ZIMBABWE – In the harmonised 2008 general elections, a powerful faction within President Robert Mugabe’s party urged Zanu-PF supporters to vote for the party’s candidates in parliamentary elections and the opposition for the presidency.
The strategy became known as Bhora Musango, literally meaning kicking away the ball or sabotage figuratively. This move, according to the President’s supporters, explains why Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition MDC-T.
The purported leader of this faction was the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru and his wife Joice Mujuru, whose ouster as vice-president last year, according to analysts, was not only a result of vicious power struggles within the former liberation movement, but also punishment for her alleged betrayal.
Zanu-PF hardliners also rounded on her over the strange case of attempting to assassinate the President. But the allegations turned out to be nothing more than some form of a performance art; vague and indeterminate, and probably designed to frighten Mujuru and her allies. Bruised and battered, Mujuru exited the political scene, and retreated to her farm just outside Harare.
Writing about his protagonist Rubashov, in Darkness Noon, Arthur Koestler contends that some of the most productive times in politics are those when one is in forced rests between periods of political activity. Indeed, this self-imposed exile from Zimbabwe’s political landscape seems to have been productive for the former vice- president. Last week, the media published the party blue-print that bears Mujuru’s signature.
Dubbed Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development, and acronymised Build, many view the announcement of the blue-print as a precursor to launching her own political party ahead of 2018 general elections.
Mujuru’s move has been greeted by both a groundswell of excitement and caution. Supporters, even those who have never thought of her as a strategic heavyweight, seem to agree that the document is a well-crafted economic plan that is meant to appeal to voters on the centre ground of politics.
The document outlines policies that appeal to neo-liberal economic enthusiasts, such as the rule of law, property rights and investor-friendly environment. This seemingly right of centre economic thinking is tampered with soft welfarism, making his party a balance of liberal and social democracy.
Those cautious question her ability to survive Zimbabwe’s bruising political landscape. Indeed, the question that is being asked by political commentators is: has she thoroughly done her homework and convinced herself that she has a good shot at unseating Zanu-PF in 2018?
In his monograph, Fire and Ashes, Michael Ignatieff seems to suggest that in politics sometimes you just have to seize your chance, however unpropitious the circumstances; you might never know what might happen.
Now that she seems to have taken Ignatieff’s counsel, Mujuru will need to demonstrate that she is capable of building a true mass movement, and convert it into an electoral market that is capable of seriously challenging Zanu-PF. With Zanu-PF at its weakest following last year’s vicious infighting and purges, and the economy in a dire situation, the circumstances appear right for tapping a powerful national mood that has the potential to produce ground-breaking leadership.
What she brings
What does she bring onto Zimbabwe’s political scene?
Mujuru has a 100% name recognition as well as built-in support base of mostly moderate and disgruntled Zanu-PF supporters. A former vice-president in Mugabe’s government, she also asserts the mantle of authenticity when she speaks of liberation ideals in Zimbabwe. She was a freedom fighter who was married to the first black army chief, General Mujuru. Failure to identify and to be associated with liberation politics and nationalism has been a sticking point for the opposition in Zimbabwe, in particular the MDC formations.
The former vice-president also brings allies from the security sector into the opposition. It is well-known within the political circles that she is close to the police chief, Augustine Chihuri, head of the intelligence, Happyson Bonyongwe and prisons commissioner, Paradzai Zimondi, among others.
Indeed, following purges of Mujuru and her allies from the party and government, many expected these securocrats to be dismissed from their positions. Mujuru will no doubt use these allies to hedge against inevitable attempts to harass or arrest her on whatever allegations.
Chihuri has already reportedly resisted to investigate and arrest his former fellow freedom fighter on corruption allegations made by her political rivals despite pressure from some Zanu-PF stalwarts.
Not only does she have strong security sector connections, she also has allies in the state bureaucracy, as her former office was directly responsible for appointing senior civil servants and allies in Mugabe’s office.
The Build economic strategy was reportedly drafted with the assistance of state bureaucrats.
Ultimately, Mujuru is a woman who was a vice-president to Mugabe for 10 years, and the fact that she is today in the opposition is unprecedented in Zimbabwe’s post-Independence history. As vice-president, she briefed Mugabe on the day-to-day running of the Office of the President and the nation in general. In other words, she has an intimate knowledge of Zanu-PF strengths and weaknesses, its inner workings, psychology and how it manipulates the state machinery to counter the opposition and win elections.
Is she strong?
But can she be a real threat to Zanu-PF?
The answer is, it depends.
Mujuru, just like any other opposition leader in Zimbabwe, is a mortal. We all know what happens when mortals confront an immortal; they always falter. In other words, if she runs against Mugabe — the deus ex machina, sent down in the 1970s to banish the colonialist — she will lose.
Mugabe is the immortal of Zimbabwean politics. The politics and history of Zimbabwean elections dictate that only one person always emerges triumphant.
This explains why a group within Zanu-PF is pushing for the nonegenarian to run in 2018.
He will be 94 years old.
However, if she runs against Saviour Kasukuwere, the young Turk with misplaced ambitions, Zanu-PF will need to prepare for oblivion.
But everything is pointing to a Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa Zanu-PF candidacy for the 2018 elections. Mnangagwa’s grip on everyday running of the government and party policy is tightening and challengers within the party appear to have no strategy to effectively derail his ambitions.
One of the qualities that Mujuru will bring to the 2018 electoral contest is that she is not Mnangagwa.
Given his Cardinal Richelieu reputation, the Vice-President is reviled by the opposition, ethnic Zanu-PF Zezuru voters who have vowed to stop a Karanga presidency (Mnangagwa is Karanga), and misunderstood by die-hard Zanu-PF supporters who identify with the cult image of Mugabe.
Incredibly unpopular, even in his own backyard, having lost twice in parliamentary elections in his hometown of Kwekwe, many view Mugabe’s anointment of Mnangagwa as an example of Zanu-PF’s strategic stuntedness.
Voters in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions, who constitute about 20% of the electoral market, have since stopped listening to Zanu-PF, let alone the man whom they squarely blame for the death of thousands of ethnic Ndebeles in what has been called Gukurahundi. Mnangagwa’s association with Gukurahundi is an unshakable public perception that has immolated his already damaged reputation.
Indeed, in relation to Zimbabwe’s post-Iindependence politics, nothing dominates ethnic Ndebeles more than Gukurahundi. To make matters worse, with his arch revisionist politics, Mnangagwa has attempted to dismiss Gukurahundi, a move that has been regarded as unpardonable by this voter constituency. Mujuru’s camp plans to marshal this hatred as a powerful political tool against him.
Mnangagwa’s biggest weakness is that he has no aptitude for political showmanship and the artistic sensibility of Mugabe’s rhetoric, which the nonagenarian has used as stock among die-hard Zanu-PF supporters and to attract the admiration of regional leaders who have always been quick to endorse his “election victories”.
However, this does not mean that Mnangagwa is blind to the fact that he is difficult to sell. The Vice-President is very much aware that he is unelectable. Then, despite being viewed unfavourably, where then does he get the confidence to run for the presidency? Two issues immediately come to mind. Firstly, Mnangagwa, will attempt to use the tried and tested method of manipulating the electoral outcome. Secondly, he hopes to use Zanu-PF incumbency and state machinery, including the state security, to rescue him in the event of massive loss.
Mujuru plus opposition
Realistically, Mujuru stands a better chance if she creates a grand coalition with the opposition. This will allow her to tap into the opposition’s voter market, while maintaining her core base of moderate and disgruntled Zanu-PF supporters. She is also likely to attract Zanu-PF supporters who detest the politics of Mnangagwa and those who still harbour warm feelings for her husband. As a Zezuru, she will attract Zanu-PF voters prepared to derail a Karanga from taking the top job.
Mujuru has always had a good relationship with the opposition, including when she was vice-president in the coalition government. Not only did she advocate the Bhora Musango strategy — voting for the opposition in presidential elections and Zanu-PF in the parliamentary elections — she is reported to have harboured the idea of trying to impeach Mugabe before with the help of the opposition’s vote in parliament.
If Mujuru decides to combine forces with the opposition against Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe will be faced with a situation that is wholly without precedent in the nation’s post-Independence history. An incredibly unpopular Zanu-PF candidate, against a popular establishment candidate who has combined forces with the opposition. This will provide the best opportunity yet for the opposition to topple Zanu-PF.
Mujuru’s entry will undoubtedly change Zanu-PF’s conduct. Indeed, the state media has already gone into overdrive trying to project her as electorally weak. Hardliners in Mugabe’s party have already fired salvos to intimidate Mujuru.
“I am very sure, we have a very long way before the next election and those of us like the PC (political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere) here and others are at work and just watch the space and see what that work is going to be,” said Jonathan Moyo, who is Higher Education minister.
Mugabe himself reacted to Mujuru’s move this week.
On the other hand, very much aware of the potential upset that Mujuru’s entry into the political foray might pose, it would not be a surprise if Zanu-PF attempts to lure her back. The question is, does she have the fortitude to say no? It depends with what she is offered.
If she is offered a position that she could use as a springboard to take over the top job at some point in the future, she might seriously consider it.
Any chance for real change?
Zimbabweans’ longing for change runs very deep. Many voters find it hard to imagine or take a Mnangagwa presidency and without Mugabe’s leadership, even some of the most die-hard Zanu-PF voters should be considered slippery and their commitment to the ruling party fickle.
In other words, the right question that Mujuru and allies should be asking themselves is not whether Mnangagwa will lose the election or not? He lost internal and national elections before. However, that does not mean that he might not be president. The right question should be, what will she do if he steals the election?
Tinhu is a Zimbabwean political analyst based in London.