HomeCommentWhy Mnangagwa candidacy would be good for opposition

Why Mnangagwa candidacy would be good for opposition

For probably one of the most politically-charged towns in the country, on the surface, Mt Darwin seems very unassuming. Scenery-wise, there isn’t much to see, or talk about. As you drive from Bindura town, one is confronted by the unsightly sight of low-lying hills, of mostly granite rock. Indeed, Mt Darwin is not exactly a contender for the “World’s Most Scenic Town” prize.

Simukai Tinhu,Political analyst

Surrounding the hills is sparse Savannah-type vegetation, which have been ravaged by rural residents, as they scavenge firewood to cure tobacco, and for energy.

But what Mt Darwin lacks in scenery, it compensates for, with its people. Vibrancy, in terms of social, and business activity, is not off-mark a description of this area. The business structures themselves are more pristine, urbane, and the finishing, should I dare say, “unrural” than most towns that I have visited. Mt Darwin, and its surroundings, has produced some of the most powerful men and women in Zimbabwean politics; former vice-president Joice Mujuru, Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, and the former minister of State Security, Nicholas Goche among many. Prosperity tend to follow power, so they say.

On my way to Mt Darwin, from Harare, to see a relative, I was very much aware that this interesting area is a Zanu PF stronghold. So, I decided to do my own little social survey.

Safety is the watchword when embarking on such a harzadous exercise in Zimbabwe. I had to be innovative. I gave a lift to a couple going to Bindura from Harare, and then another from the Mashonaland Central Province capital. These other two disembarked in Mt Darwin. The following day, I repeated the same on my way back to Bindura. From Bindura, to the capital, this time, three “respondents” sought transport to Harare. The total number of my respondents was nine and lets just say my sampling was random, of some sort. I should also point out that it doesn’t need saying that this sample is no way representative.

As I drove, the chat with the “respondents” was lively. Inevitably, and on my part, deliberately, the discussions strayed into succession politics. My primary interest was to gauge the respondents’ views on the electibility of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who by hook or crook could be Zimbabwe’s next president. Lets say the research question was; Would you vote for Emmerson Mnangagwa if he succeeds Mugabe?

Interestingly, and purely by coincidence all of the commuters were Zanu PF supporters. Out of the nine people that I gave the lift, four said that they did not like him, and they would vote for Mujuru’s Zim PF. It was, of course, not a surprise, former vice-president Mujuru hails from the province. The other five, also expressed their dislike, but stated that when they vote in 2018, they will be voting for the ruling party, and not for the vice-president, hoping that another candidate within Zanu PF would emerge soon afterwards as his replacement. In other words, if this sample was representative, 44,4% of Zanu PF voters would decidely vote for another presidential candidate because of their distaste for Mnangagwa. Just over 55% would vote for Zanu PF, not Mnangagwa. If such a scenario develops towards 2018, it will complicate the vice-president’s ambitions as it is enormously difficult to see any path for a Zanu PF candidate in any presidential election that doesn’t involve supporters from Mt Darwin.

From this little survey, which captures a widely shared view about Mnangagwa — that he is unpopular, it is incontestable to suggest that what will happen in Zanu PF if he takes over the former liberation movement party, is that he might be in full control of the party, but with unhappy people.

Jeff Greenfeld, a US political analyst, said that a politial party is “an organisation searching for the person who best embodies” their preferences. But in the case of Mnangagwa, it looks like he is not likeable and unpopular. But as he steams ahead with his ambitions, the Midlands Godfather is determined to impose himself as party leader no matter what the rank and file might say, or think.

Is the matter settled now?

Mnangagwa’s nemesis, Generation 40 (G40), has gone silent. President Robert Mugabe seems to have been beaten back by the vice-president’s franchises, in particular the army and the war veterans. Buoyed by these developments, Mnangagwa’s supporters seem to have concluded that he is now the heir to the presidency throne.

But, not so fast. Though there is a real possibility that Mnangagwa might take over from Mugabe, it’s not over until its over. His enemies are waiting to launch an attack when an opportunity presents itself. In other words, G40 might have put away their knives for now, but there is no doubt that they are keeping them sharp.

Urban workers

The outcome of my little survey is not exactly a surprise. Indeed, many Zanu PF supporters aknowledge that Mnangagwa is difficult to sell. And it seems his advisors are struggling with how best to position such an incredibly unpopular politician, on the nation’s political landscape. Adressing huge crowds appear to be part of a new strategy to sell him. But, picking the first day of the month of May might not have been the most brilliant of ideas. Organised by the state, with freebies of food and other items such as T-shirts, it looks like the crowd decided not to turn up on learning that it was Mnangagwa who was gracing the Workers’ Day celebrations. The vice-president addressed, literally, an empty stadium; a definitive cold shoulder by voters, including those from his party. Even his enemies pitied the luckless loner.

Ethnic Vote

It was the politics of the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, when she and her supporters chanted “Zezurus unconquerable!” and vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko’s utterances that being a Karanga does not immediately mean that one is entitled to take over the presidency after Mugabe. Such behaviour by the First Lady and Mphoko’s statements spawned some ethnic Karangas’ sympathy for Mnangagwa, particularly at elite level.

This is dangerous politics for Mnangagwa, not in the sense that it might lead to ethnic violence. No, but because such politics might unite all other ethnic groups against his candidacy. To make matters worse, Mnangagwa has not done himself any favours as he has not denounced ethnic politics by some of his supporters.

Despite the fact that the Karangas are a minority, a deep slate of this ethnic group, particularly in the Zaka, Gutu, and Bikita areas, and the areas that surround Masvingo metropolitian area, for example, Zimuto and Morgenster, do not necessarily consider him as a Karanga. Indeed, he is only considered Karanga because Zvishavane-Mberengwa area in the Midlands province borders Masvingo region. The areas alluded to above constitute the heavily populated areas of the Karangas, as compared to the southern parts of the regions where he is popular, for example, Chivi, Zvishavane and Mberengwa. Thus, banking on the Karanga ethnic vote, which is not only divided, but also comparatively very small, is precarious. Indeed, many might decide to vote for Tsvangirai who is also Karanga. Some analysts argue that the vote that Morgan Tsvangirai got in 2008 in Masvingo province, by taking all of the Bikita constituencie, for example, and the Masvingo town constituencies, was because of ethnicity. If this is repeated in 2018, it will leave Mnangagwa will a small fraction of the Karanga vote.

Not even a single vote

David Coltart, a legislative member of the opposition MDC claims in his autobiography that Mnangagwa, who was then minister of state security in the 1980s, made remarks that might have been responsible for inciting violence against ethnic Ndebeles. Indeed, Mnangagwa has long been considered to be the chief architect of the atrocities. Thousands died. Alongside the atrocities, Mnangagwa also murdered his own brand among voters in the south of the country.

To ethnic Ndebeles and other minority groups in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions, Coltart’s book is not only a bad reading as it reminds them of an unpleasant chapter in their history, but it also reinforces what they perceived to be Mnangagwa’s likely presidency. As a mentee of Mugabe, they have seen him as a violence mongering tool of Mugabe. Indeed, many see violence and potentially further marginalisation of Ndebeles as his ruling paradigm.

This group is conditioned to see him as bad for them, hence he should not waste his time and resources trying to win their allegiance. Indeed, Mnangagwa should not expect a single vote of the ethnic Ndebeles who constitute about 21% of the electoral market. To make matters worse it doesnt look like this is a voter constituency that concerns Mnangagwa. His utterances recently, in which he attempted not only to deny his involvement, but also suggest that Gukurahundi is a closed chapter does not help.It will be interesting to establish precisley what political price this behaviour, and his inextricable link to Gukurahundi will exact in 2018, if he does become the Zanu PF candidate.

Urban vote

Very alternative, “The Unpluggled” is a very urbane mini music festival. An equivalent of England’s Glastonbury, I suppose, but without the mud, celebrities, and Pink Floyd gracing the stage. There is no fixed venue, adding to its mystery and appeal. On Sundays, it shifts from one place to the other, mostly within the confines of Harare’s Western surbubs. The crowd there is very much different to that in other MDC strongholds of Mbare or Mufakose. Its also very international. As a result, the language of communication is inevitably English, withslightly corrupted versions of the British and American accents. Of course, here and there, your ears might get entertained to a Fiona Bruce, or Ben Goldsmith accent types, immediately betraying the private British education background of the voice’s possessor.

The sense of dress resembles the one you see doned by the hippie communities, or alternative cultures in London, or in New York. Men’s shorts, and shirts are colourful. The fashionable Ricky Rossian, or should I say variations of Mumford and sons’ Ted Dwane beard, complete the contemporary look. The ladies seem to favour summery floral dresses.

But the economic situation is biting. It reflects on the quality of these revellers’ immitation of the Western lifestyle — clothes in particular.

One would have thought that Mnangagwa’s messages such as “We cannot do without the West” or “We need youngsters with technical skills in government,” would appeal directly to these young revellers. Four of my friends’ companions joined us at one of the recent events in Borrowdale Brooke. All studied abroad, two have been searching for jobs for several months and the other two are luck to have internships with an international NGO. They intend to leave the country at the slightest opportunity. They also tell me that they are frantically making applications for masters courses, internships and jobs abroad.

“But things might improve soon!”

“Why?”, asked one of them, clearly shocked at my optimism.

“Well it looks like Mnangagwa whom many say is business-minded might take over soon. Even the British have said that he is a man they can do business with.”

Two of them, apparently friends, walk away, not ashamed to hide their disgust at my suggestion. Equally freaked out, the other two quickly changed the subject, and started talking about food. A very comfortable subject to discuss indeed.

This constituency, which is very elite, has some money and connections abroad, does not want anything to do with the ruling party, let alone the vice-president. This group is anti-establishment by inclination, and its values cannot be reconciled with those of the liberation movement. Indeed, this is a no go area for a man who cannot persuade his own party voters that he is the right man to take Zimbabwe forward.

What then is Mnangagwa’s constituency?

None. The vice-president does not have a voter constituency. But, though he doesn’t have voters, he has an important non-voting constituency; the military, which explains why he is not rattled by non-attendance at his rallies or other political gatherings. He understands that in Zimbabwean politics, popularity does not add up to real political gains. There are other far more important factors that needs to be factored in inorder to ascend to power. Having the military on your side is part of that winning formular.

The Midlands Godfather might not have attracted crowds to Rufaro, or Masvingo stadium last year.

He doesnt care, because he understands that the world is littered with unpopular leaders who have gone on to become presidents, or prime ministers. In other words, it would be foolish to write him off despite his unpopularity.

Tinhu is a Zimbabwean political analyst based London.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading