'Strategist' Mugabe's refusal to go a classic tactic

Harare (AFP) –


He is 93, in failing health and has enemies on almost every side, but President Robert Mugabe used his TV address Sunday to display the survival skills of one of the world's wiliest politicians.

With the generals who threaten his grip on power sitting to his side, Mugabe blithely ignored demands he quit -- and even declared he would preside next month over his party's congress, despite the fact it had just sacked him.

From vanquishing domestic political rivals after independence to weathering international sanctions over his ruinous policy of seizing land from white farmers, the president has a long history of defying pressure.

Analysts gave quiet respect for Mugabe's tactical skills, even if they worry his latest manoeuvres have brought tensions in Zimbabwe that much closer to boiling point.

"It might be that he feels he has not secured the guarantees that he feels are necessary for his own immunity and for his family," said Piers Pigou, an analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

"Mugabe is a tactician, a strategist. He might be able to delay and generate a certain amount of obstruction" before agreeing to step down on his terms.

After two rounds of talks with the generals who seized power last week, it was widely expected that Mugabe would resign.

Instead he delivered a slow and rambling speech on state TV on Sunday in which he insisted that the military takeover was "not a threat" to his rule.

The crisis erupted on November 13 over a factional squabble to succeed the ailing president.

Mugabe's wife Grace, 52, secured prime position to succeed him, sidelining the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired.

It now appears that the military has been continuing efforts to ease Mugabe from power without being seen as forcing out the nonogenarian leader.

- 'Tolerated his nonsense' -

"It's a matter of when. He might not leave tomorrow or next week, but he is clearly at the end of his political life," said Eldred Masunungure, a politics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

Analysts have suggested that Mugabe's infamously stubborn character could also be hindering the conclusion of a deal between the president and the army.

"The fact that he thinks he still has a role to play is remarkable... He is not used to being tempered or being constrained by others," said Pigou.

Shadrack Gutto, director of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa warned that Mugabe would likely be negotiating hard to protect himself and his family from prosecution.

"Mugabe needs to take protection for himself -- he carried out serious crimes since the 1980s and he has stolen a lot of resources and sent them abroad. His wife Grace has been the one spearheading most of that.

"He doesn't want to lose face because Robert Mugabe is somebody who has come to believe that Zimbabwe belongs to him, that he is the best leader for Zimbabwe, despite having destroyed the economy and carried out serious violence on the people of Zimbabwe."

Mugabe's reputation has been deeply tarnished by his authoritarian instincts, rights abuses and economic record during his 37-year rule.

"He has very little room to move at the moment. Zimbabweans have tolerated his nonsense for too long, and sooner or later, they may just decide to say we are removing you," added Gutto.