A supporter of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attends his inauguration in Harare on August 22.

The Zimbabwean state opens up possibilities for big business deals, and political rivalries are always about access to capital accumulation, writes Mcebisi Ndletyana.

Johannesburg - However much Zimbabwe’s ruling party embellishes Robert Mugabe’s re-election, it cannot conceal the tragic nature of this episode. And, I’m not referring to whether or not the election was rigged. It was probably engineered.

The new electoral terminology invented especially to describe this election – “free and credible”, instead of the customary “free and fair” – is a clear admission that the electoral process was flawed. It was manipulated to return the incumbent.

Notwithstanding the aberration of a stolen election, the tragedy for me is encapsulated in the person of the incumbent, Robert Mugabe.

This man is 89 years old. That’s hardly an appropriate age for a president, but quite common in retirement.

That is why you won’t easily find an 89-year-old running a country – anywhere in the world. Mugabe is the second oldest head of state, following the Israeli President, Simon Peres.

At this rate, Mugabe may even take the title away from Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda, who still holds the title of oldest head of state in Africa.

Banda left the presidency when he was 96 years old. And not because he retired. He lost an election. Banda was still rearing to go. Is it really Mugabe’s ambition to beat Banda’s record?

I don’t have the answer to that question. Rumours of Mugabe’s retirement have been making the rounds for more than ten years now. Here he is, starting yet another five-year term, just six months short of making 90. Who am I to say Mugabe is not rearing to go for 10 more years. I cant, truly.

A possible explanation for this spectacle, however, is that Zanu-PF is unable to resolve succession. No 89-year-old should be running a country. Forget what the spin-doctors are telling you.

The body and mind simply cannot meet the demands of the job. Not that there’s no young-blood to succeed Mugabe.

Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa have long been touted as possible successors. They even went toe-to-toe for the position of vice-president in 2004, when it became vacant following the death of Simon Muzenda.

Mujuru was appointed over Mnangagwa, whom observers had tipped as the leading contender to succeed Mugabe. The vice-presidency placed Mujuru ahead in the succession race.

The belief was that Mugabe would retire before the 2008 elections, paving the way for Mujuru not only to become president, but also to lead the party in that election. That didn’t happen.

Mujuru’s succession, it turns out, is not certain after all. She’s obviously facing a stiff contest for the top job. Neither wants to make way for the other.

Though probably admitting that Mugabe has over-stayed, they’d rather have him than their rival in that job. It’s factionalist politics at its worst. It seems incomprehensible, doesn’t it?

Quite the contrary, factionalism is a logical feature of politics. It has to do with the State, especially its central role in capital accumulation.

The State is never neutral but actively advances the interests of capital. It even went to war to advance capital expansion.

Africa was conquered through wars to secure the supply of raw material to the industrialised West and to serve as its market for manufactured goods.

America’s recent invasion of Iraq, based on a false claim, paved the way for a number of American companies into Iraq. “Commerce follows the flag”, they say.

That is why American business invests so much in electoral contests. In addition to opening up Iraqi oil to Texan oil-men, President George Bush Jnr lowered taxes for America’s wealthy. Political power is no less critical in postcolonial Africa. It is contested precisely because it affords control over the state, which, in turn, is employed in pursuit of capital accumulation.

In the case of contemporary Zimbabwe the political rivalry has occasioned a stalemate. The rival factions – represented by Mujuru and Mnangagwa, are fighting to the bitter end. And each represents business interests, whose prosperity has been facilitated entirely by political influence.

Take the Zimbwean Defence Force, for instance. ZDF’s participation in the conflict that afflicted the Democratic Republic of Congo from the mid-1990s secured business deals for Zimbabwe’s senior military officers and politicians.

Kabila’s army and the general populace needed weapons, equipment and clothing, which Zimbabwean business-people supplied. Business was made possible by the army brass, who informed them of the opportunities, facilitated contact, distributed the goods and provided protection. In a journal article published in 2001 in African Affairs, Michael Nest cites a typical example of one Harara base as follows:

The company that transported diamonds by air to Zimbabwe, through Lubumbashi airport, was guarded by the ZDF, and used military personnel to avoid Congolese customs.

The company worked with one particular officer who for his services received a commission of 5 percent of the diamonds’ value.

Luarent Kabila gave mining concessions to Zimbwabean ventures and brought Zimbabweans to run mines. One such Zimbabwean, writes Nest, was Billy Rautenbach, who was made chief executive of a DRC parastatal, Gecamines, involved in mining. Rautenbach is apparently a close associate of Mnangagwa, who reportedly ran the military operation in the DRC.

Another company that secured DRC business was Osleg (Operation Sovereign Legitimacy), which “is officially the commercial unit of the ZDF but in reality privately owned”.

Its shareholders at the time included Permanent Secretary of Military Defence Job Whabira, and the Commander of the ZDF, General Vitalis Zvinavashe.

Control over the State thus opened up opportunities for business. The entry of Mnangagwa and General Solomo Mujuru – Joice’s now deceased husband – into business was undoubtedly enabled by their political prominence.

Both are veterans of chimurenga. Upon independence, General Mujuru headed the army, while Mnangagwa became a central figure in the party and has served in a number of ministries from intelligence and justice to defence, housing and local government.

Whilst alive, Solomon Mujuru, together with Mnangagwa, was cited among the richest in Zimbabwe. And they appeared to be rivals in business as well.

Joice Mujuru is said to have used her ministerial influence to block Mnangagwa’s business deals while facilitating her husband’s.

Because political power facilitates business, its capture has become the ultimate prize among Zimbabwe’s feuding politicians with business interests.

Each faction fears that the ascension of one to the presidency threatens the prosperity of the other.

The faction in power would marginalise the loser and threaten their prosperity.

This is the nub of the Zimbabwean impasse: the failure of local business to develop an appreciation of itself as a class with common interests. The State should promote the growth of the entire class, not a faction.

Promoting one faction over another creates instability.

The losing faction will most certainly plot to unseat the other.

Where business is promoted equally, there’s less interest for business to support rival candidates.

South Africa’s ruling party suffers from a similar weakness. Thabo Mbeki’s detractors castigated him for favouring one set of business people over others.

The incumbent is now doing exactly that. If you want business from the State, make your own president – that’s the lesson, as well as the source of endless factionalism.

* Mcebisi Ndletyana is Head of Political Economy at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent