Factionalism, the Zanu-PF conference and delivery

Nick Mangwana: View From the Diaspora

Zanu-PF members do not share a common brain. There are as many brains as there are members in the party. So there is never an expectation that members of the party will see things the same way and think the same way.But there is an inherent expectation that members of an institution of this nature have internal contradictions, which will manifest at forums such as the 16th Annual National People’s Conference, which takes place in Masvingo starting today.

After all, robust debate is the cornerstone of sound policies.

In all this, it is also expected that discipline and cohesion in these extensive debates (which start in the build-up to the conference) will prevail and ensure that the existence of different positions and talking points is not a sign of permanent fault lines.

The only problem is that these fault lines are not based on anything other than factional positions, which in this case are based on nothing but self-serving selfish interests. It is these factional positions that have been the bane of service delivery.

It is this truth that should be shared and exhaustively interrogated at conference. The persistent nature of the factions in the party, which are never based on ideological positions but resource distributive or plunder politics, has contributed a lot to the current state of the country.

There has been an evident decline in service delivery especially to the poor. Instead of factions being the basis for robust debate, these have just been polarised fragments dishing out and fighting for patronage.

The destabilised nature of an organisation threatens the financial security of those that depend on it for their livelihoods. This creates thieves who try to “make hay while the sun still shines”.

Again the poor person is neglected and the meagre resources available are frittered away either in a bid to entrench power and positions or to secure a future which in this case appears quite uncertain.

The different power blocs continue to emerge no matter how many times people deny their existence. There was an effort to stop this through a “one centre of power” mantra. Instead of that making people go the next conference as a unitary institution, that on its own has become another fault line.

Why does it seem like there is a deliberate attempt by someone to always create blocs and disputation in the said blocs in the party? The conference at Victoria Falls was so tense because there was an attempt to achieve an outcome, which was not within the conference’s purview.

Now again instead of people focusing on reviewing the achievements and failures of this year gone, the whole conference is being attracted to political flares that seem thrown in the air as a deliberate distraction.

Internal contestations and contradictions are normally a sign of healthy internal democracy of an organisation. But in this organisation, which this columnist belongs to, these have become a refuge for self-enrichment, strategic positioning for power and centres of political and resource patronage. In short, they have become quite destructive. They are killing programmes and service delivery. They are counter-productive and centres of not only suspicion but paranoia. And when it comes to paranoia it breeds a paralysis in the afflicted. No action will be taken as people are scared to move lest they misstep.

The “talking point” coming from Mashonaland Central which has now been given a name that has a lot do with a Sicily-based organised crime syndicate.

There have been some extremely progressive resolutions emerging out of London and Johannesburg.

Instead of seeing a clear modern way of thinking and progress, some are looking for non-existent iniquitous scheme. Paralysis and “counter-plotting” ensues. The party stops moving forward.

What factionalism has now done is to kill dissenting voices because they are held in suspicion and therefore instruments of leverage are immediately deployed to discredit them. This not to say that there are no resolutions which emerged because of sinister intentions. That goes without saying but those same problems have themselves emerged because of these power blocs.

The factionalism has even afflicted the civil service, which is meant to be neutral in all these internal party contestations. That side effect of factionalism has been proved to be a natural flow when factionalism afflicts a political party in power.

Instruments of State are used to strengthen one’s power bloc. Patronage is used to weaken the position of the other power bloc and also to reward those that side with the position of those dishing out the patronage. In all this there is no fair distribution of resources and equitable execution of executive power in a socially transformative way. When reviews like the conference in Masvingo take place, again everything is seen through a prism of factional position. If that happens the conference will fail to achieve what it is there for.

The Masvingo conference should come up with more resolutions which reflect ZANU-PF positions and attitudes towards the society it is trying to build than some vain factional triumphalism by either bloc within the party. This conference should put people at its centre. Not power, not succession politics or positions.

After internal debates, Zanu-PF should emerge as a unitary actor when it comes to service delivery. This unitary actor is always seen when its hold on power is threatened. It should not end there. It should have an endogenous drive to do right by the people. It should be dynamic in its thinking and more forward looking with its history proving the bedrock upon which it is built. But the masses’ interests should be the centrifugal axis upon which the whole conference is pivoted.

The party cannot afford to come out of this conference with some feeling triumphant while others feel vanquished. That would not work. One hopes that after this conference there would not be more cases of policy incoherence and failures, for these were more than evident in the post-Victoria Falls conference period.

That undermined confidence in the Government and the packaging of its message. The Government cannot afford to spend so much time and effort on the defensive. Some within the power corridors were always left shaking their heads as there were so many discordant noises coming out of the same Cabinet.

Our commitment to resolving the challenges facing our country should be sincere. At the moment a lot think it’s all rhetorical.

That puts the party on the backfoot towards 2018. From this conference if no clear policy direction on jobs is taken then let this be a reminder that there is only one more gathering of this nature and 2018 will appear.

If Cabinet ministers cannot cooperate with each other, stop scoring cheap points against each other, recognising that they have a collective responsibility for the actions or lack of action by their Government then the last thing to happen will be those embarrassing policy incoherencies that played out within days of coming back from the conference in Victoria Falls.

There is always an appetite to reform the way things are done. Whether it is mere incompetence or a failure to sustain momentum or it’s just an ephemeral appetite for reform, doesn’t really matter. What is clear is that the status quo is not sustainable.

Factional alignments at this conference will only render it a damp squib. But if the party manages to mediate its fault lines which appear based on personalities than principles, then the best thing to happen to Zimbabwe in the last year (outside bond notes) will be coming out with that unified position.

Having ministers fighting each other through the Press does not only imply a dysfunctional Government. It also undermines confidence in such a Government. And confidence is what the Government of Zimbabwe is actually desperate for. The current incumbency has achieved much more than it is given credit for. But with the level of factionalism pervading each layer of the “system”, nobody bothers to focus on the pos- itives.

Zanu-PF members do not live in separate communities from the rest of society. They come from the same communities which have poor roads, poor running water and poor service delivery.

They have a duty at this conference to demand good service delivery in those communities. They also have a right to demand more focus on the people than on power.

They have within them the power to come up with resolutions that demand that there should be more evidence that the people have been put at the centre of this Government’s programmes.

If they fail to do that they will just be leaving a gap. And politics hates gaps. That gap will be occupied by the opposition or social activists. And we don’t want that, do we?

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