Opposition in disarray but Tsvangirai still offers the best hope


Zimbabwe’s opposition, which came on with a bang in 2000 raising hopes that it could wrestle power from President Robert Mugabe who has literally run the country down, is fast crumbling at a time when most people believed Mugabe’s administration was at its weakest.

The split in the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has sparked speculation that it was engineered by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) because though ZANU-PF won a two-thirds majority in the March Parliamentary elections and another landslide in the November senate elections, Mugabe has totally failed to turn around the country’s fortunes.

Unemployment is now estimated at 80 percent. Most of the people among the 20 percent that are employed are poor. The average wage is $5 million a month yet the Central Statistics Office put the poverty datum line for December at $17.3 million for a family of five, or Z$3.5 million per person.

Inflation stood at 585.8 percent in December less than 40 percentage points from the peak of 624 percent reached in January 2004.

Though the opposition performed dismally in the March 2005 parliamentary elections, winning only 41 seats out of 120, down from 57 in 2000, most people still hoped that it would fair better in the 2008 presidential elections.

Most people, including those in the ruling party, are now fed up with Mugabe because the country’s economy can never be turned around as long as he is at the helm. But Mugabe’s lieutenants are too scared to challenge the octogenarian who turns 82 next month.

The opposition, therefore, still offers the greatest hope but some people began to question Morgan Tsvangirai’s leadership skills after the March elections. This opened doors for ZANU-PF infiltration.

Two theories abound. The first is that the MDC was infiltrated by the Solomon Mujuru camp in ZANU-PF because it wants to pave the way for his wife Joyce. The Mujuru camp regards the MDC as the most powerful South-South bloc that can thwart Joyce’s ascendancy to power as they can gang up with those from the South in ZANU-PF who also feel that it’s time power shifted from the Zezuru/Korekore in the North to the Karanga who constitute the majority in the South.

Though ZANU-PF claims to be a non-racial party that is against tribalism and other isms, Mugabe’s lieutenants are worried about the way he has surrounded himself with either people from the North or his close relatives.

More importantly, they were upset by the way he bulldozed Joyce Mujuru to the post of vice-President, usurping the party constitution in the process, despite several pronouncements that he was not grooming a successor.

The only way for the Mujuru faction to destroy the MDC was therefore to discredit Tsvangirai. It almost succeeded when members of the MDC from the Matabeleland provinces decided to contest the senate elections which Tsvangirai had said the party should boycott.

The pro-senate faction of the MDC argued that though it was against the idea of the senate itself it was contesting the elections because it did not want to surrender its territory to ZANU-PF.

This backfired. The faction won only seven out of the 50 contested seats – five in Bulawayo and two in Matabeleland North. They fielded 26 candidates.

The other theory is that the split was fuelled by the former Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) faction within the ruling ZANU-PF which is led by Dumiso Dabengwa.

The theory is that Dabengwa, who lost in the senate elections, is pushing for the ZAPU faction to take over the presidency in 2008 because ZANU-PF has had its turn. It has held the presidency since the unity accord of 1987.

According to this theory, MDC members from Matabeleland were merely seconded to the MDC to test the ground. Anyone who stands against Mugabe in Matabeleland wins. So they are now returning home to create a new front that will push for the old ZAPU interests.

Analysts however argue that while such a front could win votes in Matabeleland, it will never make it at national level. Even the old ZAPU was not able to extend its territory beyond the Midlands, and more precisely the Ndebele speaking areas of the Midlands.

Theories aside, the reality is that right now, the split within the MDC is final. Gibson Sibanda, who leads the pro-senate faction though he is greatly overshadowed by Welshman Ncube, the party’s secretary-general, has declared himself party leader. He also seems to have conceded the original MDC to Tsvangirai as he says his faction is known as the Pro-Democracy MDC.

The two factions say they will hold their national congresses in February and March to select new leaders but this is now largely a non-event as lines have already been drawn as to who supports who.

The Sibanda group seems to have an upper hand in terms of parliamentary representation. It has 24 MPs mostly from Matabeleland and the Midlands while Tsvangirai’s has 17 MPs. But Tsvangirai’s faction has 22 members from the national executive committee while Sibanda’s has 16.

Tsvangirai has national chairman Isaac Matongo, powerful youth chairman Nelson Chamisa, women’s leader Lucia Matibenga, respected lawyer Tendai Biti, activist Sekai Holland and economic advisor Eddie Cross. He also has the support of the majority of trade union leaders including those from Matabeleland such as Thokozani Khupe, an MP.

Sibanda has people mostly from Matabeleland such as secretary general Welshman Ncube, treasurer Fletcher Dulini-Ncube and party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi. The only high profile exception is deputy secretary general Gift Chimanikire.

On paper Sibanda’s faction looks stronger than Tsvangirai’s. It has four out of the six top officers while Tsvangirai’s has only two. It has control of the party finances as it has all the signatories, but this is also a weakness because it is the faction that gets funds disbursed by the government under the Political Finance Act.

Last year the MDC was allocated just over $3 billion and this year it should get close to $7 billion. This makes it easier for Tsvangirai to argue that the faction is funded by ZANU-PF.

To make matters worse some of the people long suspected to have connections to the intelligence service are in this faction.

Tsvangirai’s faction looks weaker but it has support of the powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) as well as most civic bodies including the National Constitutional Assembly which masterminded the “No-vote” in the 2000 referendum which inflicted the only defeat ZANU-PF has suffered in 26 years.

Most of the non-governmental organisations grouped under the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition were opposed to the senate elections because they were a waste of taxpayer’s money and were only meant to reward Mugabe’s cronies who had lost in the March parliamentary elections. They are therefore behind Tsvangirai. Even the diplomatic corps are now reported to be backing Tsvangirai.

Political analysts say despite his weaknesses, Tsvangirai still has the support of the people, even in Matabeleland because they listened to his boycott call. They argue that, whatever people might want to believe, politics in Zimbabwe is personality based.

You can’t talk about ZANU-PF without talking about Mugabe, ZAPU without Joshua Nkomo, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement without Edgar Tekere, United African National Council without Abel Muzorewa, ZANU-Ndonga without Ndabaningi Sithole, and MDC without Tsvangirai.

There are other forces at play but the MDC remains the strongest opposition at the moment and Tsvangirai is the tramp card. He may have his weaknesses but he is the only person that can stand up against Mugabe. Gibson Sibanda is too soft to lead a party. Ncube has the brains but he just doesn’t have what it takes to be a politician.

Former ZANU-PF Masvingo provincial chairman Daniel Shumba, expelled from the party after the Tsholotsho meeting of 2004 that sought to block Joyce Mujuru’s appointment as vice-President, is thinking of launching a party called the United People’s Party but it is not likely to have any following outside Masvingo. The best it can do is take away a little support from ZANU-PF in that province.

Jonathan Moyo’s United People’s Movement seems to have failed to take off. The only other known member of the party besides Jonathan Moyo is Pearson Mbalekwa, a former intelligence officer who was at one time a Member of Parliament.

Its biggest dilemma is that its support base is the same as that of the Sibanda faction of the MDC. The two cannot co-exist. Only the party that is seen to have the backing of former ZAPU but without direct links with disgraced leaders like Dabengwa or John Nkomo, who are regarded as sell-outs, will win the day.

Though Moyo is reported to have the backing of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who still harbours presidential ambitions despite being demoted at the 2004 congress, observers say Mnangagwa will fight his battle within the ruling party. He will not join any other party. Talk of any “rainbow-coalition”, observers say, is just that.

There are smaller parties like ZANU-Ndonga, the Zimbabwe Youth Alliance and the Multi-Racial Open Party (Christian Democrats) but they are more of one-man bands that surface just before national elections and disappear soon after.

The only other powerful force is the ZCTU but the government is trying to crush it. The government is currently investigating the labour body for alleged mismanagement. The investigation is likely to backfire. It has already been brushed off by workers as a witch-hunt, a way of trying to destroy Tsvangirai’s support base.

The split of the MDC is viewed in some circles as a blessing in disguise for Tsvangirai. Some people believe that a streamlined MDC with more focus on workers has a better chance of upsetting Mugabe.

The original MDC, a coalition of various forces, they argue, was ineffective because it was serving too many interests including those of business and academics which were at odds with those of workers.

ZCTU secretary-general Wellington Chibhebhe and president Lovemore Matombo are fully behind Tsvangirai. Though the labour movement itself has been infiltrated by the ruling party, only four key trade union leaders are opposed to Chibhebhe and Matombo.

These are Nicholas Mazarura of the Construction and Allied Workers Union, Edmund Ruzive of the Mineworkers Union, Langton Mugeji of the Leather, Shoe and Allied Workers Union, and Farai Makanda of the Transport Workers Union.

Though they are grabbing headlines in the state-controlled media, which is fanning divisions in the MDC, they have virtually no impact at all. They are known dissidents within the labour movement because they have been against the ZCTU leadership since the days of Tsvangirai. The ZCTU has 36 affiliates.

The four are being used by the government because its own Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions has failed to make an impact. The ZFTU is not recognised by the International Labour Organisation and is not even involved in the tripartite negotiating forum that takes in government, employers and labour.

The ZFTU seems to have died when vice-president Joseph Chinotimba, the self-proclaimed chief of farm invasions, had his wings clipped following his participation in the abortive Tsholotsho meeting of 2004.

Chinotimba was the principal driver of the union though Alfred Makwarimba fronted as its president. Its biggest problem was that it never developed any structures or affiliates.

With economic survival uppermost on people’s minds, only someone who promises genuine change and has the support of the West will win the day. That person could even come from ZANU-PF as people believe that the West is not against ZANU-PF but against Mugabe as a person.

Though he is known to be in contention, Mnangagwa is playing his cards tight. His biggest foe, Solomon Mujuru, is on full throttle. He is reported to be behind the purge of all those who stand in his wife’s way. He has also gone into the media and now reportedly controls the Daily Mirror which sacked founder Ibbo Mandaza.

Joyce Mujuru, who is currently acting President, has already indicated that she is ready to takeover. The news, broadcast on radio and television and reported in the major dailies, would have been treasonous in the past. But the fact that she seems to have got away with it indicates that she may have the backing of Mugabe.

But political observers say the vast difference between the stories that appeared in the two-government controlled dailies probably indicates that she was merely testing the ground. One paper was more sympathetic to her camp while the other was merely trying to show that this was not the official line.

Whatever the case, the question still remains: Is the nation ready for a female president? Is ZANU-PF ready for a new leader? Is the party ready to be led by a woman?

Posted- 23 January 2006


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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