LESS than a fortnight before the launch of the United People’s Movement (UPM) on Unity Day, there is little to show for its grand entry into the Zimbabwe political scene.
The mooted political party, whose top executives and members are supposed to be drawn from Zimbabwe’s two major parties, claimed the potential to create headaches for Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), weakened by factionalism.
Yet it suffered a setback this week when Emmerson Mnangagwa, initially tipped as its leader, dissociated himself from the UPM for the second time in less than a month.
Mnangagwa, who was appointed Rural Housing and Social Amenities minister in President Mugabe’s current cabinet, reportedly warned members at a Zanu PF provincial coordinating committee meeting for the Midlands that they risked expulsion if they associated with the UPM.
Fronted by former Information minister Jonathan Moyo, the UPM gave an initial impression that it had the support of six former Zanu PF provincial chairmen who were suspended for attending what Mugabe later described as an illegal meeting in Tsholotsho, allegedly organised by Moyo to challenge Mugabe’s leadership and the composition of the presidium.
Zanu PF Midlands chairman July Moyo, chairman for Masvingo Daniel Shumba, Jacob Mudenda for Matabeleland North, Lloyd Siyoka for Matabeleland South and Mike Madiro of Manicaland were suspended for attending the meeting on November 18 last year. The suspended chairmen led areas that form the bulwark of Zanu PF support.
The United People’s Movement was expected to get support from disgruntled members and executives of both parties. It claimed to have attracted a significant number of members from the opposition MDC and the ruling Zanu PF. But both the MDC and Zanu PF have scoffed at the new political party, doubting its staying power as a player on Zimbabwe’s rough political landscape.
MDC presidential spokesman, William Bango, wondered how a party that claims to present an alternative agenda to unseat Mugabe would remain enigmatic and secretive about itself.
“Where are they and who are they?” Bango asked, adding: “If they are a serious political force they should come out in the open and show that they are courageous enough to withstand scrutiny by the electorate. Mere media publicity does not constitute existence.”
Moyo said revealing the names of the Zanu PF defectors now would endanger their lives. “What do you think would happen to those people when they announce that they have left Zanu PF? There are people who thought they could change Zanu PF from within but have failed, those are the people we are targeting.”
President Mugabe has also scoffed at an opposition party ever ruling Zimbabwe, saying Zimbabwe has no room for political upstarts.
“They can only rule after we have died. Even then our ghosts will rise to haunt them,” Mugabe said.
Dismissing the threat that the UPM could pose, Bulawayo East MP David Coltart said: “I do not see the party becoming credible because the people do not know what it stands for. This party is not a threat,” he said.
Coltart said it would be difficult for the UMP to get members from the MDC but said it could get people from Zanu PF.
“I do not believe that the UPM would attract members from the MDC but they could in Zanu PF,” he said
MDC party organiser in Bulawayo, Victor Moyo, said his party was aware that some of its members had moved to Moyo’s UPM but said the numbers were insignificant.
“Some youths have been swayed by money to join UPM. This party is known in the southern region only and there is strong suspicion that Jonathan Moyo’s party is still part of Zanu PF,” he said.
“The UPM is on the way up and that is why the people in Zanu PF are getting jittery. That is why also the Zanu PF government is trying to delay presidential elections to 2010,” the former government spin doctor Moyo said.
He remained mum on the people set to defect from Zanu PF and the MDC although Pearson Mbalekwa, who resigned from the ruling party over the widely-condemned Operation Murambatsvina, was touted vice-president.
The UPM was expected to take advantage of the current divisions rocking the MDC, while the Zanu PF succession issue gave it impetus to poach disgruntled members.
But Coltart said he was not aware of any member of the MDC who had crossed over to the UPM. “We are committed to democracy and people are free to support a party of their choice but once any MDC parliamentarian joins any other party he ceases to be an MDC member,” Coltart said.
He said the MDC was not threatened by the emergency of the UPM and that with people like Moyo in its ranks, the party would not be taken seriously by Zimbabweans.
“I do not believe that the UPM will make a lot of impact.”