IN 1999 pundits opined that the death of Vice-President Joshua Nkomo was the ultimate test for the Unity Accord signed between President Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF and PF Zapu in December 1987. Cynics went as far as declaring that the departure of Nkomo marked the death of the Unity Accord.
It was always going to be difficult for Vice-President Joseph Msika â€” who passed away this week â€“â€“ to fill the void left by Nkomo, but for 10 years Msika gave the uneasy marriage the semblance that the political dispensation that Nkomo had helped to establish would survive him. Fissures revealing underlying discontent by former Zapu cadres have opened up in the last 10 years to reveal the weak foundations on which the Unity Accord was built.
Thus if the passing of Nkomo in 1999 was a major test for the Unity Accord, Msikaâ€™s death this week not only represents the last rites in the burial of the agreement, it also completes the demise of Zanu PF as a political force in Matabeleland. Msika represented the last strong legs of the old Zapu in the united Zanu PF.
He was the only one left among his Zapu peers with the air of a national leader because of his long years in the nationalist struggle and close ties with Mugabe. He differed with the president during the early days of the land reform and not so long ago over the war veteran Jabulani Sibanda saga. In between there were skirmishes but these were overshadowed by the veteran leadersâ€™ dislike for the opposition MDC at the time of its formation. Their differences therefore were perhaps not significant enough to upset the apple cart. Msika generally stayed the course on fundamental issues and Mugabe carried him along, an arrangement that may now prove fatal for Zanu PF in Matabeleland.
With Nkomo, the relationship was different. Such was Father Zimbabweâ€™s clout that he could hold Mugabe by the hand and lead the president to Kezi or Gwanda to meet tormented souls there. Nkomo carried the president in Matabeleland after the Unity Accord but the popular former Zapu leader did not require the same rehabilitative treatment in other parts of the country. His appeal cut across the country and his huge presence gave him a national identity. But more importantly Nkomo was useful in as far as he was able to keep a tight leash on Zapu heavyweights now under the ambit of Zanu PF. That control enabled him to convince the people of Matabeleland that the Unity Accord was the only way to end state-sponsored butchery of the Ndebele people in the region. He was their sole hope in delivering development and positive change.
Nkomoâ€™s death less than a year before the 2000 election shook this status quo to the core. No one could have put it more aptly at the time than Jethro Mpofu, a member of the regional pressure group Imbovane Yamahlabezulu.
â€œFor the first time since Independence, people such as (Dumiso) Dabengwa, (Simon Khaya) Moyo, (Thenjiwe) Lesabe and others had to go into an election without Nkomoâ€™s help.â€ he told the media. â€œBefore that, it was only Nkomo who came to announce who was to be MP and who was not to be MP. Without Nkomoâ€™s help, they could not win. In previous elections in Matabeleland, people were voting more out of respect for Nkomo than for these politicians. Now they are in trouble and alone.â€
And indeed trouble befell Zanu PF in the 2000 parliamentary elections. Ndebele voters swung their support behind the nine-month-old MDC which captured 20 of the 23 contested seats in the Matabeleland region. The parlous state of Zanu PF in Matabeleland has not improved much. Zanu PF has continued to lose its hold on the region since the death of Nkomo and the coming in of Msika did not help matters either. Lacking the clout of Nkomo to hold the former Zapu cadres together, VP Msika was always going to struggle and with it the further weakening of Zanu PF. The lowest point of this waning soul of the party was the open rebellion against the Unity Accord last year by senior Zanu PF members led by Dabengwa to revive PF Zapu. More tragically, it was Dabengwa who many believed would succeed Nkomo in 1999, who led the charge to the exit.
A cursory glance at party leaders does not inspire confidence that a national leader will emerge from the region to help the flagging fortunes of Zanu PF. The leaders on the ground will find it hard to restore Mugabeâ€™s diminishing influence in Matabeleland. Most of them have been rejected in their constituencies and this was reflected in the March presidential election when Mugabe fared very badly, losing to Morgan Tsvangirai and just beating Simba Makoni in the region.
A lot has been said lately about national healing. Mugabe may venture into the subject in his speech at Heroes Acre on Monday but today history has come back to haunt his party. Signing the Unity Accord in 1987 was not enough to provide the therapeutic process in Matabeleland. The accord is in danger of failing to outlive its principals. Do I get a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu? Â
BY VINCENT KAHIYA