LAST week’s announcement by President Robert Mugabe that elections will be conducted on July 31 is not surprising; some of us saw it coming. It is merely a confirmation of what everyone with political foresight anticipated.
Report by Jacob Nkiwane
It is surprising to see Zimbabwe’s political leadership panicking, especially Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T who shared the same corridors of power with Mugabe in a shaky coalition government for more than four years.
Over the years, Mugabe’s political survival has always been a result of tact, guile and artful manoeuvring of both the process and the system to his advantage. It is not by sheer luck that he has politically survived to this end. He has managed to use chaos as a surviving strategy both within and outside his party.
During the liberation struggle, he used the chaos created by the assassination of Herbert Chitepo and the sudden death of Josiah Tongogara in a car accident to emerge as the only credible leader capable of leading a new country at Independence.
But, while he won the watershed elections of 1980, he was not settled due to the nagging popularity of the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo.
The bloody conflict which characterised the Gukurahundi era was a national disaster which he, however, used as an opportunity to cow Nkomo and eventually emerge as the country’s unchallenged leader.
The Unity Accord which followed in 1987 completely eliminated any opposition to Mugabe, turning Zimbabwe into a one-party state, which was favourable to him.
But the birth of MDC in 1999 created headaches for the Zanu PF leader. However, as a master of chaos, he instigated and promoted farm invasions under the pretext of land reform which he had ignored for more than 20 years.
The chaos which followed saw the tables turning and the revival of his waning political fortunes.
While the country endured successive years of economic decline directly linked to the chaotic land reform, he remained politically relevant as a purported champion of black empowerment.
In 2008, Tsvangirai clearly defeated Mugabe in the first round of elections. Mugabe, however, created chaos by using violence and intimidation. This led to a run-off which was a sham of an election.
He was then forced to enter into a unity government with Tsvangirai due to widespread condemnation of the way he was re-elected.
In the end, he emerged victorious by retaining all the executive powers while Tsvangirai was condemned to a ceremonial post of prime minister. Mugabe’s use of chaos won the day again.
While Mugabe has failed to force the other coalition parties into early elections despite his insistence since 2010, he finally got a boost from the Constitutional Court (Concourt) which ruled that elections must be held by July 31.
That ruling was in response to a legal challenge launched by a suspected Mugabe sympathiser, Jealousy Mawarire. The judgment brought the much-needed relief and an opportunity for Mugabe to once again use the ensuing chaos to his party’s advantage.
But why is Mugabe rushing? The first reason is that Mugabe is old. He can no longer withstand the rigours of a long campaign period. A short campaign period will not expose his frailties to the general public who are increasingly becoming more sceptical about his age, health and his ability to be an effective president. His party does not have an alternative candidate. If his health fails him, Zanu PF is doomed.
Secondly, the possibility of a united front against his party has sent shockwaves into Zanu PF. The recent press conference in which opposition political leaders appeared together must have ruffled Mugabe’s feathers. In response, Mugabe is rushing elections to make sure Tsvangirai and the other opposition leaders have no time to strategically unite.
Lastly, Mugabe and his party associates know that they will never win if elections are free and fair. The only option is therefore to resort to their old tactic of utilising chaos to their advantage. The likely result will be a disputed poll which is likely to lead to another coalition government. That will keep Zanu PF politically relevant, hoping that an alternative, strong and consensus candidate will emerge in the future.
While I sympathise with Tsvangirai’s frustrations regarding Mugabe’s unilateral proclamation, it is however, sad to note that he is playing into Mugabe’s hands. Mugabe and his Zanu PF want Tsvangirai and his party to participate under protest or at the very least, refuse to participate.
That will confuse Tsvangirai supporters who will be left wondering whether to participate in voting or not. Such a scenario will be detrimental to the MDC parties, but an advantage to Zanu PF.
In addition, Tsvangirai’s approach of launching a court challenge is both futile and a waste of time. While it may be a good way of playing to the political gallery, the challenge is sure to fail considering the bench is packed with Mugabe sympathisers who have issued the order for July 31 elections in the first place. One would be unreasonable and naïve to expect the same court to reverse its own decision given the history of our judiciary.
So how should Tsvangirai and the other opposition leaders respond? The answer is simple. They should participate in the elections. Tsvangirai’s efforts to engage and include Sadc in the chaos are welcome, but not a solution.
The MDC parties should know that Sadc came in to help put out a fire on a neighbour’s house, but not take over the home. While the house is burnt, the home still has its rules which must be followed by family members. Some of the rules may not be fair, but must be challenged from within the home. Running to neighbours for help each time there is a problem in the home may be a sign of lack of leadership.
Tsvangirai and the other opposition leaders must work within the legal framework created by the unfortunate and misdirected court ruling.
Instead of wasting time flying from one Sadc country to the next, Tsvangirai should concentrate on launching an extensive and comprehensive political campaign, outlining the vision of his party and reminding voters to vote en masse to thwart any possible rigging which was alleged in previous elections.
But who should be on the MDC-T presidential ticket? There is no doubt that Tsvangirai is the main force behind his party. His persona has appealed to the generality of Zimbabweans and endeared him to voters and party loyalists.
However, the same cannot be said of his deputy, Thokozani Khupe. While the Tsvangirai-Khupe ticket could have generated some enthusiasm in 2008, the situation has since changed and calls for strategic alliances with other possible candidates. In politics there are no permanent friends, neither are there permanent enemies, but only permanent interests.
In that regard, Tsvangirai’s MDC-T should immediately extend an olive branch to MDC leader Welshman Ncube, Mavambo/ Kusile/ Dawn leader Simba Makoni and Zapu chief Dumiso Dabengwa and propose a coalition with them.
While it would have been desirable to have a woman as a vice-presidential candidate, unfortunately, the situation at hand calls for unity with other political leaders who happen to be men. The MDC parties can reserve the Speaker of Parliament position for a woman should they win the elections. Ncube should be invited to stand as the first vice-presidential candidate.
If the rift between Tsvangirai and Ncube is too wide to close, Dabengwa should be an alternative. Either way, Dabengwa or Ncube should stand with Tsvangirai.
Makoni would have been ideal, but he is ruled out by local tribal politics which are difficult to ignore. He should nonetheless be invited to participate as the second presidential candidate.
The forthcoming elections are crucial and an acid test for the political leadership of the country. The idea of not participating is not an option. Mugabe has the legal backing he needed. Tsvangirai and his MDC colleagues should not leave Zanu PF to occupy the political space which came as a result of people’s decade-long suffering.
If Tsvangirai insists on boycotting elections, it may be time for Zimbabweans to start thinking of looking at other alternative leaders. The journey has been long and we hope Tsvangirai and his advisors will not be out-manoeuvred by Mugabe and his Zanu PF again.
Nkiwane can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org