time.
What makes this situation so dangerous is that the country is in a deep political, economic and social crisis. We face drought conditions that have not been seen here for many years and widespread shortages of both food and water are looming. Food prices are going to rise sharply and incomes are already so low that people simply cannot afford even the basic necessities of life. After decades of oppression and even violence, the mood of the people is very tense, the grass is dry and anyone who lights a fire had better be ready for the consequences.
What makes this situation so much worse than previous situations of a similar nature, is that this time there is no knight in shining armor to rescue us and force a solution down our collective throats. This time we are on our own. There is no pool of resources to support food imports or the feed those who cannot feed themselves. If we take matters into our own hands, there is the threat that the State will use the Security Forces to suppress any public display of anger or protest. If they do, Zimbabwe could burn from Mt Darwin to Beitbridge.
The problem with a runaway fire is that it destroys everything – the good and the bad. Rebuilding is made so much more difficult and the transition back to sanity could take years, even decades. The present regime is so rotten, so corrupt and devoid of any redeeming features that if it is challenged it might simply collapse in a heap. If there is no coherent authority to step into the breach and take charge, then the temptations for the Army to do so would be enormous.
Clearly something has to be done before it is too late to put massive pressure on the regime to accept the need for fundamental reforms and changes to our electoral system and then go for free and fair elections as soon as possible. Only in this way can Zimbabweans maintain a grip on the future and their own affairs and establish a new Government that will have credibility and popular support.
Only such a Government can then marshal the resources needed to rescue the country and put us onto a road to a better future. Only such a Government can make the radical and far reaching changes to policies that are needed to secure the confidence and commitment of the whole country and the Diaspora. Of course we cannot expect Zanu PF to act rationally or intelligently on such matters as it would almost certainly result in defeat and disgrace and worse.
You can conclude for yourself what is therefore needed and it has nothing to do with the health or otherwise of the President.
Bulawayo 17th January 2016