Factional politics in Zimbabwe


A bureaucracy is a large organization that is designed to achieve goals through hierarchical organization. Bureaucracies are designed according to rational principles, which are set in order to efficiently attain goals. Bureaucratic offices are ranked in a hierarchical order, with information flowing up the chain of command and directives flowing down.

The bureaucracy of an efficient political party, for instance, is designed in such a way that information from the grassroots’ structures flows up the chain of command without interruption, and accordingly directives flow back down.

Now, according to social theorists, in order for a bureaucracy to function at optimal efficiency it must have the following innate characteristics:

● Division of labor. This means that each person’s job is specifically broken down into routine and well-defined tasks. In a political party, this means that the function of each office is specifically defined, and that redundant offices are discontinued, as were the District Coordinating Committees (DCC’s) in Zanu-PF.

● Well-defined authority hierarchy. In other words: a multilevel formal structure, with a hierarchy of positions or offices, which ensures that each lower office is under the supervision and control of a higher one. Ultimately, this means that there is no ambiguity or overlapping of positions. In Zimbabwean politics for instance, this would mean that the role of a provincial chairperson and that of a politburo member within the same province are clearly set out in order to avoid ambiguity.

● High formalization, that is, an acceptance of formal rules and procedures to ensure uniformity and to regulate the behavior of office-bearers. Such formalization within a political party occurs in the form of a constitution, which should be applied to the letter in order to ensure optimum efficiency.

● Impersonal nature. This means that rules and controls are applieduniformly while avoiding preferential treatment of political personalities and office-bearers. In other words, the constitution of the organization is applied to the letter without favouring personalities or factions.



● Appointment decisions are based on merit. In a political party, this means that the selection and promotion of office bearers is based on exceptional technical qualifications, political competence and performance, and not simply for instance, factional, regional or racial classifications.

●Distinct separation of members’ organizational and personal lives. In other words, the demands and interests of personal affairs are kept completely separate to prevent them form interfering with rational impersonal conduct of the organization’s activities.

Now, in recent weeks the Zimbabwean media has been awash with reports of political infighting in ZANU-PF on the basis of factional politics. For those who are unaware, a political faction refers to a number of persons in an organization who form a party within a political party, which is seeking to further its own ends, usually in opposition to the ends and aims of the main body or leadership of the party; a clique.

While political scientists argue that political factions can be either cooperative, competitive or degenerative, it is a widely held view that factionalism leads to the disintegration of party cohesion, and ultimately the diminishing of the six aforementioned characteristics of an efficient bureaucracy.

As a result, where factionalism occurs, a party that previously had a Well-defined authority hierarchy finds that lower ranking party officials might openly attack senior party office bearers on the basis that the impersonal nature of the bureaucracy has been substituted by preferential treatment of party members based upon factional allegiance.

For instance, the Zanu-PF Harare province youth chairperson recently unashamedly and openly chastised senior members of Zanu-PF’s Harare leadership. It remains to be seen whether the party will throw the book at him as required in a highly formalized bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, the depressed economic environment encourages vote buying. To such an extent that party members in the lower structures openly solicit vote-money from factional bidders, meaning that elections within party structures are engineered and therefore do not represent a true reflection of grassroots’ sentiment. As a result, where information from grassroots’ structures used to flow up the chain of command without interruption, it is now thwarted by factional fissures, and this leads to the misinformation of the party leadership and again, it diminishes the efficacy of the political party.

Ultimately, the best way to thwart factionalism is to resurrect the constitution of a political party, and after making necessary adaptations, to ensure that it is followed to the letter. As it stands in the case of Zanu-PF for instance, it would seem that the constitutional means of conducting party affairs have been substituted by factional by-laws.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director

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