NEWLY-ELECTED leader of one of the rival factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Professor Arthur Mutambara, strode onto the political stage this week talking tough.
After being elected president of the camp formerly
led by founding MDC deputy leader Gibson Sibanda at a congress in Bulawayo on Saturday, Mutambara addressed his first press conference as leader the following day promising fire and brimstone.
“We are putting (President) Robert Mugabe and his regime on notice: we are going to fight you tooth, nail and claw. We will use all tools of the struggle at our disposal, including jambanja (confrontation),” Mutambara roared amidst cheers from party members.
“Our agenda is very clear: to fight and defeat the Zanu PF regime and become the next government. We will work with all other democratic forces to achieve this.”
Mutamabara proposed what he described as a “total de-legitimatisation strategy” to dislodge Mugabe from power. This, he said, included adopting measures to ensure Mugabe’s legitimacy crisis is compounded.
This might include withdrawing from all election-based institutions and launching anti-government street protests, he said.
Mutambara said although he now leads the so-called pro-senate faction, he was “anti-senate”.
“My position was that the MDC should have boycotted those senate elections. Not only that, I want total withdrawal from parliament and all other election-based institutions,” he said.
Asked how he would be able to coordinate his “total de-legitimatisation strategy” when he is living in South Africa, Mutambara said he was returning home fulltime to engage in the struggle for democracy.
“Forget about America and South Africa, Zimbabwe is the front. We will fight and outflank Zanu PF in the streets,” he said in remarks reminiscent of his days as a University of Zimbabwe student leader.
Mutambara called for nationwide mobilisation of various groups — including a reunited MDC — to create a critical mass to confront Mugabe’s regime over political repression and the economic crisis.
Describing the founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai as a “hero”, Mutambara said he was prepared to step down and contest the MDC presidency if the warring factions bury the hatchet.
Mutamabara said his faction was nationalistic and patriotic as he sought to shake-off the alleged Western “puppet” image which Zanu PF foisted on the original MDC. He recalled Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial heroes and rejected claims that his faction was moderate compared to Tsvangirai’s.
“Those who think we are moderate and will be negotiating with Zanu PF are in for a big shock,” he said.
Mutambara tried to shift his camp’s ideological position by coming out in strong denunciation of “any form of imperialism, violation of state rights and unilateralism”.
Apart from dusting off the liberation war legacy, Mutambara also promised a “land revolution”, a strong foreign policy which does not pander to the whims of powerful countries, to promote democratic imperatives and also deal with the current economic crisis.
On questions, Mutambara gave detailed, albeit sometimes unconvincing, answers in an aggressive and often humorous style.
After the press conference, Mutambara shook hands with senior members of his faction — including newly-elected chairman Gift Chimanikire — as if to camouflage the public clashes in the camp that preceded the congress.
While critics gave Mutambara credit for raising key issues and for his oratorical skills, others — including diplomats present at the congress — felt he did not seize the opportunity to make much political capital.
They felt he failed to connect his past and present. He also ignored a number of important issues — like macroeconomic conditions and food shortages — which ring a chord with the population.
Some say Mutambara’s performance was not compelling enough to cut an impression of a politically bankable leader in line with a groundswell of expectations triggered by his return to join mainstream politics.
Mutambara, some say, also exposed himself to criticism by sounding like Mugabe on other issues, especially his anti-colonial and anti-imperialist mantras which cut no ice with a hungry electorate.