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Zimbabwe: First impressions of people first

Zimbabwe: First impressions of people first

By
Published: 4 March 2016

ZIMBABWE – Former Vice President Joice Mujuru has finally come out of the cocoon and she addressed her maiden Press conference as the leader of an outfit called Zimbabwe People First, or simply, People First, on Tuesday.

She held her presser at Harare’s Meikles Hotel, which was attended by a lot of individuals and interests from spectators outside the hotel, civic society, diplomats to the media.

In her haul were people that are supposed to form the core of the political party, who are former members of the ruling Zanu-PF party and were either expelled or fell by the wayside in the last couple of years. We shall attempt to profile these individuals. But it was supposed to be a Joice Mujuru show — she was the centre of attraction.

Addressing her first media conference was a significant and symbolic step, perhaps to be dwarfed only by an inaugural congress or some kind of convention which may come in the next few weeks and months. Since her acrimonious ejection from Zanu-PF, the former Zanu-PF second secretary and widow of General Solomon Mujuru had kept her silence, save for an occasional statement or two in the private media and the Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development (BUILD) “manifesto” she published in the same private media in September last year.

In the interim, she was spoken on her behalf largely by Mr Rugare Gumbo, another Zanu-PF ejectee and counterpart, Didymus Mutasa.

It was a fortnight ago when she finally opened up to the pirate radio station Voice of America’s Studio7 and the Sunday Times of the UK (that should be symbolic isn’t, it?) On Tuesday, she addressed local and international media and largely rehashed the BUILD manifesto and talked about investment climate in the country, corruption, civil servants, farm ownership, rejoining the Commonwealth and prospects for a coalition with the other opposition parties.

Many analysts, pundits and students of political science are looking at ways to frame the new party, to understand it and predict the future of Zimbabwe’s politics especially in light of 2018, the election year that is just on the horizon. There are first impressions that People First has made:

Thieves First

We are happy that this is probably the first time this is mentioned, but the reader will now know that the name “People First” may actually have come from Zanu-PF’s resolutions at the 14th Annual People’s Conference, which, discussing the State of the Party, recognised that “… Zanu-PF belongs to the people and, as such, puts the people first . . .”

And never mind about Morgan Tsvangirai’s former aide Maxwell Shumba who claimed to have registered a party in the same name. The coinage is to all intents and purposes Zanu-PF’s and this highlights the extent to which the new party is just but a fake Zanu-PF — perceivably.

This moral burden has weighed on the proponents of People First so much so that at some point they were compelled to label themselves as “the original Zanu-PF”.

It is only fakes that will feel the need to validate themselves as such.

Mujuru was forced to defend her band on Tuesday stating: “Let me now address a certain level of scepticism which is bound to be directed at ZPF by some stakeholders, that scepticism that you were in ZANU-PF for many years, why should we believe that you will transform this country?

“My simple answer is that People First is a new entity with new values and followers from every political party in Zimbabwe including those that have never joined any political party before.”

The truth of the matter is that these are people who were comfortable in Zanu-PF and only left because they were chucked out. The one attribute that these people would like to flaunt, or more specifically sell at this point, is that People First will be a “reformed” Zanu-PF, the desirability or acceptability of which remains dubious.

But many honest people will know that Mujuru is not the best person to talk about rooting out corruption or multiple farm ownership when she is generally described as a corrupt, greedy, deal-cutting individual.

Bitter First, Shona First

That the People First comprises disgruntled, rejected and ejected people from Zanu-PF is a trite point to make.

In fact, Mujuru should have rallied all these people earlier but she kept the silence she is now telling us was strategic as she needed to consult. The truth of the matter is that the people from the districts and provinces that were purged because of her association in the larger plot to unseat President Mugabe looked up to her before, during and after their removal from the party.

What happened on Tuesday was a feeble attempt to raise hopes — if ever people can have faith in her. But the most shocking part of the core team and personae around Mujuru, what appears to be a deliberate move to surround herself with Shona speaking people, or people commonly associated with all other provinces except Midlands and Matabeleland.

The top faces seen at the Press conference include Dzikamai Mavhaire, Rugare Gumbo, Didymus Mutasa, former ambassadors Agrippa Mutambara and John Mvundura, David Butau, Claudius Makova, Retired Major Kudzai Mbudzi, Bright Matonga, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Sylvester Nguni, Jealous Mawarire, Ibbo Mandaza, Elliot Kasu. There you go, that’s the misnomer of People First!

One of too many

It is surprising that some sections of the media announce her holding of a Press conference as a grand entry – the umpteenth time that the phrase has been used, nay abused. If truth be told, this was an ordinary day on the Zimbabwean political scene where parties are formed everyday and at the last count there were over 20 registered political parties in Zimbabwe.

They also break up every day, which is why President Mugabe last week in Masvingo laughed off the prospects of People First, predicting there would be a series of People-something parties.

It remains a clear and present possibility, especially for a group of people that are only joined by bitterness rather than ideology and any organic sentiment and process. Thus Mujuru sounded ever so hollow when she said: “Today is a historic day. Today we present ourselves to you in humility and the humbling comfort of the people’s support. This is a day of great significance in our country’s political history. Today we confirm our existence or the existence of a viable home-grown inclusive political party. It is now public knowledge that the Zimbabwe People First is here.”

Well, not much of a surprise there!

A stuttering start, Rugare’s rumination

Many of those that followed the address will agree that this was not a convincing outing for she who would be President of the Republic. She was a bunch of nerves, stuttering and tripping as she hardly took her eyes off the prepared script.

She failed to distinguish between “gender” and “agenda”. She failed to distinguish between “stipulate” and “stimulate” and she huffed and puffed on. The PF leader had clearly not rehearsed for the show and she was exposed and there is no better way to illustrate that than the anxiety that was registered on the person of Rugare Gumbo, who the cameras caught more than one time with his hands clasped together as if in supplication and prayer.

By the way, Gumbo and Mutasa are the think-tanks of the new party and clearly the anxieties of the former are totally understandable in that context.

The deed had to be done but Mujuru was clearly struggling. Going forward, the political landscape will be interesting – and this is not self contradictory – people will be waiting to see the real politicians in People First, not a bunch of losers brought together by bitterness and seeking to expropriate the glory of their former party. People First is open to going to bed with existing parties in a coalition, which seems to excite some quarters.

If they amount to anything, the better for our democracy.

And if they manage to shake Zanu-PF from its current mindless fratricide, it will be even better!