EVER since Simba Makoni declared his candidature at the beginning of February, two questions have dominated. First, is he a genuine candidate or a Zanu PF stooge? Second, will he win? The answers are, in summary: yes and no: yes and no.
Makoni is not Robert Mugabeâ€™s puppet. He is not there as a deliberate plant to muddy the electoral waters, to benefit the incumbent. The insults heaped on him since he came out into the open come straight from the heart. Whether you prefer the label of â€œprostitute without clientsâ€, or the memorable description of him as being â€œa frog puffing himself to the size of an oxâ€, the insults were spat with genuine venom.
But despite his own protestations, and the queue of provincial chairmen lining up to publicly distance themselves from him, Makoni is not his own man. He has no powerbase of his own within Zanu PF. Whatever his personal qualities,Â the official positions he has held in the party have been in the gift of Mugabeâ€™s patronage.
On his own, he wouldnâ€™t stand a chance.
People not unconnected to the Mujurus have been assiduously fundraising for him in recent weeks.
Joice Mujuru and all the others can declare their loyalty to Mugabe and the party until they run out of breath, but that means nothing. Makoni is a front for the Mujuru faction. He is a Zanu PF stooge â€” just not Mugabeâ€™s stooge. He is a stalking horse.
Which brings us to the second question: will he win? To ask this question is to miss the point. A stalking horse is a candidate put forward to mask the candidacy of another person, for whom the stalking horse will then withdraw.
The last thing Makoniâ€™s backers would want is for Makoni to win. Makoniâ€™s task is to weaken Mugabe. Either through a significant reduction in Mugabeâ€™s share of the vote in the presidential poll, or by building a sizeable rump of disaffected ex-Zanu PF independent MPs, or both, Makoniâ€™s job is to crystallise Zanu PF opposition to Mugabe, not replace him.
Mugabeâ€™s successor will be decided later in the smoke-filled rooms of Jongwe House
Makoni is unlikely to win the presidential poll. But he doesnâ€™t have to win to succeed. He is part ofÂ a much longer game.