ZIMBABWE – The People First project fronted by deposed Zanu-PF Second Secretary and former State Vice President Joice Mujuru has hogged the limelight in some sections of the media.
Several articles in newspapers have been dedicated to issues around the People First (PF) outfit as those stung by Zanu-PF electoral dominance search for a political party that might give the ruling party a run for its money.
Apart from the 2008 elections in which Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC-T, got 47 percent of the presidential vote, three percent shy of winning the poll resulting in a rerun and the 2000 polls following the formation of the united MDC in September 1999, the opposition has failed to produce an earthquake on the political stage.
Analysts have blamed these electoral losses on the failure by the opposition, particularly the MDC-T, to connect with the liberation war and nationalism narrative, something which they say Zanu-PF on the other hand has been a master of.
This loss of confidence in the opposition is the one which has led to some sections of the media to project PF as a viable alternative to Zanu-PF even though there is no tangible evidence on the ground of the disgraced former VP’s popularity, virtually reducing her to a “paper tiger”.
Mujuru alongside former Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo and former ruling party Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa were ejected from the political organisation on allegations they plotted to remove their principal then, President Mugabe, from power.
However, a year after the purge of Mujuru and her inner cabal, the grouping is yet to transform itself into a fully fledged party with membership on the ground, a situation that has led many to question its seriousness given that elections are pencilled for 2018.
Unlike other politicians, Mujuru has not addressed rallies, something which PF spokesperson, Gumbo, says it’s the group’s strategy of a “bee hive” where a worker is mobilised to protect the queen bee.
But Gumbo’s explanation has not convinced even some who have been critical of Zanu-PF as they smell an air of opportunism around the People First project whose acronym is PF more-like PF of Zanu-PF.
Such characters contend that even after issuing a statement purporting to “apologise” to the “nation” for having been part of what Mujuru now describes as a “ruinous leadership” that she accuses of presiding over the “destruction of the economy”, she is not genuine but merely shedding “crocodile tears”.
Mujuru was part of Government, holding various portfolios since Independence until her sacking a year ago.
During that stint she superintended various areas including water resources development and infrastructural development — areas which are subject of her criticism — which she now surprisingly blames her erstwhile colleagues for failing to develop.
Small wonder, Mujuru’s critics in the opposition do not see the former freedom fighter whose nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa translated into English, “Spill Blood” as a “Knight in Shining Armour” or rather the fairytale Cinderella of the opposition in Zimbabwe.
Some say Mujuru does not deserve their sympathy as she did not show any courage as she did not leave Zanu-PF so as to detach herself from what she now calls the “ruinous leadership” but instead waited to be embarrassingly given marching orders even when it had become clear her political career in the ruling party was under the guillotine.
As a result of her forced removal from Zanu-PF, Mujuru has been trying to wax lyrical from the opposition hymn book but her tunes are full of ironies to the extent of sounding discordant.
The New Year Message by Mujuru is crafted in traditional opposition parlance, but coming from her it becomes virtually meaningless. Take her comments on the telecommunications sector in her New Year Message.
“We should encourage and build on the healthy competition emerging in the telecoms sector, without stifling this with crude State participation, other than a regulator of the common good,” reads part of the statement by Mujuru — a former Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications.
The statement is pregnant with irony coming from Mujuru if we wind back to her stance when the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo instructed her as Information Post and Telecommunications Minister to grant Econet a licence for establishing a mobile phone network.
She was hell bent not to allow such a thing to happen, breathing fire and brimstone to the extent of going as far as insulting Nkomo — one of the founding fathers of the nation — as “senile” something which most people thought was taboo and no patriotic Zimbabwean would countenance doing in the post 1987 Unity Accord era.
Her message for 2016 also raised issues on corruption as Mujuru tried to re-invent herself as a crusader against corruption.
She went on about “plenty of poverty on the majority of our people, which is a result of a corrupt political leadership without focus on the well being of the people”.
Juxtapose that statement with the one she made as Acting President crucifying the media about publishing scandals — which have become known as “Salary Gate” in which some top executives like former PSMAS chief executive officer Cuthbert Dube were getting obscene salaries of as much as $500 000 per month much to the chagrin of the majority of Zimbabweans who view corruption as a cancer eating the fabric of society.
“Iyi nyaya yatiri kutaura iyi yehuori hwema-parastatals muchenjere kuti ndeimwe nzira yaunzwa nevanhu vari kuda kupwanya nyika ino iyi (Watch out for this probe into parastatals, it is another way of destroying our nation),” she told women attending a Zanu-PF meeting in Mashonaland West then.
She went on to insinuate the probe was a ploy to destroy Zanu-PF from within. Her sentiments sparked outrage with the MDC-T demanding that she resigns from her post as Vice President for seemingly condoning corruption and expressing anger over President Mugabe’s drive to deal with this ill that was becoming cancerous.
But a political analyst and academic, Professor Nhamo Mhiripiri was quick to point out that just saying as a political formation you will stamp out corruption as did Mujuru in her recent New Year statement “is not enough”.
“What politician will not say that?” he asked rhetorically.
Prof Mhiripiri said even the blueprint that PF has crafted under the name BUILD (Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development) like other such documents might just be left to gather dust or have a better use as “paper for rolling tobacco in rural areas”.
In an article on Bulawayo 24, another political observer, Livingstone Masamba whose comments were couched in strong anti-Zanu-PF language played on the PF policy whose acronym is BUILD to rubbish Mujuru as being no saviour of the opposition.
Prof Mhiripiri suggests that if Mujuru is not able to unite the opposition under one umbrella, she will not be able to dislodge Zanu-PF from power.
“Looking at the spectrum of opposition politics, you see that the opposition have to come together if it is to remove Zanu-PF from power but then personality politics and ideological differences make it difficult for such a coalition,” he adds.
Although MDC-T and People First are part of Nera which is the National Electoral Reform Agenda that is as far as it goes for now.
In fact, a story in NewsDay on Wednesday suggested there was panic in the MDC-T camp over Mujuru’s entry into opposition politics but MDC-T secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora scoffed at it.
“We know there is a section of the Press which is working hard to posit MDC-T as a party in decline because that section of the Press has its preferred candidate,” he told Sunday News on Wednesday.
“None of our members have defected to other opposition parties including People First.
“The people who you see being paraded are those who left our party to join the People’s Democratic Party.”
Mwonzora said there was no talk at the moment of a coalition with other political parties.
“We are not yet talking of a coalition or electoral pact yet,” he said.
“We have merely converged for electoral reforms. Unless Tsvangirai is incapacitated or dead we have resolved to field him as our candidate in the 2018 elections. There are absolutely no talks of a coalition or electoral pact.”
Mwonzora says although MDC-T does not consider People First as an “enemy” it does not “fear” it as being suggested in some sections of the media.
“We have absolutely no fear of any opposition party or government. We are, however, working with other parties including People First on the issue of electoral reforms only but our candidate for the 2018 elections remains Tsvangirai.”
Zanu-PF also says it is not perturbed by developments surrounding Mujuru. Zanu-PF spokesman, Cde Simon Khaya Moyo told Sunday News that he was unnerved by the People First project.
“What party are you talking about?’’ he asked.
“The People what? We have not heard of any official announcement of the launch of that party if at all it is a party. Why should I worry about something that is not there? I can’t waste my time commenting about what is not there.”
In the past, members of Zanu-PF who have either left or got expelled from the ruling party have failed to dislodge the political organisation from power or have serious impact on the political scene in general.
Margaret Dongo, who was suspended in 1995 after she went against her party — Zanu-PF — and successfully stood as an independent in Harare South Parliamentary constituency polls formed her party — the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats — which turned out to be just a damp squib on the political landscape in the country.
Another Zanu-PF member Daniel Shumba, who was the provincial chairperson for Masvingo, who was expelled after he formed his People’s Party also failed to establish PP as a viable opposition party that posed a threat to Zanu-PF. Shumba had been suspended by Zanu-PF for his links with the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration in 2006.
He, however, gave up on his People’s Party project and was readmitted into Zanu-PF in 2012.
The only political outfit formed by a former Zanu-PF member to have some semblance of an impact was the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn coalition fronted by Dr Simba Makoni who stood as a presidential candidate in 2008 polls and managed to get eight percent of the vote.
Nonetheless, some analysts believe the Mujuru People First project might suffer the same jinx as other ruling party rebels of failing to stamp their name in opposition circles or worse still suffer a stillbirth.