Constitutional indaba: The drama continues

AS widely expected the Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference on the constitution-making process held in Harare this week turned out to be a theatre of political battles between rival parties in the inclusive government.

Report by Owen Gagare/Elias Mambo

Although there was no violence and intimidation as happened during the first conference held in July 2009, there was political drama of a different nature, showing heightening tensions between the main players.

The first meeting brought together representatives of political parties, civil society organisations and other groups to identify issues which should be covered in the new constitution.

However, the 2009 conference was rocked by confrontations and violence mainly between Zanu PF and MDC-T supporters.

It took principals at the time, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and deputy premier Arthur Mutambara, to address the nation on state television to cool down tempers.

The conference this week did not have those scenes of violence, but took South African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team stepping in to help break an impasse over the involvement of Mutambara as a principal and by insinuation a political leader.

MDC leader Welshman Ncube boycotted the opening ceremony in protest over the inclusion of Mutambara who, with the aid of Mugabe, has clung onto his position in government despite losing to Ncube at the party’s congress in January last year after withdrawing and conceding defeat in public.

The Mutambara saga –– particularly Mugabe’s cryptic position on it –– is open to various interpretations.

Mutambara is a pawn in Mugabe’s political chess game which involves maintaining the original principals team and running rings around Tsvangirai, while keeping Ncube, a difficult customer, at bay.

Professor Eldred Masunungure of the University of Zimbabwe said Mugabe is sceptical of Ncube given the MDC leader has strongly stood up to him.

“Mugabe does not trust Ncube because he has always stood up to him on a number of issues, including embarrassing him at international gatherings. Besides that, Mugabe never really warmed up to Zuma’s mediation and given Ncube’s family links to Zuma, he suspects if he attends these principals’ meetings, chances are he will divulge something to Zuma,” Masunungure said.

“Mugabe took advantage of the power struggle and decided to stick with Mutambara who is moderate and has nothing to lose in the GPA.”

Whatever Mugabe’s calculation on Mutambra, he is getting entangled in what could end up as a costly affair for him come elections, especially in the southwestern region of the country and some parts of Midlands province. Ncube is reaping the dividend of apparent victimisation and that has given him momentum in his strongholds.

It is not known though whether he will keep the wind in his sail.

While the issue initially appeared like a storm in a teacup, it has now developed into a huge crisis, not just for the party involved, but also for other Global Political Agreement (GPA) parties, government, principals and even the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and Zuma.

Although the Mutambara saga exposes Ncube’s strategic and tactical shortcomings as he could have averted a crisis by allowing his predecessor to finish his term as deputy prime minister, it also betrays a plot between the original principals who seem to have a hidden agenda.

While Mugabe has come out in the open to block Ncube, Tsvangirai has remained silent, perhaps understandably so given their deep political differences and mutual hostility.

What has now complicated the situation is Sadc’s move to recognise Ncube as the legitimate principal ahead of Mutambara and directing Mugabe and Tsvangirai to involve him in all issues to do with the GPA.

Although Mugabe and Tsvangirai have resorted to splitting hairs on the issue, they have largely sidelined Ncube for as yet unclear reasons. Against this backdrop, several questions arise, not least why Mugabe and seemingly Tsvangirai prefer Mutambara over Ncube, and who is ultimately benefiting from all this.

Some suggest Mugabe, who thrives on divide-and-rule tactics, is the immediate beneficiary as Ncube could cause serious problems for principals. So to avoid problems, principals closed ranks and shut Ncube out.

However, in the bigger scheme of things, Tsvangirai might be the ultimate loser as alienating Ncube earns him the sympathy vote in Matabeleland, a move which erodes the premier’s original power base.

This indirectly benefits Mugabe, an also-ran and no-hoper in those regions.

But Mugabe could have benefitted more by embracing Ncube who could checkmate Tsvangirai for him in Matabeleland, which, together with Masvingo and Manicaland, are likely to be the battlegrounds in the next elections.

Ironically, he has alienated Ncube but without deriving serious political capital from protecting Mutambara who has no constituency to talk of.

Jabusile Shumba the programme manager (public policy) at the Institute of Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe said Mugabe had successfully widened divisions among his rivals.

“The Mugabe regime thrives and survives on divide-and-rule strategies. The man created factions within his own party so that his subordinates keep on fighting while he remains in power while he claims stepping down would create chaos,” said Shumba. “He is doing the same here.”