By Denford Magora
ON the face of it, Arthur Mutambara carries the credentials to be a viable alternative to Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe.
His international experiences as well as his proven leadership qualities are on the right side of history. He has a
lso made his own money through business and is quite unlikely to want to put his hand into the state cookie jar.
That said, Mutambara must be warned that academic and professional achievements alone will not make him top dog in Zimbabwe.
He needs a strategy that connects with the people and I am concerned at his confrontational tone, which would make it easier for the government to unleash terror on his supporters.
Mutambara should have learnt a few things from anti-senate camp leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s failures. People in Zimbabwe today are easily cowed. Street protests will see the army and the police pouring into the streets and the response of Zimbabweans will be to withdraw into their homes.
This avenue — including mass stayaways — has failed before and it will fail again because of the nature of our people. Just look at the tireless National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) which continues to protest in the streets in small numbers. Repeatedly, they are arrested while fellow Zimbabweans stand on the pavements and look on.
It has got to a point where the people on whose behalf the NCA wants a constitution are deriding the organisation. Talk in commuter omnibuses is dismissive of its chairman Lovemore Madhuku.
With my own ears, I have heard people repeatedly mock the NCA leader and his followers. Perhaps it is because hunger and poverty cannot immediately be connected to a new constitution by the people. They do not see how a new constitution would get rid of their very real problems, like transport, food shortages, a crumbling infrastructure and rubbish-strewn, stinking-to-high-heaven neighbourhoods.
Mutambara must, therefore, not make the same mistake as Tsvangirai and attempt to make this fight physical.
The government has got arms and he has none, unless there is something he is not telling us. Further, engaging in a battle of wits with Zanu PF alone will not yield results. Ideology is very important, yes, but it is not the be-all and end-all of our politics.
Solutions, then: The professor and his friends in the MDC must connect with the people. This means a lot of walkabouts. It means physically engaging the masses where they wait for transport, at rallies, at their homes and anywhere else people congregate.
In this respect, Mutambara may want to take a leaf from the pages of evangelical Christians and the so-called “Watchtowers”. It is this sort of engagement that will show people that the new leader is tireless and concerned.
He should not make Tsvangirai’s mistake of sitting in an ivory tower and remaining silent as prices rise every day and people wait for hours in the rain for transport that is basically non-existent.
This would only be the beginning. Being physically connected with the masses, what I call live-wire contact with the masses, is not enough unless the message is clear. The message has to be localised.
People don’t eat anti-imperialism. If Mutambara’s group has supporters in every constituency, it must understand what each of those constituencies want the most. Is it the collection of stinking rubbish from their doorstep, as is the case along Zvimba road in Glen Norah? Or the rehabilitation of roads, like the massively potholed growth point of Juru, which is leading transport operators to avoid stopping at the centre and inconveniencing travellers. Then put forward a cohesive and credible alternative plan for eradicating that problem.
Look, it is not going to be easy, but if you have dedicated yourself to working for the people, there is no rest. Your family will not see you in broad daylight unless they come to your rallies or walkabouts.
You will probably go prematurely grey in the head and never develop a pot-belly. But your objective will be met. Never must Mutambara make the mistake of wanting to simply ride on the coat tails of people’s discontent with Zanu PF. Yes, the discontent is there, but that does not mean that any Tom, Dick and Arthur can simply walk in and enjoy easy pickings.
Zanu PF will make it very difficult for them. Getting into power for anyone other than Zanu PF will be like extracting blood from a stone. It will require hard work, very hard work and tireless campaigning. The message must be correct. While not necessarily pandering to the lowest common denominator, it should at the same time be firmly grounded in the struggles that the people of Zimbabwe can see, not abstract concepts of self-determination and anti-unilateralism.
I do recognise that Mutambara had to bring these two subjects up so that he is not branded a stooge of America and Britain by Zanu PF which, as it happens, was what killed Tsvangirai in the rural areas. But that is no reason to harp on about this while ignoring the bread and butter issues that actually bring in the votes.
There is no doubt about it, Mutambara’s entrance into national politics has caused a ripple but that ripple must now become a tidal wave. For that to happen, people must be made to realise that things need not continue the way they are. They can be made better. There is no better way to achieve this than talking to people’s pockets and stomachs. If Mutambara appears too elitist and unconnected to the daily grind of Zimbabweans, then his battle is lost.
* Denford Magora is a Harare-based marketing executive.
By Denford Magora