IF the late former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith felt betrayed by the British government and his allies — including apartheid South Africa — whom he expected to side with him to keep Rhodesia under his firm control, then spare a thought for Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga who put his head on the block to ensure President Emmerson Mnangagwa rose to power, only for he and his close associates to be thrown under the bus during this weekend’s elective congress.
In his 400-plus page book, which is both an autobiography and a history of Rhodesia, The Great Betrayal: The Memoirs of Africa’s Most Controversial Leader, Smith felt that with the “winds of change” sweeping through the continent amid an ascendancy of nationalist liberation movements as decolonisation gained ground, the British were too eager to get rid of their colonial problems regardless of the cost to the white populace.
In that way, he felt greatly betrayed, explaining his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965. The Rhodesian Front wanted independence under guaranteed minority rule.
Smith had replaced Winston Field as prime minister in April 1964, after having been his deputy.
The Rhodesian Front swept all A-roll seats in the 1965 election, and Smith used this parliamentary strength to tighten controls and repression on the liberation movement.
After several failed attempts to persuade Britain to grant independence, Smith declared UDI. Britain declined to respond to the move with force, instead using economic measures, including ending the link between the pound sterling and the Rhodesian currency, and seizing assets.
Smith’s government countered by defaulting on its British-guaranteed debts, leaving London liable while at the same time balancing its budget.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council imposed mandatory economic sanctions on Rhodesia in 1966, the first time that the UN had taken that action against a state.
The sanctions were broadened in 1968, but still were only partly successful; some strategic minerals, especially chrome, were exported to willing buyers in Europe and the United States, further strengthening the economy.
Sanctions-busting operations also undermined the measures. On 20 June 1969, a referendum was held to adopt a constitution that would consolidate political power in the hands of the white minority and establish Rhodesia as a republic; the predominantly white electorate overwhelmingly approved both measures.
The constitution was approved by parliament in November that year, and on 2 March 1970, Rhodesia declared itself a republic. Unsuccessful negotiations with Britain and later the United States continued, but there was no breakthrough.
In short, Smith felt betrayed by the British “who were bent on spoiling things for the happiest blacks in the world” instead of siding with their kith and kin.
He felt South Africans, despite their apartheid policy, held Rhodesia to ransom to appease the Organisation of African Unity and to make their detente exercise a success.
To Smith, the British, through Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington who presided over the 1979 Lancaster House Talks, and Rhodesia’s last governor Lord Christopher Soames, openly betrayed him. Even Rhodesian army commander General Peter Walls was also part of the great betrayal, according to Smith.
In a different context and circumstances, Chiwenga is feeling the same with Mnangagwa, especially after Zanu PF’s elective congress this weekend.
His allies say Chiwenga is fuming as he feels Mnangagwa and his faction have committed treachery of the worst kind. It is widely understood that Chiwenga, who was the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces when the military staged a coup in November 2017 to end long-time president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year grip on power, and Mnangagwa had a gentleman’s agreement that the President would rule for five years, and then hand over power to his deputy in 2023.
In fact, insiders say Chiwenga and the army wanted to keep power within military structures and leaders after Mnangagwa’s one term of office.
However, Zanu PF congress this weekend ruthlessly snuffed out those hopes as it confirmed Mnangagwa as the party’s candidate in the 2023 presidential election, crystallising the betrayal of Chiwenga who was out outmanoeuvred during the post-coup period.
Mnangagwa’s political supremacy was confirmed during the party’s politburo and central committee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, and later on Friday when congress was officially opened.
It was a surreal moment as Chiwenga was forced not only to confirm his rival as the victor after a brutal political battle, but to go as far as claiming Mnangagwa was ordained by God to lead as a way of justifying his own fate and coping with the devastating defeat.
While Mnangagwa had his own agency in his dramatic rise to power, Chiwenga was the kingmaker. Chiwenga and Mnangagwa’s relationship dates back to the liberation struggle era.
Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s aide in Mozambique, while Chiwenga was a guerrilla commander leading the commissariat department.
Mnangagwa has publicly confirmed they were close. After Independence in 1980, the two were also key to Mugabe’s power consolidation and retention strategy, including during the Gukurahundi massacres calculated to crash the then main opposition PF Zapu and decimate its largely Ndebele social base.
After 2000 when Mugabe and Zanu PF started fighting for political survival amid rising popular discontent and the emergence of the opposition MDC, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga became instrumental in the combat which has now lasted two decades.
Amid hotly disputed election results, Mnangagwa, who was defeated by the opposition in 2000 and 2005, and Chiwenga were key is rescuing Mugabe in 2002 and 2008. Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s returning officer during the 2008 elections, with Chiwenga leading the military side’s interventions.
They became particularly close in 2008 when they worked hand-in-glove to rescue Mugabe, who had lost the first round of polling to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, culminating in a bloody runoff in June, which forced the opposition leader to pull out of the race. Zanu PF insiders say Mugabe was at the time entertaining thoughts of handing over power to Tsvangirai after losing, partly because of internal sabotage.
A camp which had coalesced around the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru was accused of leading a bhora musango (internal sabotage) strategy where it encouraged party supporters to vote for Zanu PF MPs, but not for Mugabe.
As a result, many Zanu PF legislators had more votes than Mugabe in their constituencies.
Yet Zanu PF also lost to the MDC. As a result of the sabotage, a marriage of convenience was sealed between Mugabe, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga against Mujuru, who later died in a mysterious fire at his Beatrice farm in August 2011.
Mugabe and his close allies were accused by insiders of killing Mujuru. Mnangagwa and Mujuru’s enmity arose from a protracted battle to succeed Mugabe as well as competing business interests.
Mujuru and Chiwenga had explosive differences emanating from the army and personal issues. Chiwenga sided with Mnangagwa in the Zanu PF factional battles, with the army playing a leading role in the decimation of the Mujuru faction in the 2014 congress before emphatically determining the succession question through the 2017 military coup.
Joice Mujuru, then considered a Zanu PF succession race shoo-in, was eliminated as Mugabe’s potential successor by Mnangagwa and Chiwenga after checkmating her late husband. Chiwenga is now the latest victim of Zanu PF internal strife and treachery.
Mugabe told journalists at his Harare Blue Roof mansion in his last major interview on 15 March 2018 that he warned Chiwenga to take over power for himself because Mnangagwa would betray him as he said he was not reliable.
Mugabe said Chiwenga would regret his decision. That has now come to pass. As reported by The NewsHawks last week, Mnangagwa inevitably emerged triumphant at congress after a fierce power struggle — characterised by scheming, backstabbing, a grenade attack, poisoning and purges, as well as fears of yet another military coup — over his unresolved party leadership rivalry with Chiwenga.
It is the first full congress since Mugabe’s dramatic ouster and subsequent death. An extraordinary congress was held in December 2017 to confirm a central committee decision the previous month to install Mnangagwa as party leader, but the 2019 congress was avoided as the President feared Chiwenga was still too strong then to oust.
Since then, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are still fighting over the spoils of the coup. Chiwenga, who engineered Mugabe’s toppling and put Mnangagwa in power, thought his ally would serve only one term and hand over the reins of power to him in 2023, but that thought perished this weekend during the crucial Zanu PF congress, leaving the former army commander weak, exposed and vulnerable — a far cry from his original plan when he installed the incumbent through the daring and risky coup.