The politics of factionalism in a fractured Zimbabwe

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In this blog, Elmond Bandauko from the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute looks at the divisions that are currently defining politics in Zimbabwe. The ZDI is a political think tank based in the country, established in 2012.

Zimbabwean politics is going through challenging and interesting times since the end of the inclusive government and the return to one-party politics in the wake of ZANU PF’s victory in the July 2013 elections. The challenges in the country include policy inconsistency, political uncertainty, and poor economic performance, with no projected solution in sight.

Zimbabwe’s economic performance

When the government of national unity was formed in 2009, there was potential for economic prosperity thanks to the resumption of regional and international trade, coupled with inflows from international financial institutions and donor support for social and public services. Under the inclusive government, the economy stabilized, and became dollarised. Economic projections suggested that Zimbabwe’s economy was supposed to grow by 3.7 per cent in 2009. Official statistics indicated that the budget deficit was expected to narrow down from 21.4 per cent in 2009 to 19.9 per cent in 2010.

Since the end of the inclusive government and the victory of ZANU-PF, however, the economy has deteriorated. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) reported that more than 1800 workers have lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2014. We are now a far cry from achieving the 1.2 million jobs that ZANU-PF promised in the last elections. Today, the government of Zimbabwe faces a number of economic challenges, including deteriorating social and economic infrastructure, regulatory deficiencies, a large external debt burden of over US$10 billion, over 80 per cent unemployment, and a lack of investor confidence.

This lack of confidence amongst investors is partly due to a distrust of Mugabe himself, but it is also due to the pressures that leaders are under to press forward with plans to indigenize the economy. The ZANU-PF government’s indigenization policy requires that in sectors like mining, foreign investors surrender 51 per cent of their share to indigenous entrepreneurs. In practice, this is not motivated by a desire for radical restribution but rather by an urge to further enrich ZANU PF elites. Effective and inclusive economic policies in Zimbabwe are notable by their absence.

ZANU PF and MDC-T factional struggles

The country’s economic problems are being exacerbated by the imploding factionalism in the MDC formations and ZANU-PF. Zimbabwe Democracy Institute’s analysis is these tensions are not due to any incompatible ideas on democratization, but by personal political and economic ambitions playing out ahead of their respective elective congresses in December 2014. The MDC, led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, is defined by the politics of factionalism within bruised and weakened political opposition. ZANU-PF, on the other hand, is wracked by factions struggling over President Mugabe’s successor.

Factional politics in ZANU-PF has a long history, which started during the struggle for independence from British colonial rule in the 1960s and increased significantly in the 1970s when Mugabe assumed the leadership of the former guerrilla movement. Mugabe, who is now 90 years old, has been the leader of Zimbabwe since 1980 and the leader of ZANU-PF since 1977. The struggle for succession has been dominated by two factions, one led by Vice President Joyce Mujuru and another by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Neither of these groups have more than an instrumental interest in supporting democratization and inclusive development in Zimbabwe. Both sides are seeking control because they have accrued substantial wealth, which requires enormous political power to maintain, protect, entrench and expand. The conflict between these factions is worsened by Mugabe continuous refusal to facilitate a democratic process to elect a successor.

In recent months, factionalism has defined elections of the party’s Youth League and Women’s Assembly, which were marred by violence and rigged along factional lines. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, has been elected chair of the ZANU PF Women’s League – an indication that she could be looking to protect her family’s huge economic interests in the long term. However, her election has been opposed by the Mujuru camp, who felt that she has been pulled into the succession politics to aid the political ascendance of Mnangagwa’s camp.

While ZANU PF is embroiled in its internal strife, the opposition MDC split following its electoral loss. One faction, led by its former secretary general Tendai Biti, accused leader Morgan Tsvangirai of undemocratic and violent practices. The immediate trigger for the split in February was a letter written by Elton Mangoma, the party’s deputy treasurer and a Biti ally, calling Tsvangirai to resign following his electoral defeat and in light of his increasingly undemocratic leadership style. For the better part of the year, the opposition party has been tearing itself apart rather than taking advantage of ZANU-PF’s instability to consolidate a support base ahead of the next elections in 2018.


These ongoing power struggles within the ZANU-PF and MDC-T ahead of their congresses in December 2014 have serious political and socio-economic repercussions. The current factional politics in both ZANU PF and the MDC formations have led to policy paralysis within both parties. The MDC in particular, which is in sore need of any strategic advantage it can gain over the government, is losing a valuable opportunity to gain electoral ground. And, most important of all, in these battles over power and prosperity, the voices and needs of ordinary people continue to be ignored. Once again, citizens have become subjects in Zimbabwe.


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