Makoni courts Tsvangirai

SURPRISE presidential election candidate Simba Makoni is making an effort to win over main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to beef up his bid to challenge President Robert Mugabe in next month’s defining elections.

Informed sources said a meeting between Makoni and Tsvangirai is set for Sunday to discuss ways of joining forces to confront Mugabe at the polls. The meeting is expected to be uneasy after Tsvangirai last week described Makoni as “nothing more than old wine in a new bottle” and accused him of being partly to blame for Mugabe and Zanu PF’s failures. However, if Makoni pulls it off, this would give a dramatic boost to his electoral prospects ahead of the polls.

On Wednesday Makoni’s formation met in Harare to discuss election strategy. The meeting was convened by its national coordinating committee chaired by former Zanu PF provincial chairman Mike Madiro. Makoni, who chairs the organisation’s national management committee, attended the meeting.

The outfit’s structures include the management committee, coordination committee, finance and administration, media and communications, and mobilisation. It also has youth and women’s leagues.

Makoni is reportedly working with senior Zanu PF officials including politburo members retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru and Dumiso Dabengwa. The two have had several meetings with Makoni in recent weeks. Mujuru and Dabengwa are leading the challenge to Mugabe within Zanu PF structures.

Dabengwa — detained and systematically tortured by the government on unfounded treason charges in the 1980s — has of late been open in tackling Mugabe, especially during politburo meetings.

The sources said Dabengwa told a meeting in South Africa last weekend that senior Zanu PF officials, including Mujuru and himself, supported Makoni. It is understood he said Zanu PF needs a change of leadership. Dabengwa led opposition to Mugabe’s unprocedural endorsement as the Zanu PF candidate at the party’s extraordinary congress in December. Makoni has said many party officials were disappointed when Mugabe was retained at the helm.

Makoni is said to be seeking to close ranks with opposition leaders to stage a united challenge against Mugabe.

Political observers say Makoni’s plan would have been more viable if he went for a united front against Mugabe instead of an ill-defined outfit which makes it difficult to secure buy-ins from strategic allies.

However, Makoni’s camp is trying to deal with this issue via informal alliances. Last Sunday Makoni met another Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction leader Arthur Mutambara to seal an informal electoral pact. Makoni met Mutambara at Ibbo Mandaza’s farm in Mazowe to iron out issues after making inconsistent remarks last week about their partnership.

The meeting was attended by Mandaza, who is a parliamentary candidate for Mazowe West, and other senior officials in the Makoni camp, as well as Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga, an MP, and Miriam Mushayi, a top official in the Mutambara faction.

Makoni and Mutambara, who dropped out of the presidential race to back his new ally, reinforced their working arrangement. Although Mutambara might not have a power base, MPs aligned to him command sizeable grassroots support. The Mutambara camp’s MPs are likely to retain their seats in Bulawayo which is their stronghold.

Parliamentary election candidates working with Makoni and Mutambara are not challenging each other.

The sources said Mandaza has been engaged in talks with Tsvangirai’s lieutenants to prepare the ground for talks between their leaders.

“Talks have been going on between Mandaza and senior officials in Tsvangirai’s faction to find ways of striking a deal in which Tsvangirai would drop out to support Makoni,” a source said. “It will become clear what will happen after Makoni’s one-on-one meeting with Tsvangirai.”

Tsvangirai has a relatively large following on the ground and his MPs are expected to retain their seats in Harare, the faction’s heartland. The Tsvangirai camp might also pick up a few seats in different provinces.

The sources said the Makoni camp is anxious to secure agreements with both MDC factions to avoid splitting the vote in favour of the ruling Zanu PF and Mugabe. There are fears in opposition circles that the Makoni, Tsvangirai and Mutambara groups could split the vote and help Mugabe and his party to retain power by default.

Political observers say opposition groups might suffer the “Kenya syndrome” in which the incumbent wins as a result of splitting the vote by his rivals. The Makoni camp is trying to avoid this situation.

Dumisani Muleya