TO say that Zimbabweâ€™s electoral landscape got a massive jolt with the late entry of Simba Makoni into the race for the highest office would be an understatement. Indeed, the huge upswing in numbers of would-be voters checking their names on the rolls or actually registering for the first time bears testimony to that.
But, already, that momentum and air of expectation has been dissipating noticeably over the last week or so. The usual feeling of despondency and deja vu seems to be taking root among the electorate.
This waning euphoria emanates from two main developments.
Firstly, when Makoni announced his candidacy to a stunned nation, there was clear reference, both direct and implied, to the existence of certain powerful internal backers of the project. The nation expected that these powerful supporters, some of whom were whispered to be in the presidium, would by now have come out in the open with their endorsement.
That this has not happened is common cause, and indications are that it may not happen in the fashion the population expected. It may well be that the press exaggerated the role, intention and influence of these backers, or they may have developed cold feet due to reasons best known to themselves.
Unfortunately, the average Zimbabwean voter is fussy at best and downright sceptical and irresponsible at worst. The interpretation by the average voter of the rather melodramatic entry into the race by Makoni, followed by the silence from the touted backers, is that perhaps he does not have what it takes to challenge the “big man” of Zimbabwean politics. Or that perhaps the backers have realised the futility of the venture, and are running scared, leaving the “messiah” exposed.
The second reason the excitement is fizzling out is that Zimbabweans have become accustomed to failure at the last hurdle. That cynicism and a victim mentality take hold whenever a new project meant to usher change comes forth.
Already, conspiracy theories that this is a Zanu PF project meant to divide the urban vote are doing the rounds. This is further reinforced by the reluctance of Morgan Tsvangirai to embrace Makoni as a comrade-in-arms with a common goal. Recent utterances by Roy Bennett in his interview with SW Radio do not help matters.
There is also the unhelpful culture of throwing around all manner of conspiracies in Zimbabwe. This is usually started by state apologists with their own motives and spread through “bar talk” or on commuter buses. Unfortunately, the results are usually paralysing and devastating to an unquestioning, fearful public.
But what is really clear is that Zimbabwe has a distinctly rare opportunity to break from the misery of the past eight or so years come March 29. This opportunity, as happened to many others before it, should not be squandered, and thus all well-intentioned Zimbabweans should go out of their way to ensure success of this chance.
The biggest threat to maximising returns from this fortuitous state of affairs is the prevalence of self-interest among all who can make a difference. Over the years, greed and self-interest have consistently triumphed over any effort for positive change.
Self-interest manifests itself in the top political leadershipâ€™s desire to prevail over the population even when they have caused severe havoc in the lives of millions. They have no sense of shame and accountability, no sense of proportion and perspective whatsoever in accepting the colossal damage they have caused to the economy and general standard of living of the people. To them, their interests and safety are paramount.
Self-interest among the so-called middle class and business elite has helped the kleptocratic rulers to last this long. There is little doubt that despite their own self-interest, most of the powerful Zanu PF backers of Makoniâ€™s presidential candidacy are motivated by the desire to see an end to the disgraceful state the whole country has descended in to in the last eight years.
It is equally undeniable that those that seek to counter his candidacy are motivated in part by myopic self-interest â€” the so-called war veteran leadership and the relatively junior party members on the TV campaign trail are all motivated by misplaced personal greed. It will be interesting to see where they will run to if the Makoni project succeeds.
Of course the powerful Zanu PF secretary for administration, who leads the other faction in the ruling party, is personally motivated by prospects of securing his own political fortunes through opposing the Makoni candidacy.
The once-promising MDC has clearly been destroyed by a self-serving leadership. Its failure to rejuvenate itself and the authoritarian style manifest in critical decision making is a direct result of an increasing culture of intolerance and greed by its top leadership. This is utterly disappointing considering the many sacrifices made by the populace across all races, and the massive destruction of the economy that ensued as a reaction to its formation.
Tsvangirai has failed to inspire Zimbabweans with his tendency to run his mouth before careful consideration of the facts on the ground. It is clear to any discerning Zimbabwean that Tsvangiraiâ€™s chances of winning the presidential election are slim for a variety of reasons.
His best shot at getting into political office in the foreseeable future is to sit down with the likes of Makoni and Mutambara and launch a united offensive. He can always secure his place in a government of national unity (GNU), which seems the only solution for Zimbabwe in the short to medium term.
The MDC can still retain its structures and identity in a GNU, and bide its time for a fresh shot at the presidency in five yearsâ€™ time. By that time, surely the constitution and other conditions would be in its favour.
By standing against both Makoni and Mugabe, Tsvangirai will at best come second. He has to appreciate that many urbanites are now thoroughly disillusioned with the MDC, and the fact that he has alienated the majority in Matabeleland through his failure to unite with the other formation means fewer votes for him there.
What needs to be done at the moment is for all Zimbabweans with the countryâ€™s interest at heart to cast aside petty personal differences and self-interest, and be realistic in supporting the Makoni candidacy.
Those within Zanu PF, including some in the politburo and presidium, who are in support of Makoni should come out into the open and bolster his candidacy as soon as possible. By putting their personal interests and safety ahead of open support they are not only jeopardising the candidacy but also putting themselves in a losing corner where they cannot realise their aspirations but still are publicly known to have supported the rebellion in the first place.
Every vote will have to count in the presidential race. It will be critical that the failed leadership of this country is denied a 51% winning margin so that a two-man run-off is conducted. It is very obvious that the incumbent would not survive a run-off.
Will you allow this golden opportunity to go to waste simply because of your short-term fears or self-interest, or will you go out of your way to make this opportunity count for the benefit of all Zimbabweans, especially the future generations?
*Â Vimbai Walker is the pseudonym of a Harare-based writer.