Opposition coalition and risk of divergent interests

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A #Tajamuka/Sesijikile protester holds a placard during a recent demonstration.

A POTPOURRI of opposition political parties, civil society activists, war veterans and the hashtag movement — brought into alliance by a common objective to put an end to President Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian rule — is taking shape in Zimbabwe.

By Tendai Marima

A #Tajamuka/Sesijikile protester holds a placard during a recent demonstration.

A #Tajamuka/Sesijikile protester holds a placard during a recent demonstration.

As the anti-Mugabe chorus grows louder, strategic partnerships are emerging on the political landscape. But the divergent interests and aims of each group could pose serious challenges to the very existence of the alliance.

The state crackdown on citizen protest and the fallout between Mugabe and war veterans, as evidenced by the arrest of activist leaders and senior ex-combatants, has precipitated uncanny solidarity between human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai recently met the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA), Victor Matemadanda, one of the ex-guerilla leaders arrested in July for circulating a communiqué denouncing Mugabe’s leadership. The same communiqué also highlighted that the ex-combatants supported peaceful protests by Zimbabweans, including opposition parties.

Although most war veterans are said to be aligned to the Zanu PF faction backing Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the main MDC-T opposition party says it wants to work with everyone, civil activists and ex-combatants alike, to create a different Zimbabwe from that built by Mugabe.

Despite the well-documented violence unleashed by war veterans on MDC-T supporters in the past 16 years, the opposition party issued a solidarity statement on Monday following Tsvangirai’s meeting with the war veterans.
“The MDC-T is going to forge sustainable and workable alliances with all organisations that cherish the creation of a new Zimbabwe that will abhor autocracy, corruption and dictatorship.

“We are pleased to note that genuine war veterans, with solid and impeccable liberation war credentials, have, of late, openly shown their appreciation and indeed, respect for the role that Tsvangirai and the MDC-T have played over the past 17 years in peacefully and bravely confronting the brutal Zanu PF regime,” said MDC-T spokesperson ObertGutu.

The ZNLWVA has indicated its willingness to work with the opposition despite the glaring ideological and political interests between the two.

However, Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute says although there is a risk in seeking to align players with differing political interests and ideologies, each component of the opposition movement has potential to contribute in challenging the current regime.

“These are disparate groups with their own interests which may not necessarily be anti-Zanu PF, but they all have a problem with Mugabe. If Mnangagwa was to succeed Mugabe tomorrow, both the war vets, who openly challenged Mugabe and those who work in the state security apparatus, would have their man in power, but for many other groups the issue goes far beyond Mugabe,” he said.

“To effectively challenge the regime there is need for division of labour and co-ordinated action among these different protest groups. Each has to play its role in order to confront the nature of the state under Zanu PF.”

The MDC-T has joined 17 other political parties, including former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First, to push for electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 general elections, under the recently formed National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera).

A fortnight ago,Nera called for a march to deliver a petition to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which, however, deteriorated into violence as riot police assaulted and fired teargas at demonstrators. While pro-ZanuPF groups are not currently part of the Nera coalition, Davis Mukushwa, the body’s head of information, says the organisation is open to all groups willing to support electoral reform, regardless of their political affiliation.

More radical groups such as #Tajamuka/Sesijikile have joined Nera’s call for electoral reforms. While such groups have given momentum to the ongoing protests, their militancy and outright calls for Mugabe to be kicked out of office through protests may play intoZanu PF’s hands.

Zanu PF claims the demonstrations are aimed at achieving illegal regime change and has denounced the protestors as agents of violence.

Gugulethu Ncube, an administrator at #Tajamuka, said her organisation would continue demonstrating until Zanu PF is out of power.

Unlike war veterans, who are sympathetic to Mnangagwa, Ncube said her organisation wanted the entire Zanu PF out of power.

“We don’t care whether it is (First Lady)Grace Mugabe or Mnangagwa, our problem is with the Zanu PF regime. A donkey is a donkey, so whether you bring a green donkey or a red donkey, we don’t care; we as #Tajamuka are saying these protests are not going to stop until Zanu PF is out of power,” she said.

Commentators say it remains to be seen whether the nascent opposition coalition can go beyond coalescing around individuals to being united by common values and vision, beyond short-term and expedient political agendas.

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