THE palpable sense of excitement that Zimbabwe could be set for a new political dispensation appears to have been carried over into the New Year amid indications that former vice-president Joice Mujuru could finally launch her long-awaited People First political party to challenge President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF’s unbroken rule which has stretched from Independence in 1980.
Mujuru and former Zanu PF politburo members, secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, are among several leading party and government officials who were kicked out of Zanu PF ahead of and after the party’s watershed December 2014 congress on untested allegations of plotting Mugabe’s ouster and assassination.
Since the beginning of last year, Mujuru and her colleagues fuelled expectations of the launch of a party resulting in excitement in opposition circles. The interest reached a crescendo in September when she launched her well received policy blueprint titled Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development (Build) where she laid her vision for a prosperous Zimbabwe.
Many thought the blueprint would be followed by intense public action ahead of her party launch before the end of last year, but it appeared her project lost momentum between then and November.
Instead, Mujuru and her backers went underground holding low-key meetings to drum up support countrywide, which could be strategic in the long run.
However, the lack of public action resulted in many people losing interest in the project while others questioned whether she really had the capacity or intention to challenge Zanu PF.
Even Mugabe ridiculed the People First project while responding to a “Pasi ne People First” chant by Zanu PF supporters during the party’s conference in Victoria Falls in December. Mugabe told his supporters to direct their invectives to Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC rather than a People First which may never exist.
“No, don’t say pasi navo (down with them) because they are non-existent,” said Mugabe, amid laughter from delegates.
But pictures which started circulating on the social media of Mujuru having meetings to drum up support renewed public interest and sent Zanu PF officials into panic mode.
Events on the ground suggest that 2016 could be the year that the project will jump straight out of the media pages that have been proclaiming its advent and morph into a reality that can be seen and felt by a local and international public.
Such is the excitement and anticipation that a video has gone viral on social media heralding the launch of the party.
“Mai Mujuru toenda navo kuState House muna 2018 (We are going with Mujuru to State House in 2018),” boasts a female singer who chooses to remain in the shadows and never once shows her face in the video.
The singer implores all Zimbabweans; women, men and youths from places as disparate as Gwanda (Matabeleland South), Nembudziya (Midlands) and Chikomba (Mashonaland East) to rally behind the former vice-president.
The video’s call and response style of singing is set against a slideshow of images featuring Mujuru at various periods of her eventful life. These include a gun-totting youthful Mujuru during the liberation struggle, as a caring mother holding a toddler, sharing the joy of her academic achievements and in a regal pose as head of state with the Zimbabwe flag in the background.
Of course, her hero husband, the late General Solomon Mujuru, appears prominently in the video.
The video concludes with a famous quote by the late Maya Angelou, a renowned American author, poet and civil rights activist, which goes: “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”
Zanu PF appears to have been shaken by the prospects of the former vice-president forming a party. She has been so entrenched in the party that despite her being ousted more than a year ago, she still holds considerable influence and has support such that remaining officials believe some of their colleagues are still loyal to her.
Mashonaland East province, for example, has recommended the suspension of some sitting members of parliament on allegations of fraternising with Mujuru. This comes amid reports that many party legislators countrywide are attending meetings with the former vice-president ahead of the party’s launch.
Gumbo, who has acknowledged support for the project from erstwhile colleagues in Zanu PF, said People First will become a reality early this year with Mujuru at the helm.
“We will advise you in due course, but it’s early next year when it’s coming,” Gumbo told the Zimbabwe Independent. “Of course, she (Mujuru) is the leader. Remember she was fired without cause; so why should we be choosing another leader when she is there.”
Should People First come to fruition, Mujuru’s entry is sure to change the dynamics of Zimbabwean politics at a time when opposition parties have weakened over the years due to failure to dislodge Zanu PF, infighting, splits and donor fatigue, among other reasons.
Where Mugabe has used participation in the 1970s liberation war as a stick with which to defeat Tsvangirai, he will find that this will not work with Mujuru, Mutasa, Gumbo and many others in the People First project.
Mujuru was at the war front in Mozambique long before Mugabe made his appearance in 1975 after his release from prison along with the late Edgar Tekere. Mujuru’s trusted lieutenant, Gumbo, is the sole surviving member of the Dare reChimurenga, the war council that planned and prosecuted the armed struggle while Mugabe and other leaders of that period were incarcerated.
It will thus be the birth of a new era in which Mugabe and his colleagues will come face-to-face with an opposition filled to the brim with people who have the same liberation war credentials they have always boasted of.
For Mujuru, this will also be a moment of truth — an opportunity to show whether she is the real deal.
Her entry will enable all to see whether she has real support on the ground as opposed to being the untested media creation as suggested by political analyst and Zimbabwe Institute of Democracy director Pedzisayi Ruhanya.