THE Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s loss last week in the Chegutu mayoral polls and in two municipal wards in Bulawayo has given the ruling Zanu PF party fleeting joy.
No one is certain quite how the fractured opposition expects to p
ick itself up by its bootstraps and offer the kind of challenge to Zanu PF dominance it did six years ago when it was launched.
Zanu PF bigwigs were on hand to beat their breasts saying the victory reflected a belated realisation by the electorate that the split opposition was bankrupt of ideas to move the nation forward.
Until last week, Zanu PF had not won either municipal or general polls in Bulawayo since 2000, much to the chagrin of ruling party leader President Mugabe who wondered why “the people of Matabeleland had put themselves in the political wilderness” during a campaign meeting in Tsholotsho in March last year.
For the past six years Zanu PF has won most by-elections starting with the Bikita West in 2001 when it employed coercive tactics to regain lost ground.
The ruling party, in most of these victories, has thrived on voter apathy. More significantly, the loss by the MDC seems to have unscrambled the myth that Matabeleland, particularly Bulawayo, is an MDC stronghold.
“We did not field a candidate because we wanted to disprove Morgan Tsvangirai’s claims that he still holds grassroots support,” Job Sikhala, the secretary for defence and security in the Arthur Mutambara camp, said of the Chegutu mayoral poll.
“What we wanted was for Morgan to have his cake and eat it. That is the reason we did not contest.”
Tsvangirai’s camp participated and lost in the Chegutu mayoral election at the weekend.
Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for the Tsvangirai camp, said their candidate, Francis Dhlakama, had participated against all advice.
“It was a problem at the local level,” Chamisa said.
“We advised Dhlakama not to participate on the basis that he had been out of office for a long time due to interference by Ignatious Chombo, the Local Government minister. There were therefore problems for the electorate to judge his performance because of this.”
Mutambara faction spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi admitted the ward election result was a warning for the party.
“The election result was a wake-up call for the MDC,” Nyathi said.
“I think the electorate has sent a loud and clear message that we should put out house in order.”
Of greater significance too is how newly-elected president Arthur Mutamba is going to rally the electorate to unseat President Mugabe in the face of apparent disillusionment brought about by the split.
Mutambara says his aim is not just to oust Mugabe. In an interview with the Sunday Times last week Mutambara said in the 26 years, the Zanu PF system had become a culture and Mugabe is just a symbol of that.
“It’s not just a political party, it’s a way of doing things that has corrupted and destroyed every sector of society,” he said.
“I have had enough of seeing my fellow citizens suffering. The game is up. I am going to remove Robert Mugabe with every tool at my disposal.”
Asked if his plans might include a Ukrainian-style mass mobilisation of Mugabe’s opponents Mutambara said he was going to use every tool he could to dislodge the regime.
“We are not going to rule out anything – the sky’s the limit even if we have to fight elections under the current constitution, we will build an opposition so strong and formidable that if Mugabe tries to rig elections, it will be impossible for him to get away with it.”
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairman Lovemore Madhuku said elections this time cannot be used as a barometer to gauge whether Zanu PF is gaining support or that the MDC is losing ground.
“It is a tragedy that the MDC continues to contest these elections leading to the misconception that Zanu PF is gaining support or that the MDC has lost support,” Madhuku said.
“Elections have become meaningless until a proper framework is put in place so that the results are not pre-determined.”