Zimbabwe’s political landscape has hardly changed over the past two years. The country still has the same three key political party players, though a fourth has entered into the fray. Within the political players the movers and shakers are largely still the same except for the Movement for Democratic Change-Mutambara faction where the vice-President Gibson Sibanda died. But Sibanda was no longer a major political player. He was only being accommodated to save face.
The Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front continues to be the key player calling the shots although on paper it is less popular than the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai. It seems to have gained the ground it lost after the 2008 elections and continues to be regarded as the ruling party, something that could work in its favour in any coming elections. Even the bad publicity the party sometimes receives works in its favour because it keeps the party in the limelight and perpetuates the impression that it is the key player in Zimbabwe politics and that is why everyone should watch it. The so-called squabbles and succession disputes within the party only add to the drama further attracting attention away from the Movement for Democratic Change.
The Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai continues to be viewed as the main opposition though Morgan Tsvangirai is the country’s Prime Minister. Despite being in government for two years, the party seems to have failed to assert itself and continues to play second fiddle to ZANU-PF. The media, especially the so-called independent media could be its worst enemy because it continues to portray the party and its leaders as victims rather than victors. This is bad for perceptions as politics is all about how the people perceive you. The recent portrayal of Tsvangirai as flawed and indecisive, though a personal opinion of former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell could have done irreparable damage to the party.
The Movement for Democratic Change-Mutambara continues to be grossly underrated. The party has literally been written off with Mutambara’s own survival largely believed to be dependent on the life of the inclusive government. He has just a few days to know his fate within the party. There have been reports that Welshman Ncube is preparing to take over. But his recent portrayal as a deeply divisive and destructive player might make him think twice.
The new player hanging in the shadows is the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Led by Dumiso Dabengwa, for years touted as Joshua Nkomo’s logical successor, the party has failed to attract any heavyweights from the past. But this should not be taken seriously because the people of Matebeleland seem to have an uncanny liking for ZAPU. They have always been against Mugabe. They thought Tsvangirai could be the answer but with Dabengwa back on the scene, Tsvangirai could be history. There have always been grumblings that he did not reward Matebeleland adequately for delivering him the 2008 elections. The revival of ZAPU could also see the demise of MDC-M, especially in view of the squabbles that already riddle the party. All its seats are in Matebeleland.
Though former Zimbabwe African People’s Revolutionary Army fighters have been opposed to Dabengwa and the ZAPU clique that wanted to pull out of the unity agreement because they felt that ZAPU would be reduced to a regional rather than national party, Dabengwa is likely to retain the Matebeleland constituency. People are that short-sighted. As long as he portrays ZAPU as a national party, he can win the vote. There is no room for secessionist politics in Zimbabwe no matter how high sounding that might appear.
In the MDC-T Tsvangirai continues to be a powerful player. The party is even allowing him to stand at the next congress though the party constitution allowed him only two terms which should have ended in 2009. There is still a feeling that the party cannot do without him – a dangerous perception that seems to pervade all political parties in Zimbabwe. But it is increasingly becoming doubtful that he can ever rise to President. The longer elections are delayed, the more ZANU-PF will entrench itself.
Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the party, remains another key player and is Tsvangirai’s number two. He is however at times seen as being too ambitious and too keen to take over from Tsvangirai. There is also a feeling that he is too close to some ZANU-PF players.
Elton Mangoma remains another key player and is regarded as one of Tsvangirai’s key advisors. But there is a strong feeling that he has been too close to Solomon Mujuru and might in fact be Mujuru’s inside man in the MDC.
Roy Bennett continues to play a key role in the party as its finance man, but it is increasingly becoming clear that there is no way he will make it into Zimbabwe’s mainline politics unless the MDC wins an outright victory in the next elections and forms a government on its own. ZANU-PF will continue to harp on his Rhodesian past.
Speaker of Parliament and party national chairman, Lovemore Moyo, is another key player but it is not clear whether he will still have a constituency at home with the rebirth of ZAPU. The same applies to Gorden Moyo. He was brought in to represent the interests of civic society but his demotion from Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and the failure by the donor countries to bail out the country could be his demise. He could also be victim to the rebirth of ZAPU as he represented the militant youths from the old ZAPU.
Former youth leader and powerhouse Nelson Chamisa seems to be fizzling out. It is not clear whether he still enjoys his power base but he is the neutraliser of Biti’s ambitions.
Thokozani Khupe has served her term. There were already ramblings as early as 2009 that come elections “Khupe haalumi”.
The major player in Zimbabwe politics remains Robert Mugabe, who turns 87 next month. He continues to hold ZANU-PF together, steering the party ahead, or at least that’s the impression the party wants to portray. Calls for him to step down because he is now a political liability have been going on for nearly 20 years but he has weathered the storm and outlived all his opponents.
With an ageing leadership, there are basically two other players in ZANU-PF- Solomon Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mujuru is a darling of the media and controls both the state and so-called independent media which continues to portray him as a kingmaker, not ambitious to take over himself but preparing the ground for someone who can take care of his business interests, either his wife or someone else.
His adversary, Mnangagwa, is always shown by the media to be on the losing side. But he is a skilful player, a true student of his mentor Robert Mugabe. He keeps his cards to himself and has been particularly cautious after the formation of the MDC which robbed him of his powerful Kwekwe urban seat.
Contrary to what the media is saying Mnangagwa seems to be the one calling the shots in ZANU-PF rather than Mujuru. Sources say Mujuru is just hanging on to save face. ZANU-PF is a closely knit political party that believes in keeping the enemy close. Mujuru lost the battle when he tried to unseat Mugabe in 2006 and then sponsored a special congress at which he again tried to unseat Mugabe and promote Simba Makoni. But he was exposed by Mnangagwa. Mujuru’s problem, insiders say, is that he is being accused of being too close to former “Rhodesians”. That doesn’t gel with Mugabe. Mnangagwa on the other hand seems to have formed a formidable alliance with Sidney Sekeramayi, himself once one of the main contenders for presidential throne, and Jonathan Moyo.
Though Mugabe at one time described Moyo as stubborn, everyone knows that he is a brilliant lobbyist even admired by the United States which at the same time hates him for his guts. Whispers say Moyo was specifically readmitted to ZANU-PF, something that is very rare, to spearhead the next election campaign. Reports that are difficult to confirm say Jonathan Moyo was the mastermind behind the MDC’s 2008 campaign especially the popular slogan “Morgan is More” and therefore knows how to neutralise the party in the next elections. He may have other skeletons under his sleeve.
The unique thing about ZANU-PF, however, is that when it comes to elections players forget their differences and gang up against the common enemy. The so-called factions disappear and only resurface after the party has won.
To most people Mutambara is dead and buried. But he does not seem to feel that way. He boasted that he was the only one who could tell Mugabe to “shut up” and no one, so far, has challenged that.
Dabengwa is going to hang onto the name ZAPU and it is likely to carry him through.
Elections or no elections 2011 is going to be an exciting year for Zimbabwe.