Mutambara brings a new, welcome impetus to opposition movement
Dr Alex Magaisa
That is hardly surprising given the profile of the man and his history in the critical and opposition movement in Zimbabwe. Mutambara already has a place in the history of post-independent Zimbabwe – having participated as President of the University of Zimbabwe Students’ Union at the germination stage of the opposition movement in the late 1980s.
Alongside cadres at the university and the likes of Tsvangirai at the ZCTU, Mutambara led the initial critical challenges against the regime at a time when Zanu PF was intent on establishing a one-party state. But then Mutambara seemed to have disappeared from the political scene, having gone on to pursue higher education in which he has emerged with sound achievements and impeccable credentials.
It was in recognition of his academic prowess and potential as a future leader that he earned the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. In that respect he is in rarified company as many world leaders past and present have followed a similar route. Here is a man who had been exceptional in and out of the lecture room, so he pursued the academic dream and in the process, has earned key skills beyond the laboratory which can now be fully deployed for Zimbabwe’s cause.
More significantly, Mutambara’s entry brings a new, welcome impetus in the opposition movement and governance of the country in general. For months now the opposition movement has appeared to lose force and focus. They appeared to get tired and die of thirst as the palm trees appeared on the horizon. The movement has needed fresh impetus; something of a renewal in order to pursue the much-needed change. People appeared to be disillusioned by the repeated failures to achieve political power and consequent squabbling in the opposition party. They were withdrawing into their shells, away from politics.
The interest generated by news of Mutambara’s entry suggests that there is a good chance people who were otherwise turning away could be brought back into the fold. There was a tendency, which is evidenced by some critical voices against Mutambara, to denigrate new players in the party, to call them disparagingly as Mafikizolo, regardless of the fresh ideas and impetus they could give to the party. The incorporation of Mutambara shows a certain level of maturity and tact that a few months ago may have been missing. Now people in and out of the country with an interest t play leading roles, can look with confidence at the avenues that are available. Mutambara’s entry pens that route, which can only be good for Zimbabwe seeing the talent that abounds everywhere.
But therein lies a big challenge for Mutambara – there are very high expectations and in some cases doubt among the people The people who know Mutambara and those who have heard of his exploits have grand expectactions. The people who are out there are wondering whether he can speak their language, whether he can provide the voice. Who is he? He has been away, does he understand our problems? These are inevitable questions he will be facing in the next few days and weeks. Mutambara has the task of ensuring that he strikes a chord with the people. In order to survive in the desert, you have to understand the language of the desert. If you fail that test, the desert will bury you. Mutambara needs to speak the language of the people and that requires an understanding of the circumstances of the people at this stage. But we must trust Mutambara’s judgment – and hope that he is bright enough to do the right thing. We can only hope that when he first speaks, he does so in a language that people identify with and in a manner that demonstrates that despite his physical absence he has not forgotten the language of the suffering in his homeland.
In any event, the view that he has been outside and therefore incapable of understanding and dealing with the political challenges is weak because it ignores the social, intellectual and political capital that he has gained during that time. As those in the Diaspora may testify, observing and participating from outside will have given him a chance to reflect on the challenges and learn from others how to deal with the problems. Mutambara will have networked and interacted at high levels, all of which will be immensely helpful to the country in time to come. Additionally, evidence suggests that contrary to the perception among some, Mutambara has been a key participant in business and politics in Zimbabwe albeit at levels less prominent to the common observer. From time to time he addressed the Zimbabwean business community and interacted with the civil society movement. This may not have exposed him to the general public over the years, but it shows that he is well in touch with the issues in Zimbabwe and would not have accepted this challenge if he did not.
The greatest thing is that for this is one of the very few cases in our history when someone is prepared to place on the line a lucrative and controversy-free career that has been carefully cultivated and put his reputation and impeccable credentials on the line. It is evident that Mutambara is a learned man and can pursue a rich and rewarding life without politics. Mutambara could have joined politics at the height of his public profile in the late 80s and early 1990s, when the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) was in vogue. But Mutambara was no opportunist. Instead he probably realized that his time had not yet arrived and that he could make a better leader with more experience and having learnt the ways of the world. He wanted to chew first, before swallowing. He has had time to chew and understood the language of the world. He is back and the best Zimbabwe can do is give the man a chance. At a time when allegations of tribalism are ripping life out of opposition politics, here is a man whose impeccable credentials speak louder than his tribal origins or any other index.
Finally, Mutambara will have known that he joins any opposition movement that is severely divided. There are some who will question his choice of faction. That is all very well. It seems however that if he can make overtures and manage to bring the warring parties together, it may be for the good of the country in the long run. He knows Tsvangirai well – having worked with him during his time in student politics. He knows others too, like Chamisa. It is possible that there is mutual respect between him and leading members of both factions, and perhaps admiration. Nothing can take away the part played by Tsvangirai, Ncube et al in the current struggle. Some have faltered but their place in the history of the movement remains.
Mutambara will know
only too well that each faction has its sympathisers and that there
is probably more merit in drawing synergies between the two rather than
ignore the political reality on the ground. If he can pull it off, all
the better for Zimbabwe. No doubt there are great challenges –
living up to the high expectations of his supporters and observers and
also convincing the doubters that he is the real deal. But whatever
the case, there is enough to show that exciting times lie ahead.
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