THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

The godfathers of the Zanu PF Mafia
Dr Alex T Magaisa
April 22, 2007

THOSE who have a rough understanding of the underworld in which the Mafia operate may realise that there is something vaguely similar about the internal politics of the ruling Zanu PF party in Zimbabwe.

It is said that the Mafia is not necessarily an organisation, but a way of life, encompassing a set of values and codes of practice, which members are expected to uphold. Likewise, Zanu PF is more than an organisation — it incorporates a way of life, with its own set of values and codes of practice, and it is within this context that the behaviour of its members can best be understood.

I must admit to having, perhaps, an unusual weakness for Mafia movies, from which I derive my admittedly limited understanding of the underworld. I like to think I’m not alone in this obsession. They say the original name of the Mafia is "Cosa Nostra", which literally means "Our Thing" — " Chinhu Chedu", in Shona. Looking at Zanu PF via the image of the Mafia, could help us to understand not just the behaviour of its members, but also the tactics they often adopt, the shady succession process and why certain methods that seem abhorrent to others are considered part of the natural order.

There is something about the unique bond in Zanu PF that continues to baffle outsiders. Zanu PF revolves around Mugabe, as the principal figure, a position akin to a "Godfather" in the Mafia; its otherwise loose branches are inexplicably held by an intriguing code of brotherhood; a set of unwritten rules which entail that even when they see wrong, they are inhibited from taking a public stance against it.

As in the Mafia, the one thing that brings together otherwise disparate members in Zanu PF is the unbridled pursuit of wealth by any means. Everything else, including political differences, pale into insignificance when the issue of money is at stake.

They say in the Mafia, that one becomes a "made man", when accepted by the elders as a ranking member of "the family", a term given almost reverent meaning in this environment. It appears that the family is a basic unit of the Mafia — things are done for, within and in the name of the family. "The family", in this case, transcends the ordinary biological family unit. Being a made man confers many privileges, not least the protection of the family but also responsibilities to account to the elders in the hierarchy.

But the doors to becoming a made man are not open to everyone. It is said that traditionally, one had to be 100% Italian. Thus, in the movie GoodFellas, it is said that Henry Hill and Joe Conway, expertly played by Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro respectively, despite serving the family with distinction, could never become made men because they were Irish, even though Hill was half-Italian. They remained outsiders, unable to meet the specifications to become full members of the Family.

"The party" is to Zanu PF members what "the family" is to the Mafia. Referred to almost in religious terms, the party or "musangano", in Shona, is almost omnipotent. In Mafioso parlance, Zanu PF is a family, complete with its own set of made men and a system of "making men" — the members of the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Cabinet, the Presidium — the made men and women of the Zanu Family. You have to meet certain specifications to become a made man in Zanu PF — witness how they insist on one’s liberation war record. You cannot become a made man if you cannot show your credentials or connections to the liberation struggle.

When one becomes a made man in the Mafia, he is expected to abide by the oath of Ormeta — the law of silence — which requires one to observe secrecy and forbids assistance to the law enforcement authorities. It is said that the punishment for breaking the oath is death. The ceremony at which one is inducted as a made man is elaborate and in some cases colourful. I do not know if they take oaths in the Zanu Family, but whatever it is that induces silence and blind allegiance must be very powerful.

t is clear that Mugabe is the Capo di tutti Capi (the Boss of Bosses) of the Zanu Family — he is the Boss of all Bosses. People often talk of factions in Zanu PF; they are no more than families or sub-families of the same Mafia system. Just as there are rival Mafia families, there are also competing families in Zanu PF. Retired General Solomon Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa are no more than Dons of their respective sub-families of the broader Zanu Family in which Mugabe is the Capo di tutti Capi.

One of the privileges of being a made man is having certain territorial control and the protection of the family. It is said that a made man is almost untouchable, even by law. The family protects him. He commands respect and obedience and instils fear in those around him. Similarly, in the Zanu Family, the made men and women have their own territories in which they operate. Some are in tourism, energy, mining, manufacturing, finance, etc — the made men in Zanu PF guard these territories jealously and exploit them with ruthless efficiency.

One can also get an insight from the Mafia system, into Zanu PF’s attitude to the issue of succession. Apparently, it is regarded a cardinal offence in the Mafia, to threaten, attack or kill a made man without the top hierarchy’s authorisation, regardless of the legitimacy of the grievance. To threaten the boss is even worse. Indeed, in the movie GoodFellas, the psychotic, temperamental and morbid Tommy (a memorable character masterfully played by Joe Pesci), is killed just when he thought he was about to become a made man in the Luchessi Family. His offence was that he had previously killed Billy Batts, himself a made man belonging to the rival Gambino Family. In the Zanu Family, they tend to not look kindly at anyone who dares to challenge the bosses, particularly Mugabe, the Capo di tutti Capi. The victims of the 2004 Tsholotsho Declaration know this only too well.

At the end of the day, the Capo di tutti Capi, Mugabe, knows everything and his power over the family lies in this wealth of knowledge and his control of the enforcers. It is said that he has a file on every made man and woman in the Zanu Family and whomsoever attempts to break the code of the party, the equivalent of Ormeta in the Mafia, is immediately brought to book and dispatched with brutal efficiency.

From time to time, some of these made men are used as examples of what the Zanu Family can do if one steps out of line. These examples are meant to ensure that the rest stay in line, lest they face the same fate. It is these precedents, which come periodically for measured effect, that remind the Simba Makonis, the Mujurus and the Mnangagwas that the Capo di tutti Capi remains firmly in control of the family and the penalty that one pays for transgressing. The allegiance is as much out of respect as it is out of fear instilled by the spectre of the harsh consequences that can be visited upon those regarded as betrayers.

In dealing with Zanu PF, as in dealing with the Mafia, it is necessary to appreciate that one is not dealing with a mere organisation. Rather, one is dealing with a way of life; the Zanu way of life; a circumstance that makes the task a lot harder and also calls for entirely different approaches to the challenges posed. But that is the subject for another day.

*Alex Magaisa can be contacted at

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.