HARARE – The government says there are no lessons that it can learn from the winds of change blowing in Angola and Gambia — reiterating that President Robert Mugabe, who is battling old age, poor health and deadly infighting within his ruling Zanu PF, will soldier on in office.
The insistence on Mugabe also standing as Zanu PF’s presidential candidate in the eagerly-awaited 2018 national polls, comes as his longtime regional ally and Angolan leader, Eduardo Jose dos Santos — who is nearly 20 years younger than the nonagenarian — has just announced that he will step down after 37 years at the helm of his oil-rich country.
At the same time, Gambia’s eccentric and longtime dictator Yahya Jammeh’s peaceful concession to a rival after losing last week’s election has been interpreted in some optimistic circles as a sign that other unpopular, long-ruling African leaders may also elect to exit the political stage.
However, presidential spokesperson George Charamba shot down such suggestions yesterday, telling the Daily News that Mugabe would remain in office and also honour Zanu PF’s wish that he stands as the party’s candidate in the 2018 presidential plebiscite.
“Why do you think democracy works on copying a neighbour’s example? Suddenly, we are abandoning our systems of democracy to encourage the president to admire a neighbouring State?
“The principle of democracy goes by winning the ballot and the majority voted for him (Mugabe) to be president. The Angolan experience is not a rule book,” Charamba said.
“The president is being nominated unanimously in all provinces and we are going to have a Zanu PF …Mugabe candidature for the 2018 elections and we will win resoundingly.
“That is why they (opposition) want to stop him from standing in the elections because they know he will win. All these theories are because they know he will win,” he added.
Mugabe, 93 in February, is the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.
He is facing the biggest challenge to his rule as he battles growing civil unrest in the country, as well as rising discontent within his warring Zanu PF party where deadly tribal, factional and succession wars have taken the former liberation movement to the brink of yet another split.
Former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC said yesterday that Mugabe needed to be stopped in his attempt to stay in power for another five years post-2018.
“He is not going to be swayed by what is happening around him here in Africa and even beyond. The man loves power, and as opposition political parties we should now go a gear up in forcing the Zanu PF regime to agree to electoral reforms because Mugabe is already going for broke. 2018 is ours to lose.
“Surely, it’s incredulous to have a 94-year-old man as a presidential candidate, but then we are not dealing with a normal and conventional political party. Zanu PF is a mafia organisation in which Mugabe’s word is a supreme command,” spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Daily News.
“He is the Ayatollah (Supreme Leader) of Zanu PF. If you cross his path, consider yourself a dead man walking. Zanu PF is also ransacking and looting the little that is left of State resources as they prepare for 2018.
“They know that the people of Zimbabwe are hungry and angry. 2018 is a do-or-die mission for the opposition political parties in Zimbabwe. We cannot afford to let Zanu PF steal the people’s vote as they did in 2013,” Gutu added.
The spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Jacob Mafume, said the “dos Santos and Jammeh factor” showed that there were winds of change sweeping across Africa.
“Africa is getting tired of leaders who run countries and parties like some pentecostal church where you have a prophet or father figure and members of his family dominating.
“One wonders how other so-called revolutionary parties in other countries are able to manage succession, as is happening in Angola, South Africa and China, but our self-styled revolutionaries allow a whole succession debate to be dominated by the wife and nephew of the president outside party committees.
“The Jammeh factor is a lesson to the opposition to the obvious benefits of a coalition. We need to look beyond our own differences and come to the aid of Zimbabweans,” Mafume said.
Civil rights activist Gladys Hlatywayo also said Zimbabwean opposition leaders needed to learn from Gambia and put the country first before their personal agendas.
“The fall of Jammeh in Gambia shows us that a coalition of opposition parties is a critical factor to knock down dictatorship; agreed, not the only factor, but perhaps the most critical,” she said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said if the Zimbabwean opposition really wanted to usher change to long-suffering Zimbabweans, its leaders must bury their pride and focus on fielding one candidate to lead the coalition in 2018.
“A divided opposition is good news to the evidently struggling Zanu PF. We need selfless leaders in opposition focused on positions, but the ushering in of democratic change,” he said.