‘8 Days in November’, would make a good title for the tale of what happened in Zimbabwe last month. Within a matter of 8 days, the thirty-seven year rule of one of Africa and the world’s longest reigning presidencies came to an abrupt end. Yet as the drama unfolded, the world, Africans and, no doubt, Zimbabweans were stuck to media outlets hoping to hear some news as they waited in anticipation for events to unfold.

Speaking recently to a Zimbabwean uber driver, he describes what happened in that week as an emotional roller-coaster. Indeed, a week is a long time in politics and this particular week proved fatal for the Mugabes. The happenings of Sunday 14 November 2017 took everyone by surprise. Evidence now suggests that army intervention into the political situation in Zimbabwe was planned as early as March this year already. Yet very few people expected it to happen the way it did. 

The surprise of the coup, soon turned into excitement as people thought that Mugabe’s days had ended. Social media was a flurry with the coup but soon this excitement turned into trepidation when the army, the Zimbabwean Defense Force, announced the next day that a coup had in fact not taken place. The first citizen of Zimbabwe, the army insisted, remained Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who was safe and they had only acted in order to eliminate the ‘criminals’ surrounding the struggle veteran.

By Friday 17 November, everything it seemed had returned to normal with President Mugabe appearing in public presiding over the graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University. Yet the people were having none of it. The next day, peaceful protests took place in Zimbabwe and in South Africa while strong moves were being made by ZANU-PF, the party Mugabe had led for more than three decades, to ensure Mugabe’s removal. The expulsion of Grace Mugabe and twenty of her associates were not enough for ZANU-PF, the army had given them an opportunity and they were going to make the most of it. ZANU-PF gave Mugabe a deadline to resign. Mugabe had lost control over his party ZANU-PF.

Again with the excitement of a resignation deadline, some Zimbabweans watched closely the address to the nation delivered by Mugabe. They were ghastly disappointed when the words of resignation were not read. Mugabe thought he still had some oxygen left or maybe the army was keeping him on life support. The fact remains that Mugabe had lost control. He had lost control over the ZDF, as its commander-in-chief, and he, the war and liberation leader, had lost control over ZANU-PF.

One thought of these 8 days and the devastating effect it had on Mugabe when the results for the Provincial General Council of the ANC in Mpumlanga province were released. Premier and ANC Provincial Chairperson. DD Mabuza would do well to learn from Mugabe’s experience and remember that 8 days, never mind 4 for the ANC National Conference, is a long time in politics. Before he knows it, he may end up like Mugabe having lost control over his province, as he tries to play to the public gallery.  

Reports suggest that the branch nominations for ANC presidency from Mpumalanga was hotly contested and that Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma won a small marginal victory of six branches, with 123 branch nominations, over that of Cyril Ramaphosa’s 117 branch nominations. Reports further suggest that Mabuza, the proverbial king-maker for this year’s elective national conference, influenced branches to narrow this gap to this extent and convinced, better than ‘instructed’, 223 branches to nominate ‘unity’. According to the ANC election rules, this is considered an abstention. 

Abstentions dominated the nominations even though, from branches who did nominate, Mabuza himself received the nomination for deputy-president, Gwede Mantashe received the nomination for national chairperson, Senzo Mchunu received the nomination for secretary-general, while Jessie Duarte was nominated for deputy-secretary general and Paul Mashatile was nominated for treasurer-general.

In all fairness, the nominations are the closest one could get to a ‘unity slate’ given that Mantashe, Mashatile and Mchunu all come from the CR17 slate. Mabuza himself is on record as suggesting that he will decline the deputy-president nomination if it brings unity and it is probably for this that he is pushing. However, in influencing branches to subvert the ANC election processes by abstaining, because that is ultimately what they are doing, from the nomination process, Mabuza is playing a very dangerous game.

Hitherto, Mabuza has crafted himself as a unifier more than exploited his role as a king-maker. While he knows that his province is the deciding factor in the numbers game for the national conference, he has taken on the role of defending the CR17 camp. It is suggested that he defended the newly elected Eastern Cape provincial executive committee in the last National Executive Committee meeting. He has reached out to the leaders of other provinces and is said to be flirting with Zweli Mkhize as Number One.

Although considered a founding member of the so-called ‘Premier League’, Mabuza has made overtures to the other side. Initially the Premier League was not necessarily in favor of supporting Dr Dlamini-Zuma but rather just touted a female president. It would later be the Women’s and Youth Leagues that would push for Dlamini-Zuma in particular. 

Yet DD Mabuza knows one thing for absolute certainty, that Team Ramaphosa does not want him in any leadership position in the new NEC. They have accommodated a number of candidates but not Mabuza. Mantashe, it is said, told Team CR17 that the deputy must be a woman, if Ramaphosa is going to take the top job. Clouded with allegations of corruption and other criminality, the CR campaign, which tries to run on a ‘clean’ team message, will not be willing to accommodate Mabuza. One doubts whether Mabuza would want anything less than a Deputy President position, some even say that DD has aspirations to be nominated as President, come December 2017, as he believe naively that he is the person to unit the ANC in the road to 2019. 

Mabuza through his influence of a ‘unity’ ticket is flying too close to the sun. He does the ANC processes and integrity therein no good by suggesting that his branches should abstain from the process. What this inevitably means is that the nomination process is not a true reflection of the wishes of branches, thereby creating a possible scenario of chaos at the Conference in December. Imagine suddenly those 223 branches were to put their names to a candidate, immediately the other side will call foul play.

A game DD Mabuza plays at his own peril. 

Wesley Seale teaches Politics at Rhodes University and is a PhD Candidate at Beijing University, China 

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