FORMER vice-president Joice Mujuru “came and saw” but it is highly unlikely that her rather muted political message “conquered” the thousands that thronged the 5 000-seater Stanley Square to hear her address her maiden rally in Bulawayo’s Makokoba suburb.
By Herbert Moyo
Saturday was meant to be the day on which it all came together for Mujuru and even the weather appeared to recognise the auspicious nature of the event. The wintry chill gave way to a warm welcoming vitality that is usually associated with summer.
Party officials co-ordinated by former energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire played their part by distributing a reported 4 000 t-shirts with a smiling Mujuru emblazoned across, turning Stanley Square into a sea of white.
And when she finally arrived to a thunderous welcome — an hour later than the scheduled time of 12 midday — it appeared the stage had been set for an electrifying delivery from the liberation struggle icon and politician who had unfinished business in the province. She had a tainted reputation after her reported slur on the late former vice-president Joshua Nkomo in 1997.
“Mina ngingu ma Ndlovu (I am of the Ndlovu totem),” were the first words Mujuru uttered, in a move that was clearly calculated at establishing a connection with the province’s Ndebele-speaking people.
“We have to face the task of uniting the Zimbabwean family. There are a lot of people with a lot of problems. Some are old people who can’t acquire national identity documents. We have to work on such issues and this is part of what made us come to Bulawayo for our first rally.”
The other and perhaps more important reason for the choice of Bulawayo was the pressing need to address the long-standing issue in which Mujuru reportedly denigrated Nkomo who had backed businessman Strive Masiyiwa’s bid for a licence to launch Econet Wireless in 1997. Mujuru then Information, Posts and Telecommunications minister disregarded Nkomo and reportedly described him as senile and hence incapable of rational judgement before handing out the licence to Telecel.
“A lot has been said about me denigrating Father Zimbabwe (Joshua Nkomo). Media is good, but sometimes the media over-exaggerates things. To me Father Zimbabwe was my father… That is why I decided to talk about it because for a long time you have been hoodwinked and I want to say sorry about that misleading silence,” she said.
Indeed, Mujuru said all the right things but shied away from any explicit mention of Mugabe and any of the controversial issues that people from the Matabeleland provinces have complained about. These include marginalisation and deliberate underdevelopment under Zanu PF rule.
Instead, she merely contented herself by alluding to the 1980s Gukurahundi massacres where 20 000 civilians from the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces lost their lives at the hands of the Fifth Brigade, deployed by government ostensibly to deal with dissidents who numbered less than 120.
The closest she came to mentioning Gukurahundi was by way of a reference to its effects which resulted in among other things the failure by hordes of people to acquire national identity documents thus losing out on education and other initiatives which could have improved their lives.
“On the balance of it, hers was a good move to finally come out of political hibernation,” observed Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist and academic, adding “now she’s in the ring fighting. The gloves are off.”
However, as Masunungure also noted, Zimbabwean politics is a messy cesspool which has so far not allowed room for any of the niceties and decorum that Mujuru has projected ever since her entry into the trenches of opposition politics.
“The suspicion is that she still has one leg in Zanu PF and she appears hesitant to come out and attack Mugabe and Zanu PF. This may mean that she wants a more sober and less confrontational approach to politics. While this may be morally justifiable, it is not the kind of approach that would win her support in the polarised environment of Zimbabwean politics,” said Masunungure.
“In Matabeleland and elsewhere in the country the public would not be sold to her message which was a muted attack on Mugabe and Zanu PF. They would want an opposition politician who displays a more fervent and even more emotional attack on Zanu PF.”
The more fervent and emotional attack is something that Tsvangirai has excelled in since the MDC was formed in 1999.
Had it been Tsvangirai, whose MDC-T party have made Bulawayo their stomping ground by winning the parliamentary seats in all constituencies in the 2013 elections, he would have probably performed the “Mugabe mudenga” (lift Mugabe high in the air) slogan. And the delighted audience would have vociferously responded by chanting, “roverapasi” (smash him onto the ground). Tsvangirai has also ingratiated himself in the past by not only explicitly condemning Gukurahundi, but also promising justice and compensation for its victims.
Even Tsvangirai’s erstwhile colleague and former Makokoba legislator Gorden Moyo, now secretary general of the Tendai Biti-led People’s Democratic Party, who graced the rally, used animal imagery in describing Mugabe. He said Mugabe was a hyena before praising Mujuru for leaving Zanu PF.
“This is a courageous woman who has to be saluted for disembarking from the hyena,” said Moyo.
But Mujuru is made of different and more cultured stuff and she came across as one who sought to inaugurate a new era of clean politics shorn of the highly vituperative and confrontational approach where the public delights in the pejoratives politicians use to denigrate their opponents.
If Mujuru cannot learn from Tsvangirai’s copybook on how to win support as an opposition politician, she might as well learn from Simba Makoni how not to operate in the opposition terrain. In 2008, Makoni fervently insisted that he was still a Zanu PF member while plotting his candidature in the presidential elections.
“I plan to continue my functions as a member of the party until I am excluded by the due (disciplinary) process,” Makoni said in a media briefing, dismissing reports that he had been fired from Zanu PF.
Observers believe that it was that cautious approach which cost him a lot of support as he ultimately garnered 8,3% in the March election which Mugabe won after a bloody presidential election runoff.
Mujuru should take a clear stand or the suspicion will remain that she still has one leg in Zanu PF.