Zimbabwe is headed towards crucial elections next year, and the country is locked in a state of perennial political uncertainty. There is a glimmer of hope, but this is dampened by the strength of the Mugabe regime, pushed forth by the ruling party in Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF.
Most of the people outside Zimbabwe perceive the country's predicament as one that can be resolved by removing the ruling party ZANU-PF out of power. It would be necessary to look at the ruling party not as a mere political party but as a deeply entrenched system that is extremely difficult to dismantle. ZANU-PF has perfected its means of coercion and unorthodox means of remaining in power over the years, led by the country's current president Robert Mugabe.
What Mugabe has successfully managed to do in Zimbabwe is the absolute control over the freedom of the citizens. He has created an ominous impression of a brutal regime that is incapable of having second thoughts towards those who dissent against the government. In the Zimbabwean populace is a permanent sense of insecurity that hangs over the people menacingly. Open political debates and conversations are a taboo in Zimbabwe. People are very afraid of the regime that it is contemptuous.
Years of heartless and cruel acts devoid of any human values have managed to maintain power for Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party. In the 1980s, atrocious acts were witnessed in parts of Midlands and Matebeleland provinces were innocent civilians were killed under the pretext that they were planning to topple the government. The phenomenon has come to be known as "Gukurahundi." The whole agenda was for Robert Mugabe to quell Joshua Nkomo, who was the leader of the other revolutionary party, ZIPRA. Joshua Nkomo was accused of plotting against Mugabe, and at one point he had to flee to Botswana. In 1987, he saw that people in Matebeleland were living in perpetual fear (he was also from Matebeleland) and he was forced to join Mugabe's ZANU-PF, creating a de-facto one-party state. That was part of the genesis of the malaise Zimbabwe is currently reeling under.
People grew to have fear over ZANU-PF. In the following years, other opposition parties ferociously emerged for example the MDC-T, but their supporters and their party members were abducted, tortured and in other instances they were killed. Anyone who has tried to face Mugabe head-on has had to face the dreadful consequences of doing so. In 2008, Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader of the MDC-T, was severely beaten, and harassed, together with his other colleagues and party members. Other activists have disappeared, for example Itai Dzamara in 2015 who challenged Mugabe's misrule.
The system of patronage has helped Mugabe stay in power since he got in. He uses an effective patronage system which ensures that his party members remain loyal to him, no matter what. The patronage system also ensures that the police generals, military generals and intelligence bosses remain loyal to him and will do anything to protect him. It was not a surprise in 2002 when the military generals openly declared their allegiance to Robert Mugabe and said that they would not accept any other leader who did not fight in the liberation war for independence. Loyalty from ministers is what has kept Mugabe in power. They sometimes act brainless just to get favours from Robert Mugabe. In all this, it is the citizens who bears the brunt of the madness that prevails.
Mugabe has thrived on the advantage of incumbency to further his agendas. He is a man bent on staying in power till he dies, and with the help of his party, this is easy. He uses incumbency to advance draconian laws that suppress and repress the will of the people. The vast resources he has at his disposal enables the party to engage in all sorts of vote-rigging techniques for example giving food hand-outs on the basis of party membership, intimidation, and creating impressions of an unconquerable party.
Another feature is how Mugabe enjoys factionalism in his party. This time around, the issue of factionalism has got out of hand in the wake of party members realising Mugabe's time could come up soon. The fact is that all these years Mugabe has been the grand mastermind of factional wars. He plays one faction against the other. What is the effect of this? Unending loyalty from party members! Everyone wants to prove that they are loyal and that they would never betray Mugabe.
In Zimbabwe, the system is difficult to dismantle. It has been perfected over the years, while the citizens have failed to rise up. Each time they attempt to rise against the government such rising are quashed with no hesitance and with brutal heavy-handedness. It is more than ZANU-PF being a party, it is deep-rooted system.