Since its inception in 2000, MDC-T has won the majority of parliamentary seats in the southern region but analysts now say the declaration by Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu that it will contest in all constituencies could be worrisome to Tsvangirai.
This, analysts said, was because Tsvangirai has not done much for the region despite receiving support from Matabeleland, which they pointed out might dissuade people against voting for his party. President Robert Mugabe has said elections would be held by mid-next year.
However, other political commentators said Zapu might not make any impact because it was playing “old politics” without bringing anything new to the people, while MDC-T has said it did not feel threatened at all.
After the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai has not been visible in Bulawayo or Matabeleland North and South provinces and it was only last month when his party established an office in the central business district, in a move which political commentators said was calculated to win back the hearts and minds of voters.
Tsvangirai’s selection of cabinet ministers from Matabeleland has received the sharpest criticism from the region.
Initially in 2009, Tsvangirai had selected only two ministers from the region –– Eddie Cross (State Enterprises and Parastatals) and Abedinico Bhebhe (Water Resources) –– from MDC-M. Both Cross and Bhebhe were later dropped from the final list to include Gorden Moyo and Samuel Sipepa Nkomo.
Tsvangirai’s appointments were seen as a betrayal of the people of Matabeleland who felt that more legislators from the region should have been appointed to Cabinet.
In July this year, top MDC-T officials from the region felt that there was a deliberate policy to sideline politicians from Matabeleland when it came to cabinet posts.
Their grievances centered on the perceived demotion of Moyo from being minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister to State Enterprises and Parastatals. There was also concern over Thamsanqa Mahlangu, who was redeployed back to the party from being the deputy minister of Youth Development.
Dabengwa, a former politburo member, pulled out of Zanu PF in 2008 to champion the revival of Zapu.
Political analyst Effie Ncube said Zapu could have an impact but it would depend on what they have to offer the electorate.
He said Matabeleland people would rally behind Dabengwa since they still have a connection with the party that was dominant in the region from the 1960s to 1980s.
But Ncube warned that it would also depend on whether Dabengwa’s policies appeal to the younger generation, which never experienced Zapu’s yesteryear success. The late vice president Nkomo’s PF-Zapu garnered 20 seats in the 1980 elections in which Mugabe’s Zanu PF won 57 seats.
“Zapu can make an impact on MDC-T’s performance in the forthcoming elections because some people may feel betrayed by Tsvangirai whom they have supported,” said Ncube. “However, if Zimbabweans think Tsvangirai is an agent of change, it becomes difficult for Dabengwa and company to win the elections. Zapu should not rely on the name because politics has changed.”
Bulawayo-based political science expert Qubani Moyo said Zapu’s rebirth was an interesting development in Matabeleland, which may change the political landscape.
He said Dabengwa could grab a few parliamentary seats but was quick to warn that Zapu risked failing to make a significant impact if it continued to play “old politics.”
Moyo said Dabengwa has not tabled anything new on the political arena but relied on nostalgia, blaming the former Home Affairs minister of recruiting notorious war veterans into his party.
“Zapu dominance has not been felt anywhere in Matabeleland and we wonder what kind of magic will Dabengwa use to woo voters. Why did Dabengwa entertain war veterans who butchered Zanu PF political opponents?”
Moyo argued Matabeleland people were sceptical of Zapu, which is widely seen as an extension of Zanu PF.
“They (Zapu) want to contain Zanu PF succession battle from outside. Ever since the congress, Dabengwa has failed to rise to the occasion and the talk of a special congress shows internal instability that makes it impossible to win seats,” he said.
On the other hand Dabengwa defended his party saying he was confident of winning the polls and forming the next government.
“Zapu is a third force that can usher change and give people what they long for,” said Dabengwa.
“We will definitely win a number of seats in the forthcoming elections,”
Analysts say if Zapu fails to win seats in Matabeleland, the party risked fading into oblivion and the leadership’s former links with Zanu PF may cost them votes given that Dabengwa lost elections in Nkulumane against MDC-T. Some commentators, however, said Dabengwa lost because he contested on a Zanu PF ticket.
MDC-T organising secretary Elias Mudzuri believes his party would continue overshadowing other parties in Matabeleland and in the rest of Zimbabwe.
He said there was confusion over Zapu considering that there are still former PF-Zapu members in Zanu PF while others defected with Dabengwa.
“We will strengthen our structures to ensure we remain the people’s party countrywide,” said Mudzuri. “Zapu’s presence doesn’t scare MDC-T because we are in a democratic country where parties are allowed to contest.”
He suggested the revival of Zapu was Mugabe’s plan to divide Matabeleland people to allow him to continue ruling a deeply divided nation.