It has no name and has not even been formed yet, but the new party which will have the backing of the powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has sparked so much debate that political commentators are already saying it will provide the biggest challenge so far to the ruling ZANU-PF.
Even the pro-government Sunday Mail while castigating the ZCTU leadership for allegedly turning the labour movement into a political party, admitted that “the planned new party is receiving accolades than any other opposition party that currently exists.” And the paper rightly says “the advantage (of) this party is that it comes at a time when Zimbabwe is facing its most difficult economic problems (since) independence.”
Thrust back into the limelight are ZCTU secretary-general Morgan Tsvangirai and the labour movement’s president Gibson Sibanda, who are the most visible leaders from the labour movement. But while some analysts say the new party will be still-born because there are no other known personalities apart from Tsvangirai and Sibanda, Tsvangirai says the formation of a new party has so far been speculation because all the ZCTU announced was a resolution passed by the Working People’s Convention which met from February 26 to 28. The convention comprised the ZCTU and 30 other civic groups.
The resolution passed by the convention was that for any meaningful change in the country’s social and economic climate a vigorous alternative political movement for change must be established. No one was mandated to spearhead the formation of this party but the ZCTU and other organisations would have to facilitate the formation of this party.
That Tsvangirai and Sibanda will be at the forefront of the new party is a foregone conclusion.
The ZCTU general council is expected to meet and pass a resolution which will call for an early congress so that Tsvangirai and Sibanda can leave the labour movement and go into politics. This will also ensure that there is continuity within the ZCTU.
But according to sources, this will be a formidable task because everyone now seems to want to jump onto the political bandwagon. Obviously, it will be difficult to accommodate all aspiring candidates as the plan is to form a broad-based party, which though spearheaded by the former trade union leaders, will try to cater for the various interest groups.
For one thing, the ZCTU is quite aware that if it goes it alone, it is likely to command only 20 percent of the electorate, the urban voters. A survey it carried out after its highly successful two-day stay- away in March last year, clearly indicated that if the ZCTU was to be more effective it had to include the rural workers and peasants who are the political stronghold of the ruling ZANU- PF.
Obviously Tsvangirai and Sibanda must have studied this document thoroughly. They have already implemented some of its recommendations in the job-stay-aways that followed. And prior to the February 26-28 convention, they carried out pre-convention consultations in 20 towns around the country involving over 400 participants drawn from ZCTU district structures, structures set up by under the World Bank-funded Structural Adjustment Programme Review Initiative(SAPRI), the Public Service Commission, The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, the police, Central Intelligence Organisation, the Informal Sector Association, several non-governmental organisations and residents associations.
The consultations looked at health, education, living conditions, most vulnerable groups, employment, incomes, investment, commodity prices, economic policies, the right to vote, land, party politics, parliament, the constitution and governance. Participants discussed what was the actual situation, what is wrong with that situation and what should be the way forward on each of these topics.
The consultations were summed up in a 39-page document that was presented to the convention.
Now having been given the go ahead to facilitate the formation of a political movement, it looks Tsvangirai is likely to take the lead role with Sibanda playing the moderating role of keeping Tsvangirai in check.
Though currently president of the ZCTU Sibanda is the moderating influence on Tsvangirai who some say has a habit of shooting his mouth. And after 11-years at the helm of the ZCTU, Tsvangirai also feels it is time to move on.
There are no more challenges in the ZCTU. And he is under a lot of pressure from workers and donors to move into politics in the hope that this could seriously challenge President Mugabe’s government which has dismally failed to run the country since the economic collapse which began in November 1997.
Some companies, in their surprisingly good results just released, have even said that they do not believe Mugabe’s government is capable of turning around the country’s economy which is expected to be no better than 1998, a year described by most as one of the worst in the country’s post-independence history.
Tsvangirai also believes that he is ready to lead the nation. “I have led the labour movement for more than 10 years, so I have no problem with leading a nation,” he says but quickly adds: “And it’s not as if I will be leading alone.”
Having worked for the labour movement which is run on collective responsibility Tsvangirai says he is likely to adopt the same method if elected leader of the nation. He says he will only want to be a leader if three things are guaranteed: that the government is all inclusive, that decisions are made through collective effort and there is national integration.
“I think the next political dispensation must try by all means to set up a government of national unity so that people are not concentrating on in-fighting but on resolving the current crisis,” he says.
“There is need to look at people’s capabilities even if they are not members of your party because what you have to do is exploit to the maximum national talent that is available.”
He also says collective responsibility will encourage collective ownership of decisions. “You don’t have to decide things on your own. This way you avoid conflict and contradictions among your own members. National integration will bring the country back together because right now,” he says: “We are divided not only along racial lines but also along ethnic lines. There is so much emphasis on regionalism and even villageism that people don’t feel the national integrity.”
He says there is too much emphasis on loyalty than patriotism and this is destructive. Though popular with the crowds, some critics have said Tsvangirai cannot lead the nation because of his education. He only has 0-Level.
But Tsvangirai says: “I don’t know whether you can put education into politics because if that were the yardstick, then we (Zimbabwe)would be the best led country in the world, with the best run economy, the best run government, and the most respectable government because Mugabe has seven degrees, so it is not a basis.”
He argues that education gives one certain additional skills but it does not create leadership qualities in someone. “Leadership has nothing to do with education. Otherwise people like Hitler would not have led Germany with his standard two. Roy Welensky would not have led the (Central African) Federation (of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) with his standard four. People like Chaka and Lobengula would not have been leaders.”
But with the country heading for the 21st century, people might argue that things have changed from the 19th century, the 1930s and the late 1950s. Those who argue that Tsvangirai makes a good leader, say he is a self-educated person who practically understands the key issues. And as Tsvangirai himself says, he does not have to lead alone.
One thing up his sleeve though is that he has a constituency which is what most existing opposition parties lack. One of the greatest strengths of the proposed party is that it will be coming at a time when workers are hard hit.
The dollar has halved its valued over the past year meaning that workers needed at least a 100 percent salary increase to remain at the same level they were in January last year. The most they got was 65 percent including the 20 percent cost of living adjustment which the government agreed to in December.
And with the escalating prices of basic commodities despite the price controls being enforced by the government, ever- escalating inflation which is expected to be above 40 percent for the first half of this year, a party that seeks to promote workers rights will have an added appeal. So while the proposed party will have only two visible leaders, Tsvangirai and Sibanda, this is more than one can say about the existing political parties.
In most cases, it is only the party leader that is visible, and in some, even the leader is a virtual unknown.
A survey of political parties that have been active in the past six months shows that Zimbabwe has at least 16 political parties. Top of the list is the ruling ZANU-PF which has been in power since 1980 and has all but two of the seats in the 150-member Parliament. Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole’s ZANU(Ndonga) has one seat, and Margaret Dongo’s recently formed Zimbabwe Union of Democrats also has one seat.
While Dongo’s party, only formed at the end of last year, attracted some attention, it has fizzled out. Dongo herself, once believed to be a serious presidential contender seems to have lost favour largely because of her gallivanting in and out of the country.
It is believed some of her lieutenants could desert her for the new party to be backed by the labour movement.
There is also the old guard. Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United Parties where the bishop is now the only visible person but is now a political spent force. The same applies to Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement.
Only Tekere remains visible but he too seems to have lost touch just like his former boss Robert Mugabe. There have been claims that Tekere never left ZANU-PF, but was let go to give the world an impression that Zimbabwe was a democratic country where an opposition could seriously challenge the ruling party.
Some of these claims have been made by Dongo, herself a former ZANU-PF member and freedom fighter. The Democratic Party led by Wurayayi Zembe has also been in existence for a long period since the group led by Emmanuel Magoche split from Tekere.
But though Zembe was once regarded as one of the political firebrands, he does not seem to have a back-up team. The same applies to the National Democratic Union which has been in existence since the 1970s and is led by Mark Muchabaiwa.
The party is more of a political joke, only surfacing at elections and was at one time accused of getting money from the farming and business community under false pretences. Also making a lot of noise but little else is the Zimbabwe Congress Party of Kenneth Mano a former ZAPU member.
Of late there have been a number of parties from Matebeleland trying to capitalise on the atrocities of the 1980s and lack of development in the region. These include the Federal Party of Zimbabwe led by little known Richard Ncube.
The party was founded by influential Chief Kayisa Ndiweni, a respected traditional leader from the Khumalo ( pure Ndebele) clan but he seems to have stepped out of politics. The party seeks a federal government in which the different ethnic groups would be ruling themselves.
Also on the bandwagon are the Liberal Party of Zimbabwe and ZAPU 2 000. The Liberal Party of Zimbabwe is led by Canaan Moyo who is resident in London and its support base is in South Africa where most of the disgruntled former ZAPU members fled during the purge on dissidents .
Moyo’s only link to fame is that he is related to former war hero Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, who like former ZANU chairman Herbert Chitepo, was assassinated in Zambia. Inside Zimbabwe, all it has managed to make is a bit of noise.
Like ZAPU 2000, its rallies have failed to attract more than 500 people in Bulawayo which was Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU’s stronghold. ZAPU 2000 does not seem to have a clear leader but names that constantly crop up include Elliot Dube a former Bulawayo city councillor who was at one time elected deputy mayor but he was elected on a ZANU-PF ticket and Cont. Mhlanga a playwright who worked with Amakhosi Productions, a theatre group based in Bulawayo.
There are already two parties that claim to be representing workers and apparently both parties are called the Zimbabwe Labour Party, one was formed two years ago and is led by Alois Machokoto.
Machokoto just took advantage of the popularity of the labour movement but was never actively involved in labour issues. In fact, he pre-empted the ZCTU in a way by grabbing a logical name for their party.
The other labour party is headed by David Matanganyidze who made headlines by allegedly swindling investors of more than $20 million through a company he formed called Access To Capital which is now under liquidation. Matanganyidze once fled to the United States but came back to the country and is facing criminal charges in connection with the fraud.
He formed his party last month. Another party that has come onto the scene lately is called the Zimbabwe Integrated Programme (ZIP) and is led by Professor Heneri Dzinotyiwei who started the organisation as an NGO aimed at promoting development projects in the country. Dzinotyiwei is a math professor at the University of Zimbabwe as well as a businessman.
Other parties in the fray include the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe, an off-shoot of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia Front. The party is now led by Gerald Smith. There is also the Front for Popular Democracy which is led by Austin Chakaodza, once a respected professor and ZANU-PF supporter, and brother of Herald editor and former Director of Information Bornwell Chakaodza, and the Zimbabwe People’s Democratic Party, led by Isabel Madangure, the only other party apart from ZUD, led by a woman.
Other little known parties include the National Progressive Alliance led by Canciwell Nziramasanga who has been in trouble with the law on several occasions, the Zimbabwe People’s Convention which was formed last year amid great expectations but failed to make the mark. The party is led by former student leader Obey Mudzingwa.
While Tsvangirai has a lot in his favour, he has one weakness. Although he says he will try to exploit national talent, he has been known to do the opposite at the ZCTU.
While he employed a number of qualified technocrats in the labour movement in the early 1990s most left because of frustration leaving him with people who were regarded as his cronies . He managed to keep one though, Godfrey Kanyenze, an economist who also does work for such auspicious organisations like the World Bank and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung as a consultant. It is largely through Kanyenze’s efforts that the ZCTU has been able to present credible arguments on structural adjustment, the structural adjustment programme review initiative and its key role in the tripartite negotiating forum and the national consultative forum.
Perhaps, having seen his fortunes almost tumble within the labour movement until economic hardships forced the labour movement to take action in November 1997, Tsvangirai has learnt his lesson. After all, he still has youth to his advantage.
At only 47, going on to 48 next year, and 50 when the next presidential elections are held, he will still be only 60 if he wins the elections and serves two five-year terms.
Besides, there is always a pool of willing defectors from ZANU-PF which of late has seen most of the defectors standing as independent candidates after the party’s primary elections. There has always been speculation, dating back to 1997, that Tsvangirai may be linked to some disgruntled politicians within ZANU-PF.
Though they have been doing so clandestinely, they could abandon ship if they feel it is sinking. But some critics argue that it is not just a change of government that the country needs.
It needs a strong, viable opposition, which can keep the government of the day in check. A change of government per se without an effective opposition will just see the new leadership turn into another regime of dictators.