By Dumisani Ndlela, Deputy Editor-in-Chief
THERE is no suggestion that Morgan Tsvangirai is taking the entry of veteran politician and former ZANU-PF and national vice president, Joice Mujuru, into opposition politics as a personal concern. Last week, he retorted to a question from a local newspaper: “For me, (Mujuru and her new party) are definitely not the enemy. They appeal to a certain constituency and are part of the opposition now.”
But Mujuru is not just part of the opposition. Since her grand entry into opposition politics a few weeks ago, she has stolen the limelight from Tsvangirai, whose opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party had given President Robert Mugabe’s government its biggest challenge ever since taking over power at Independence in 1980.
To hear even MDC-T activists say it in whispered tones, she and her Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party present the biggest threat to the survival of the MDC-T. That, they say, is too material a threat to have courted a parochial response from their leader.
Granted, Tsvangirai has been in opposition politics for too long to get easily obliterated. Yet he has a turf to protect, and he could easily get consumed by the conflagration in Zimbabwe’s politics.
In politics, Mujuru and Mugabe should be Tsvangirai’s foes in his battle for leadership. Even, party primary election battles for leadership have shown to be a vicious fight for supporters. Mujuru should not be a friend simply because she has joined opposition politics. That much Mujuru understands, explaining why she did not join the MDC-T when she was humiliated out of the only party she had known since she was a child: She and colleagues who were hounded out of ZANU-PF last year formed ZPF to compete for power against Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
That battle for power is probably always nasty. It has to. When Simba Makoni left ZANU-PF to challenge President Mugabe for the country’s top job in 2008, he rebranded himself a reformist and an agent of change in Zimbabwe. There was a real buzz at his entry into politics. When Makoni urged people to register as voters soon after publicly breaking ranks with ZANU-PF, voter registration points across the country registered a surge in turnout. They had listened, and were yearning for change!
But when he insisted on polite terms to describe his foes, Makoni lost it.
For example, he would call President Mugabe “baba”, vernacular for father. Crowds at his rallies would insist on the foul terms — they would shout dictator, dictator, dictator! Soon, when they realised Makoni kept his tongue tamed, the majority of his supporters, most of whom had become disillusioned by their party ZANU-PF, trooped to Tsvangirai. That gave Tsvangirai a stunning victory over President Mugabe in the 2008 Presidential election.
Yet Tsvangirai, a persuasive agent of change who also almost removed President Mugabe from power in the 2002 Presidential race, had almost whittled down to just an opposition leader battling for supremacy in opposition politics against a breakaway MDC faction then led by robotics professor Arthur Mutambara.
In the 2000 Parliamentary election, his year-old party had snatched almost half the parliamentary seats — he personally lost his bid for a seat in his home area of Buhera — but the numbers dwindled at the 2005 Parliamentary election.
Apparently aware he could not offer a viable challenge to Mugabe’s incumbency, Mutambara had quickly announced that he would back Makoni. That was meant to spite Tsvangirai, whose supporters had even suggested he should stand down and back Makoni.
But Tsvangirai was defiant. Apparently, it was soon after he started taking pot shots at Makoni that the pendulum swung back in his favour.
“He’s old wine in a new bottle,” Tsvangirai said of Makoni, suggesting he had the same wretched past as Mugabe, and was therefore unelectable due to his past association with ZANU-PF.
“I have a team, Makoni has no team,” Tsvangirai said.
Mujuru had used superlatives to describe President Mugabe soon after her expulsion from ZANU-PF — “my mentor”, “baba” and so forth. Now, she calls the President “just a living spirit”, and describes him as “backward” and no longer uses words suggesting reverence. She has entered the battle field, and may have learnt better from Makoni.
It may be that Tsvangirai may not be taking Mujuru seriously. But she has shown great astuteness and has been favoured by fate. Where Makoni did not have a team, Mujuru has high-profile, former ZANU-PF bigwigs by her side. Information gathered by this journalist indicates that she already has structures in all districts of the country, and these have experienced cadres already campaigning for her Presidential bid in 2018.
Moreover, there are a lot of people disillusioned by Tsvangirai’s failure to wrestle power from President Mugabe who have publicly shifted their affection to her new party. She is already gaining, while Tsvangirai is losing. Her party, she says, already has large numbers of people from both ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s party, including those from political formations that broke away from MDC-T.
But that doesn’t mean brand Tsvangirai is dead: the opposition politician remains the most well-known brand in opposition politics, with almost the same brand recognition as President Mugabe.
President Mugabe has suggested that the opposition leader in fact won by a landslide in 2008, taking 73 percent of the vote.
That election result took over a month to announce, and when results were made public, Tsvangirai was said to have garnered 47,8 percent of the vote, ahead of President Mugabe who received 43,2 percent of the vote. Tsvangirai pulled out of a Presidential election run-off after alleged widespread violence against his supporters.
President Mugabe went on to win that run-off election, but a crisis of confidence that later ensued forced him into a coalition with Tsvangirai’s party and that led by Mutambara.
Makoni, who had amassed eight percent of the national vote, was excluded from the coalition.
Didymus Mutasa, a State security minister in President Mugabe’s government at the time the election was held, has insinuated that indeed Tsvangirai won the election by a huge margin.
Asked by a journalist if the 73 percent vote President Mugabe said Tsvangirai had received in 2008 could have been just a “slip of the tongue”, Mutasa, now a member of Mujuru’s ZPF, said: “No, it wasn’t; you cannot allow your tongue to slip three times in the process of saying something. He said it three times that Tsvangirai won by 73 percent.”
This may help Tsvangirai’s stock at the 2018 polls.
Just as people are questioning President Mugabe’s continued grip on power for 36 years, they had also started interrogating the Tsvangirai brand, especially after four political upsets. Tsvangirai has been on the political market for close to 17 years, and voters would be inclined to want to punish him for failing to deliver.
His answer may now have been given by President Mugabe, even though there is not yet an answer for the spectacular drubbing he and his party received at the August 2013 polls that gave President Mugabe and his party a landslide victory.
If he were to refer to the 2008 debacle, the suggestion may then be that the rigging in 2013 was massive.
However, ZANU-PF is now surely stricken, both by conflict and confidence. It is miserably tottering on the brink of collapse, despite appearances of invincibility. The majority of the party’s top members are want-away.
Many have already left, sacked together with Mujuru or voluntarily walked out. The party is raven by factional fights, and there is no end in sight to the internal bickering.
Yet, surely, Tsvangirai has not seen the opportunity. One disillusioned member said he was getting very disappointed. “I don’t see him taking advantage of the situation. People First is getting more visible,” said the supporter from Budiriro, a suburb in Harare.
That supporter is not alone.
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