The proliferation of political which kicked off with a national character but have degenerated into regional, tribal and other small cliques has solidified the fragile unity within the ruling ZANU-PF making it difficult for any existing parties to pose a formidable challenge to unseat it unless they change their present outlook.
Instead of taking advantage of the shaky and dwindling support for the ruling party, the lack of coherent direction, tact, set policies and, at times, true sense of purpose, among the opposition parties has turned ZANU-PF into a stronger party that is now more of a coalition of various regional groupings which, noticing the potential threat from viable opposition, have vowed to “swim or sink together.”
The ruling party, which had been rigid and dogmatic in the first 10 years, is now displaying a remarkable capability to adjust and it would appear that with just a few changes especially in its old guard which most people feel has outlived its usefulness, it could be well another new party that will be difficult to unseat.
While support for the ruling party has been declining, it appears the electorate has still not found a viable alternative. This was amply demonstrated in the recent by-elections which although marked by low voter turnouts were dominated by the ruling party to such an extent that all opposition candidates lost their deposits. Even though there has been accusations that the ruling party used food as bait, the wide margin with which it won seems to suggest that people would rather stay with the devil they know.
In Mberengwa, in the Midlands, the ruling party candidate, Byron Hove, polled 8 380 votes against the Democratic Party candidate’s 184 and the Zimbabwe Aristocrat candidate’s 270 while in Chirumanzu, also in the Midlands, the Democratic Party candidate polled 207 votes, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) candidate 183, the ZANU (Ndonga) candidate 307 and the ruling party candidate 7231.
A similar pattern was repeated in Mount Darwin, in Mashonaland Central and Makonde, in Mashonaland West, where by-elections were also won by the ruling party. In Mount Darwin the ZANU-PF candidate Younus Patel who made history by becoming the first non-black to be elected in a rural constituency polled 8 848 votes. The Democratic Party only managed to secure 73 votes in Makonde, ZANU (Ndonga) 1279, ZUM 270 and ZANU-PF polled 5 637 votes.
While ZUM in 1990 provided a formidable challenge in most areas and even won a seat in a rural constituency, the performance of all contesting opposition parties in the by-elections was dismal. Even if one was to add up their votes, as some people are arguing that the only way out for opposition parties is to gang up to avoid splitting the vote, this still falls far short of what the ruling party polled.
ZUM seems to have lost its credibility since the party split up last year amid allegations that party leader, Edgar Tekere, was treating the organisation as his personal property. Although he denied this, the party has lost most of its original members including forceful Patrick Kombayi who commands considerable support in Gweru, and Professor Masipula Sithole who even won a council seat on the party ticket.
The greatest blow to Tekere came from one of his right hand men, Victor Bango, who had once castigated those criticising Tekere as opportunists trying to take over the leadership of the party through the back door. He too resigned from the party citing the same reasons he had castigated those who had left the party for.
“Tekere believes it is his right to rule and never be ruled, order and never be ordered, advise and never be advised. Anyone who expresses an opinion different from his eliminated” said Bango. “I am a political animal who is realistic and have consulted with Ndabaningi Sithole whose ideas are not rusty as the public has been made to believe by Tekere” he went on.
Tekere, once a charismatic orator and outspoken critic of corruption even within the ruling party when he was still its number two man, seems to have degenerated into a bitter man bent on waffling and this has cost him his credibility as a leader. At times one wonders why he calls press conferences at all as it appears he will only be making a fool of himself.
Perhaps the very fact that he formed the first viable opposition to ZANU-PF at a time when almost everyone thought this impossible got into his head and he seems to think everyone else who tries to form another party is stealing ideas from him.
With the decline of ZUM and the gusto with which Ndabaningi Sithole’s return from exile was hyped and the coverage he was accorded on his return, one would have believed that ZANU (Ndonga) would present a formidable challenge to the ruling party, more or less taking over from the dissipated ZUM. But the party seems to be playing second fiddle to ZUM and even to the ZUM offspring the Democratic Party.
In the recent by-elections, ZANU (Ndonga) only managed to get more votes than the other two parties in Chirumanzu, but was beaten by the Democratic Party in Mount Darwin and by ZUM in Makonde West.
While a lot of people had been expecting change on Sithole’s return with the party even coining ESAP (for Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) into Edzai Sithole Apa Paramba (Try Sithole because others have failed), it appeared that although Sithole had lived in the United states, the self-acclaimed leader of the democratic world, he had not changed an iota in his years of exile. He brought with him unrealistic ideas which, even the peasant he believed would swallow them, refused to accept and even ridiculed.
Sithole also seems to have misread the political situation in the county and may have been misled to believe he had support by the fact that his party won a seat in his home constituency of Chipinge in 1990 but this could have been simply a protest by the people of the area against the ruling party as they were being harassed ostensibly for supporting the Mozambican rebel movement, Renamo, since they have relatives across the border who were fleeing to join them for safety.
It would appear that despite being labelled a champion of human rights, people have not forgotten the dictatorial tendencies Sithole demonstrated during his tenure in office during the transitional government of Muzorewa-Smith and Chirau – 1978-79 when he ordered his troops to massacre people in Gokwe and elsewhere as he sought to wrestle support from Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council.
The UANC itself remains a party in name only with Bishop Muzorewa having quit politics. Supposedly led by Edward Mazaiwana now the party has been so silent it now resembles its long-standing ally, Mark Muchabaiwa’s National Democratic Union (NDU) which only seems to come alive when there are elections or by-elections.
While several new political parties have sprung up the most active seems to be the Democratic Party. It has so far contested council elections and national by-elections and argues that it is still building up support as it takes years to build up a credible political party.
A splinter group from ZUM, the party seems to have potential and a few dedicated leaders but it appears to lack a forceful and credible leader as Emmanuel Magoche is not impressive and seems to be imitating Tekere in his better days. Moreover, it failed to attract former ZUM heavyweights like Kombayi and Masipula Sithole.
It has, however, performed much better than other new opposition parties like the so-called Monomutapa People’s Alliance , the National Progressive Alliance, the Zimbabwe Aristocrats, the African National Party of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe People’s Democratic Party.
Unlike the Democratic Party which has a known leadership and a national as well as provincial structure, not a single member or leader of the Monomotapa People’s Alliance, which is reported to be operating from New York, is known . This is despite reports that the organisation claims to have offices in eight countries and produces a newsletter that it sends out to academics. Funnily enough the organisation seems to be seeking to encourage exiled Zimbabweans to return home while it is based outside for no known reasons.
The organisation also reportedly seeks an end to ZANU-PF rule, free elections, a new democratic constitution, full free enterprise, reduction of taxes to 20 percent, reduction of civil service, free press and television and requires that ZANU-PF pays back $500 million it allegedly stole with the help of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
The National Progressive Alliance claims to have been in existence since 1985. It claims to have a central committee of 85 members and there are some vacancies that will be filled to bring the number up to 150. But the only known member is party leader, Canciwell Nziramasanga, a former ZIPRA detachment commander who is both president and secretary general.
Apart from advocating for a free enterprise system Nziramasanga seems to be seeking to be allowed to bring in money given by friends in Germany, Australia, the United States, Britain and South Africa.
In the same boat with the NPA is the Zimbabwe Aristocrats. Nothing is known about the party or who leads it except that if fielded a candidate, Choble Musarira Ruzengwe, in the Mberengwa West by-elections in May.
The African National Party of Zimbabwe seems to be another one-man band. Led by Egypt Dzinemunenzva of Wedza, who claims to have been a member of the United African National Council before, the party is reported to have been formed on October 15 last year and reportedly has 24 000 members although there is no register of members.
Equally unknown but rather unique is the Zimbabwe People’s Democratic Party. It is the only party led by a women, Isabel Pasalk, a Bulawayo businesswoman, and claims to have been formed in 1989 to fight against a one-party state. It only came into prominence in April when its members, mostly women, demonstrated in Bulawayo against shortages and prices of essential commodities.
The party was formally launched in May but the party leader failed to pitch up at the launching ceremony. Elton Muchemwa, who said he was the party’s publicity secretary, said it had kept a low profile because it wanted to build up membership which he claimed now stood at 40 000.
Besides these small parties there have been reports that a number of politicians who fell by the wayside now want to come back. These included James Chikerema who reportedly wants to start a party targeted at the Zezuru, Michael Mawema a Karanga-dominated party, and Enos Nkala and Callistus Ndlovu, a Ndebele party. But it would appear these will be still-borne parties if sentiments expressed in a letter in The Sunday News, are an indication of what people think about former politicians trying to make a come back.
“We refuse out of choice to support anything that includes “born again” communist Enos Nkala and Callistus Ndlovu,” Bhekimpilo Daniel Koka and Gibson Ndlovu wrote.
“Nkala’s creating of a Gwanda kingdom is still fresh in our minds. He did nothing to stop Gukurahundi (Five Brigade) harassing the very people he now needs whose blessings. It was through him that the government legitimised fraud by overruling the court, setting him free…….
“As for the Glamour Boy of politics, Callistus Ndlovu, we regard him as a cowboy who seeks cheap publicity. Does he still remember that in the 1985 general elections he referred to Plumtree residents as ‘banababahayi’ (children of paupers) and told them ZAPU was a dead donkey, which meant that its supporters were dead. Have they resurrected? … Callistus and Enos, over our dead bodies. We don’t want old wine in new bottles.”
This seems to be the common feeling about people who have been in politics before. This seems to be one the handicaps that will inhibit the recently formed Forum for Democratic Reform Trust. People are skeptical about the presence of people who have already been associated with existing political parties. It would appear therefore that people want a new party with a clean leadership not “born again politicians.”
This lack of coherent opposition has played well into the hands of the ruling ZANU-PF which at one time had become so fragmented that some people thought a split was imminent.
The ruling party, sources say, is effectively split into regional groups mainly of Zezuru, Karanga, Ndebele and Manyika. It is, however, the Karanga group that is feared most because of its numbers and also because it can easily gang up with the Ndebele. The Karanga group can easily boast support from Masvingo and Midlands Provinces and has such popular leaders like Eddison Zvobgo, Simon Muzenda (who also plays the fatherly figure that prevents a split along regional lines) and Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Though presently thought to have been largely marginalised after being swallowed by the ruling ZANU-PF, the former ZAPU still has a significant role to play mostly as a matchmaker. There have been reports of South-South Cooperation which would see the Karanga team up with the Ndebeles who control the two Matebeleland provinces. Joshua Nkomo, himself, is known to be a close friend of Eddison Zvobgo and people like Sidney Malunga, who has built up considerable support on his own, are known to be for the idea which would make this probably the most powerful coalition that can block the Zezuru-dominated leadership.
The only group that seems to be cushioned from inter-tribal or regional squabbles are the Manyika who the Zezuru feel they should align with and even appear to be over-represented in the government.
Sources say, however, the greatest threat to ZANU-PF is within the Zezuru group. While at face value they command a larger geographical area covering the three provinces of Mashonaland, and appear to be united, there have been some cracks. Fears that their days are numbered have effectively split the group into three.
One group, known as the Chaminuka group, emphasises the pureness of the Zezuru and does not tolerate anyone of foreign origin especially those of Malawian descent or Karangas who are the number one enemy as some of them are now claiming to be Zezuru. This group is led by small fry mostly Harare city councillors and former councillors.
The other group is called the Chitungwiza faction and is more accommodating. It is prepared to accept anyone personally considering himself herself as Zezuru and includes more mature politicians like Witness Mangwende, Forbes Magadu etc.
The third group comprises people like President Mugabe himself, Nathan Shamuyarira, David Karimanzira and Sydney Sekeramayi who would like to see things remain as they are.
These divisions are, however, more of power blocks within the ruling party and have effectively taken over from the once powerful committee of 26 that used to map the direction the county should go. The various divisions have therefore agreed to “swim or sink together” to avoid a split as each group is now able to power broke for more favourable concessions.