By Dumisani O Nkomo
THE revival of Zapu has aroused much interest in diplomatic circles regionally and internationally, especially with Zimbabweans in the diaspora who originate from Matabeleland. The big question is whether Zapu has a significant impact, if any at all, on the country’s electoral landscape especially the rocky political terrain of Matabeleland which has become handy in deciding electoral outcomes.
The MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube (MDC-N) has a huge say in the inclusive government because of the seats it garnered in Matabeleland. Will the emergence of this oxymoronically “new” but old party upstage the MDC-T vote in Matabeleland, or will the party obliterate the MDC-N from the political scene? Is Zapu just a noisy, nostalgic blast from the past or a formidable political formation that will play a critical role in the transfer of power?
Critics and cynics argue that Zapu is an extension of Zanu PF and some conspiracy enthusiasts opine that the party is an extension of the Mujuru faction in Zanu PF. Others feel that the party offers a refreshing alternative to the MDC formations and Zanu PF.
First and foremost I would like to concur with other political analysts that the re-emergence of Zapu is good for democracy especially in this transitional period when there is no robust opposition party to hold the Global Political Agreement partners to account. Secondly I would also like to dismiss those who say Zapu is a tribal formation merely because it was started or is it restarted in Matabeleland. The notion that anything that starts in Matabeleland is tribal merely because it originates from there should be dismissed with the contempt that it deserves. The reality is that ethnicity continues to play a major part in the politics of the country.
Zanu PF extension?
The biggest challenge facing Zapu is to prove that it is not an extension of Zanu PF or a Zanu PF project. People want political formations and leaders that they can trust and trust is gained over a long period of time. Some senior Zapu leaders were key figures in Zanu PF and a number of them were fingered in political violence perpetrated by Zanu PF from 2000 to 2008. This is regardless of the fact that many of them were victims of the Gukurahundi massacres who were converted to Zanuism and became the prophets and high priests of the Zanu order or is it disorder, in the process sacrificing the freedom of their countrymen at the altar of political expedience.
The belief that Zapu is Zanu in disguise has been unfortunately enforced by the party’s thrust of seeming to be more against MDC rather than Zanu PF. This is not to say that the MDC formations are paragons of virtue from whom all good things emanate, but to many people the MDC appears to be the only political movement capable of removing Zanu PF. Whether or not they have the slightest clue how to govern the country once they have wrested it from Zanu PF is the subject of another article altogether.
There are also a sizable number of people who rightly or wrongly believe that Zapu is an extension of the Mujuru faction in Zanu PF. Though the authenticity of this belief is dubious it is however a real perception that is held by many which Zapu will have to deal with if it entertains any chances of surviving Zimbabwe’s rocky political terrain. Issues of perception and trust play a major role in politics and the sooner Zimbabwean opposition parties understand this the better they will perform.
The second challenge that the party faces is that of showing that it is a party of the present and the future because Zimbabweans are tired of liberation movements which have no relevance to their post-independence aspirations and the democratic dispensation that we all yearn for so much. The party will have to prove that it has a vision and programme for the future, and it is not a Matabeleland version of Zanu PF couched in the glorious history of the past.
A big bonus for the party is that it enjoys a huge following in South Africa and it is a known fact that Zimbabweans in South Africa have a huge influence on the political opinions of people in Matobo, Mangwe, Bulilima, Beitbridge, Gwanda, Tsholotsho and Insiza. It remains to be seen whether this can translate to electoral success in Matabeleland. Zimbabwe’s economic dynamics are such that “injivas” are no longer able to come home as often as possible and many are now unable to support families back home.
Critically however Zapu could prey on the weaknesses of the two MDC factions to launch a massive political counter attack in Matabeleland. The big question is whether Zapu will split the votes of the MDC formations or the Zanu PF vote as it is unlikely to attract a considerable mass of “new” voters in the event of an election. Zapu has apparently shown that it can also throw a few punches here and there and a few of their cadres have been involved in efforts to resist land invasions.
It is also likely that Zapu will dislodge Zanu PF from some of its strongholds in Matabeleland. The party also has the support of a number of former military leaders as well as a few serving soldiers which could make the party strategic in the event of the need to transfer power. MDC is currently unable to unlock the logjam of transfer of power even if it wins convincingly in an election.
South Africa and a few Southern African statesmen may be more comfortable with a former liberation movement having political power than post-independent, labour-based political formations and would rather endorse the so-called liberation movements.
The following factors heavily militate against Zapu though:
Lack of a charismatic leader who is able to match Robert Mugabe or Morgan Tsvangirai.
Lack of national appeal even though they have leaders from all over the country in the national executive. The reality of tribal politics could cause its premature demise.
The relative inexperience of the current leadership. Most of the top leadership of Zapu is relatively unknown and at least two of its top leaders have been resident outside Zimbabwe for a long time. The dexterities, complexities and gymnastics of Zimbabwean politics could be too much for them. The perception that Zapu is a party of the past and not the future. The perception that Zapu is a Zanu PF project.
People are looking for a movement that has the capacity of removing Zanu PF and they may weigh their options and opt for MDC-T. The resurgence of the MDC under Ncube has pulled from under the rug the feet of Zapu and has taken the momentum from the party. Zapu appears to be hopelessly disconnected with the broader democracy movement and agenda in Zimbabwe.
For the above reasons I believe that though the emergence of Zapu is healthy for democracy, the party is unlikely to make a significant impact on the political landscape. If the party deals with these factors then the MDC formations could be in for a rude awakening as Zapu could spring a surprise in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands.
Dumisani Nkomo is the chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust and the spokesman of the Matabeleland Civil Society Consortium. Here he writes in his personal capacity. firstname.lastname@example.org.