Zimbabwe: A Game of Thrones?

Zachary Barker - Regular Columnist

The power struggle that seems to be taking place within Zimbabwe reminds me of a scene in an episode of my second favourite TV series Game of Thrones, the first being The Sopranos. In this scene Lord Baylish (aka Littlefinger) and Lord Varys spar with each other verbally over Littlefinger’s power grabbing scheme while they stand next to the very thing he ultimately wants to seize; the Iron Throne. Lord Varys denounces Baylish’s scheme as causing nothing but chaos. “Chaos….” Lord Baylish retorts “it’s a ladder”. Not many places in the world experience as much chaos as Zimbabwe. The palace intrigue that takes place within the country’s ruling clique is reminiscent of the habitual intriguing and backstabbing of the House of Lannister in Game of Thrones.

The fact that Zimbabwe, which exists in name only as a democratic republic, makes the comparison with a TV programme of feuding royalists all the more relevant. The latest round of intriguing seems to have been sparked off by the sudden and mysterious death of Solomon Mujuru. Solomon was asleep at his homestead when a fire broke out and killed him while he slept on the morning of 16th August 2011. A subsequent inquest found that the policeman on duty outside his compound was apparently asleep on duty and therefore failed to call the emergency services promptly. When the fire truck arrived to put out the fire, it had no water. The later could be a symptom of Zimbabwe’s severely mismanaged public services or something more sinister. Politically Solomon Mujuru was very influential, having served as head of the army from Zimbabwe’s independence until 1990. He was also known as a vocal supporter of bringing about renewal among the leadership of the ruling party ZANU-PF. This position was likely not a coincidence since he was married to the, now former, Vice President Joyce Mujuru. His moderate political stance, within the context of ZANU-PF, has made Zimbabwe watchers speculate that his death many benefit many hardliners. With his death his wife was left more politically isolated but still a key political player.

Late last year insulting whispers from the First Lady Grace Mugabe suddenly turned into outright public accusations of corruption and conspiracy at her public rallies of Joyce Mujuru. In a description that this author thinks would be more befitting Grace herself she called Joyce “power-hungry, daft, foolish, divisive and a disgrace” among other derogatory comments. The timing of these public attacks seem to be well calculated given that they occurred around the time of the ZANU-PF’s December 2014 party congress. And then seemingly out of the blue Grace Mugabe directly implicated Joyce Mujuru in a plot to kill her husband Robert Mugabe. In the same month Joyce Mujuru was dismissed as Vice President along with her supporters in Parliament. One of these expelled supporters told the BBC in an interview that he feared for his life saying “You see people disappearing… so will they spare my life or send a sniper to shoot at me?”. In April of this year Joyce Mujuru was also kicked out of ZANU-PF. Mujuru had been drumming up support among the Zimbabwean population, the Politburo, the youth league and the party central committee for years. She was popular. This was a sudden and unexpected fall from grace.

The person who has taken Joyce Mujuru’s place as Vice President is Emmerson Mnangagwa aka ‘The Crocodile’. Mr Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is 68 years old and a former guerrilla fighter in ZANU-PF’s armed wing the Zimbabwe African Liberation Army (ZANLA). After leading the first ZANLA cadres to train in China he came back to Zimbabwe to lead a group of fighters called the “Crocodile Gang”. Emmerson is known as the point man between the army and the intelligence services and even after leaving his Justice portfolio which he has held for many years. His time as Justice Minister of one of the world’s most known police states has added to his fierce reputation which is suggested in his nickname. Many years ago Mugabe openly embraced Emmerson as a protégé calling him affectionately “son of God”. However for reasons that are still unclear Emmerson for a time fell out of favour with Mugabe. It is clear that nearly 10 years ago Emmerson attended a meeting of important ZANU-PF officials in an open attempt to push for the Vice Presidency, a blatant move of which Mugabe disapproved. But rumours persist of his quiet backing of a military coup attempt foiled in 2007. Solomon Mujuru was also rumoured to have had some involvement in that too. Perhaps his fiery death was not an accident after all. It seems in the end that Emmerson was just too useful for Mugabe to kick out. In addition to being one of the main architects of ZANU-PF’s commercial empire he is acknowledged as masterminding the rampage of the security forces in 2008 which secured the presidency for Mugabe during the election.

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The First Lady in this saga fits the Game of Thrones profile of Cersei Lannister very well; she is vain, ruthless and utterly decadent in her indulgence of luxuries. Grace Mugabe has never managed to get the level of popularity that Sally President Mugabe’s adored first wife ever had. The fact that she had an affair with Mugabe while Sally was dying of cancer is a fact that is known but hushed up in the press. The Wikileaks scandal revealed that her spendthrift ways have made her a divisive figure, leading her critics to call her derogatory names such as “The First Shopper”, “Dis-Grace” and “Gucci Grace.” Yet she has become more and more visible in recent years with her lively rallies marked by her thundering rhetoric. She seems to be aiming to be aiming to be seen as defiant and strong as Sally was regarded as gentle and supportive of her husband. Such a strong image may be needed in the future. She has not refused to discount the possibility of her one day becoming President. But one does still have to wonder, will she survive without the President’s coattails? Her targeting of a rival of both hers and Emmerson’s may have been a move to form a tactical alliance between them.

Amid all of the 90 year old despot President Robert Gabriel Mugabe lumbers on, fuelled by various drugs to keep him from looking and acting his age such as botox and miscellaneous stimulants. The sad reality is that the succession of his wife or Emmerson to his level is unlikely to lead to a substantial improvement if any, in the lives of Zimbabweans. All three of these individuals are so crooked they could sleep on a spiral staircase. All three of them have waded through rivers of blood in order to maintain the despicable status quo. Today Robert Mugabe is now Chairman of the African Union, a position as unsuitable as having Genghis Khan as the head of the Red Cross. Him attaining such a position is the culmination of years of cynical African ‘solidarity’ which means that African rulers effectively see no evil among their neighbours. South Africa has chosen to look the other way for many years besides providing Zimbabwe with much of it’s electricity. Western leaders need to have the courage to not only speak out against the Zimbabwean Government more, but also those who look the other way or openly support it. Zimbabweans are long overdue a revolution, when it comes this author will open the champagne.

Image credits: A-Birdie|Flickr, GovernmentZA|Flickr.

About Zachary Barker 42 Articles
Zac is a graduate in BA Hons International Relations and Politics and MsC International Development and Security. He is Bristol's Local Coordinator for the political organisation, Republic. His favourite journalists include Nick Cohen and Hunter S Thompson. Zac is currently working on a novel. His interests include Model United Nations, current affairs, travel, video games and reading and writing. Follow Zac on Twitter @ZacharyBarker1
  • Thanks for reading Evan. Just to clarify I do not think there is a significant possibility that Mugabe will be overthrown any time soon. Most of the jostling for power outlined above seems to be mainly concerned with coveting who is going to be the successor, as oppose to ruler. Challenging Mugabe would be a huge gamble. My highest compliment for this lowlife of a man is that he is a borne survivor, from being a guerilla fighter to prison and then the presidency. He has charisma and seniority on his side too. I am pretty certain that despite what he deserves he will die peacefully in his bed. It is difficult to convey all of that in the word count alloted to me.
    You are right there is no straight path for post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. Out of the two candidates for President I have mentioned I imagine that Grace would be the most weak leader. I get the feeling she hasn’t quite learn’t the ropes amid the party and the security apparatus as much as Emmerson. He is well connected and is more easily charismatic than Grace. Some people have hinted that he could be a reformer but I doubt it. As outlined in this article Emmerson has been one of the main culprits in ZANU-PF ruling clique corruption in the country. And he has a lot of connections with the security forces. If he gets in I expect Zimbabwe will basically have a government like Egypt: zero tolerance for dissent and some sauve diplomacy towards rich countries to attract back foreign investment.

  • Evan

    I don’t think Mugabe being ousted is a reality, but he is very old and when he passes away, hopefully, there might just be a peaceful transition. Nobody can fill the gap he will leave behind and that will likely lead to widespread reform or chaos. Hopefully not the later.