IT may have been long in coming but when it did, the launch of former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s much-hyped Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party last week — after many months of behind-the-scenes planning — sent ripples across the political spectrum.
By Herbert Moyo
With the launch of ZPF, Mujuru and her liberation colleagues, including Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa have a new fight on their hands — only this time it will be against their erstwhile comrades in the liberation struggle and Zanu PF.
Last Saturday, Mujuru and her colleagues got a foretaste of what it means to be in the trenches of opposition politics when suspected Zanu PF youths stormed a ZPF rally in Harare’s Glen View suburb where they pelted hundreds of Mujuru’s supporters with stones.
Scores of ZPF supporters were injured while several vehicles were damaged. The rally only proceeded under heavy police guard, close to 30 minutes after the skirmishes. The injured were taken to different hospitals, while a formal police report was made at Glen View Police Station.
Given Zanu PF’s penchant for violence and the party’s use of instruments of coercion including state security apparatus such as the police and the army, there are questions on whether Mujuru will sustain her project. Her rather vague interview last week on South Africa’s SAfm radio where she failed to define and explain her party’s ideology beyond stating that they are national democrats also resulted in questions being asked about her ability to articulate issues and provide effective leadership.
The million-dollar question on the minds and lips of many is whether the former vice-president and her colleagues will be able to last the distance and topple Mugabe?
Will she avoid falling into the pits and traps that ensnared several former Zanu PF senior officials who left the party to start their own political outfits only to hit the proverbial brick wall and fade into obscurity?
Mujuru and her colleagues are certainly not the first to attempt the task of removing Zanu PF from power. They are following a well-worn path which has been travelled by many other Zanu PF luminaries starting with Zanu’s founding president Ndabaningi Sithole in the pre-independence era.
After independence Edgar Tekere once secretary-general of Zanu PF, Margaret Dongo as well as former politburo members Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa also tried in vain to unseat Mugabe.
Writing in his memoirs, Tekere narrated how by 1973 the Zanu leadership in prison had become disillusioned with Sithole for renouncing the liberation struggle to the extent that they decided to remove him much against Mugabe’s wishes.
“It was at Kwekwe that we decided that…we could not possibly have a leader who was so ready to compromise his principles and we were determined to sack him,” a move which Tekere says was opposed so strenuously by Mugabe who ironically would be the beneficiary of Sithole’s ouster to the extent that he abstained from voting on the issue.
The sacking determined Sithole on a path of irrevocable opposition to Mugabe and needless to say, the struggle icon, who formed Zanu Ndonga failed to make an impact. His party was reduced to a “district party” given that it was popular in Chipinge, particularly the Chipinge South constituency.
Tekere was next to try his luck in the 1990 elections after falling out with Mugabe and Zanu PF over numerous issues, chief of which, was the latter’s plans to establish a one party state.
Tekere famously declared that “democracy is in the intensive care unit” and thereafter launched his Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum) which did relatively well in the 1990 elections, garnering 25% of the vote. The party’s fortunes, however, declined dramatically fulfilling Mugabe’s prophecy that “Zum will soon zoom into destruction.”
In 2008, Simba Makoni, then a Zanu PF heavyweight announced a surprise presidential bid to challenge Mugabe under the auspices of the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn. His party received the backing of Dabengwa and Welshman Ncube’s MDC formation, but once again Makoni fell flat, achieving a mere 8% of the presidential vote.
Makoni and his party have retreated into relative obscurity as has the Dabengwa-led revived Zapu, which has failed to reclaim its former glory including in its former Matabeleland strongholds.
No doubt, ZPF has entered the political fray with the background of these failures in their leaders’ minds, but of course, with a determination to boldly go where none of their former colleagues have ventured — to unseat Mugabe and Zanu PF.
The launch, coming at a time the country is in the throes of a debilitating liquidity crunch which has led to company closures and a high unemployment rate estimated at over 90% by the trade unions, gives ZPF good conditions to be a threat to Zanu PF. The infighting in Zanu PF, which has resulted in the weakening of the party, presents favourable conditions for ZPF’s success.
“The entry of ZPF into the political arena will no doubt reinvigorate opposition politics, and its prospects, from the outset look promising,” said Chofamba Sithole, a United Kingdom-based journalist and political analyst.
“The acute economic misery that has overtaken the nation while President Mugabe majors in shoring up his ambition to die in office even as that is leading to the disintegration of his party has left the nation crying out for leadership,” Sithole added.
Another analyst Eldred Masunungure concurred with Sithole, saying Mujuru and ZPF stand to profit from the present politico-economic circumstances that are “significantly and qualitatively different from those of most other parties”.
Masunungure said the level of factionalism rocking Zanu PF would also be an advantage which Mujuru’s predecessors did not have.
Zanu PF is divided into two main factions, one led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the other known as Generation 40 (G40), a group of Young Turks who include ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere. G40 has coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe.
“The more Mugabe tries to douse them, the more the flames of factionalism become bigger and more menacing. So in that context where the ruling party is in disarray, the conditions are more conducive for a new political outfit with a popular name with nationwide clout like Mujuru. If Tekere had formed his party under the same circumstances he probably would have made a major breakthrough,” said
However, as Masunungure observed, Mujuru will have to contend with a Zanu PF party which still retains the capacity to mobilise state resources and use coercion to maintain its faltering grip on power.