Former Education Minister David Coltart, who is one of the founding members of the Movement for Democratic Change but joined the Welshman Ncube faction after the 2005 split, today wrote on his facebook page: “What strikes me about South Africa is that their political parties are bigger than their leaders unlike Zimbabwe where individuals dominate.”
Most people would agree with him, but this is not true. Robert Mugabe is not bigger than his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. It is the media and perhaps those outside ZANU-PF who have created that picture and now believe it.
There is no one bigger than the party in ZANU-PF. That is why the party has not split since 1963. Those within the party know that there is no life outside ZANU-PF. That is why they are prepared to suffer what outsiders see as humiliation. Outsiders have, however, tended to misinterpret this and think that Mugabe is supreme. You cannot survive in ZANU-PF without him.
It was the former colonial government that personalised African politics, then detain the leaders thinking that the party would die. They even played up tribalism and regionalism.
Now critics of African governments are playing up the succession game, as if leadership of a party is some form of chieftainship, which has to be passed on. This is a way of throwing people off the ball because while people are busy debating succession someone is making money.
A study by the Solidarity Peace Trust of South Africa by Zimbabwean academic, Brian Raftopoulos, after last year’s elections in which Mugabe won 61 percent of the vote, clearly showed that Mugabe is not bigger than ZANU-PF. In fact, that was one of the reasons why he was defeated by Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of the 2008 presidential elections.
The report, The end of a road: the 2013 elections in Zimbabwe, showed that since the introduction of harmonised elections ZANU-PF legislators have always won more votes than Mugabe.
Mugabe polled 1 079 730 votes in 2008 while his legislators walked away with 1 112 773 votes. Mugabe’s legislators won more votes than Tsvangirai’s and used this to get more seats in the inclusive government cabinet.
Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai leading to cries that his legislators had encouraged their supporters to vote for them and ditch Mugabe- what later became known as bhora musango.
Despite his better-organised campaign in 2013 dubbed bhora mughedhe, Mugabe still won fewer votes, 2 110 434 against 2 142 000 won by members of the lower house.
Tsvangirai, on the other hand has consistently shown that he is bigger than the MDC. The party has never won more seats than him.
It is largely because of his personal popularity that Tsvangirai has been able to defy opposition to his leadership even when he was wrong like in 2005 and what is happening now.
The BIG Man politics, especially when it relates to Mugabe, is myth. Reports even from Western papers like the Washington Post showed that Mugabe wanted to step down when he was beaten by Tsvangirai in 2008, but he was told to stay put. His lieutenants were going to deliver him victory and they did so in 2008, though through unacceptable means, but they changed tact in 2013 and delivered a more credible Mugabe victory.