WAR veteran, author and long-serving diplomat, Agrippa Mutambara, bared his soul early last year when he announced his decision to resign from his comfy government post to join the then newly formed Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party, led by former vice president Joice Mujuru.
He spoke about how ZANU-PF’s leadership had departed from the ideals of the liberation struggle that brought about independence in 1980.
Unlike Mujuru and others such as Didymus Mutasa, Rugare Gumbo and Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, who had found themselves out in the cold and every next move they took was forced upon them by circumstances they found themselves in as a result of their alleged plot to force a leadership change in ZANU-PF, Mutambara was one of those who voluntarily decided to break ranks with the party to which he had belonged for more than four decades, claiming that his conscience continued to harass him with a reminder that the Zimbabwe that some of his colleagues had paid the supreme sacrifice for was not the one that the ruling party had delivered.
Although an element of opportunism could not be ruled out in Mutambara’s move to jump ship, his case still epitomised the agony that many have grown to live with like peptic ulcers in ZANU-PF, a rigid party in which those who have tried to insist that it remains true to its founding principles have lived to regret it.
Although the bush war was waged to ensure that all forms of oppression were eradicated, the liberation war itself appeared to have involved the use and entrenchment of oppressive tactics, which tactics some in the leadership of the ruling party were to perfect into an art.
Barely a year later, Mutambara and several of his colleagues find themselves without a political home after ugly power struggles within ZPF resulted in the party splitting into two camps — the Mujuru and Mutasa camps — which camps last week traded expulsions, a development that also triggered mass resignations.
The Mujuru group accused Mutasa and his camp of being ZANU-PF infiltrators who were on a mission to destabilise the party, while Mutasa and his colleagues accused Mujuru of being a dictator and an incompetent leader.
Among some of the issues that triggered the implosion in the ZPF were talks on a possible electoral coalition with the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, talks which most former sclerotic ZANU-PF hardliners — who view the Harvest House outfit as a front for Western interests — were reportedly stridently opposed to.
Coincidentally, many in the MDC-T are also opposed to a coalition with ZPF, which they see as a proxy of the same ZANU-PF that they are seeking to topple.
Because of the disparate political backgrounds which results in open suspicion, it has often not been easy to get former senior members of the country’s main political parties — ZANU-PF and the MDC-T — to trade horses, except for very few cases such as in that of former deputy minister Tracy Mutinhiri.
In the main, it is rare for disgruntled members of ZANU-PF to cross straight to the opposition MDC-T.
The same also applies to those politicians that fall out of favour with the MDC-T who cannot easily cross over to ZANU-PF.
The coming of Mujuru’s ZPF came as a handy half-way house for those in search for a new political home, even though it was predominantly made up of former ZANU-PF members.
True to the adage that old habits die hard, no sooner had Mujuru finished criticising the ZANU-PF leadership style had she started doing things exactly the ZANU-PF way.
Mutasa’s faction further alleged that they had clashed with Mujuru’s desire for a ZANU-PF styled one-centre-of-power in which members of the national executive were to be appointed by the party president instead of through an elective congress.
On his latest resignation, Mutambara — a retired army brigadier general — issued a scathing statement to the media that read: “I am disappointed that the sacred democratic values that I hold dear are once again being violated by the dismissals and promised purging taking place in ZPF. Zimbabwe People First, led by Joice Mujuru, has got its feet firmly lodged in sand, quicksand. The more it struggles, the more it sinks into it. As a decent human being, I respect Dr Mujuru.
“But as a leader of a promising political party that aims at dislodging ZANU-PF’s 37-year grip on power, I find her indecisive and clueless. The party is directionless and cruising on autopilot. I announce today my break from ZPF led by Dr Mujuru.”
Sylvester Nguni, a former government minister and ZANU-PF member, who was expelled from the ruling party and went on to join the ZPF from which he resigned in the middle of the power struggles also expressed his disappointment at discovering that the same culture of intolerance to divergent views that resulted in his expulsion from ZANU-PF also existed in ZPF.
“I was left with no choice but to leave the party as it was clear to me the leadership did not see things the same way and would not change in their ways,” Nguni explained.
Mujuru moved in to quickly replace most of those members she had sacked and those that had resigned and tried to put up a brave face in order to give the impression that the dismissals and resignations would have no effect on the nascent political party that the Mutasa faction is still laying claim on.
The developments in the party have led to serious speculation on whether either of the two factions currently engaged in the tug-of-war for power would eventually emerge to be a viable political force to give ZANU-PF and other parties a good run for their money.
Political analyst, Rashweat Mukundu told the Financial Gazette in an interview that the implosion in ZPF showed how deeply entrenched the power-retention ideology of ZANU-PF was, “especially one centeredness of political power as well intolerance of dissent.”
He said: “The question then is would those leaving ZANU-PF be prepared to break with its undemocratic culture and embrace democratic values that drove the liberation struggle? It is clear now that there is no middle road where one is ZANU-PF at heart yet claiming to be oppositional to the same party. Those who want to remain connected to ideals of the liberation struggle need to introspect on the constitutive elements of the struggle and I argue that democracy and freedom in its various forms and meaning was at the centre of the struggle and was betrayed in 1980.
“I therefore don’t see how it is possible to be out of ZANU-PF and not be democratic. So those disappointed with ZPF and not willing to join opposition parties allegedly linked to the West must still reflect on the ideals of the struggle and blaze a new path on how to be democratic while upholding the ideals of the struggle. Democracy and Zimbabwe’s liberation are not diametric but two sides of the same coin. ZANU-PF has separated the two and its political culture is not a mirror of what people fought for. ZPF and others can therefore not be out of ZANU-PF while maintaining its DNA inside. This applies to anyone who is or decides to break from ZANU-PF.”
It remains to be seen if any of the two factions of ZPF could register success where other members disgruntled with the way things have been done in ZANU-PF—and after failing to change it from within, tried to do it from outside—have failed.
The first one to dare was former ZANU-PF secretary general, the late Edgar Tekere, whose insistence that the party remain true to the principles of the liberation struggle resulted in his position being abolished and his dismissal from his ministerial position in 1981.
“As secretary-general of the party, I had the constitutional custodianship of the founding aspirations and principles, as well as the policies and decisions of the party. Thus, it was I who had the authority to remind, guide, rebuke and insist on adherence to the founding principles and vision of the party, and I took this responsibility extremely seriously,” Tekere, explained in his book, A Lifetime of Struggle.
Tekere was to become a semi-detached member of ZANU-PF for several years before forming his own party, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) in 1989, which party posed a mild challenge to ZANU-PF before fizzling out of existence.
During the war of liberation, two attempts to adjust the party to re-align it with its founding values had been met with violent resistance, with dire consequences for those involved. The first attempt was by a group called “Vashandi” led by the late Wilfred Mhanda, which was crushed in early 1977 and the second group that included Mutasa’s fellow elder in ZPF, Rugare Gumbo, was also crushed in 1978.
In 2008, former ZANU-PF member, Simba Makoni left ZANU-PF to form his Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn party with a group of disgruntled former members of ZANU-PF.
Just like ZUM before it, Makoni’s party caused a lot of excitement among disgruntled members and former members of ZANU-PF and went on to contest only the presidential ballot in the 2008 harmonised elections, where it grabbed about eight percent of the votes — just enough to play spoiler — before it went into oblivion.
Just like Makoni and Tekere before, Mujuru’s entrance into opposition politics last year caused a lot of excitement among some current and former members of ZANU-PF who were thoroughly disgruntled with the way they felt betrayed by the leadership, and it is yet to be seen if the party which seem to be having a very bad start is not here to be another rainless cloud that only serves to deliver another round of false hope to those that love ZANU-PF, but not its leadership.